Yesterday our school district began distance learning.
Our kids are receiving instruction via Google Classroom.
And yesterday, as I helped my 9-year-old navigate GC for the first time ever, it became apparent that this is not how to handle our current situation.
I appreciate the Herculean effort our administration and elementary school teachers made to get this up and running so our kids can continue to receive instruction while schools are shut down.
But the truth of the matter is that our kids are not receiving instruction.
They are receiving curriculum.
And it is not our job as parents to deliver the instruction of that curriculum.
Our teachers have been placed in an impossible situation.
I was an elementary school teacher for ten years.
And even with that experience, even with a masters in elementary education, yesterday was one of the most challenging mornings I’ve had in a very long time.
This is coming from a mom who has had over ten years working in the classroom.
Experience as a fourth grade teacher.
My son is in fourth grade!
I know my 4th grade shit!
Here is the thing about teachers.
They have some things that we at home don’t have.
Firstly, they have training. And a degree. And professional development. And time to practice with new tools and platforms and strategies before being asked to implement them.
They have knowledge and experience that most parents don’t.
They also have students who are all on the same grade level in their classrooms. And they have support teachers who assist them.
Our elementary school teachers had to instantly learn how to use Google Classroom and how to deliver content to their students pretty much overnight.
I appreciate this effort. I really do.
As a former teacher, I think it’s the teacher’s responsibility to meet the needs of all his/her students.
Under normal circumstances.
That is just not possible right now.
Because even though all students in a classroom are not on the same level, at least the field on which they are playing is level. And there are support teachers in the classroom to help kids who have special needs and IEP’s ad 504’s.
But now the kids are playing on 20+ different fields.
You’ve got kids at homes where both parents are working from home. You’ve got kids living with single parents. You have kids living with one parent some of the time, and another parent the other times.
You’ve got parents with lots of resources at home, and you’ve got parents with no resources at home.
You’ve got parents who have one kid in elementary school, and you’ve got kids with two or three (or four!) kids in elementary school at the same time.
You’ve got kids whose parents don’t speak English. You’ve got kids whose parents have PhD’s and kids whose parents didn’t finish high school.
You’ve got twenty kids spread over twenty “classrooms” with so many different living conditions that you really can’t guarantee that any of them have support or guidance or access to the things they need in order to complete the assignments that have now been given to them.
Even if the school provides them with some form of device.
This morning, with Day 1 of distance learning behind them, I had several friends posting on Facebook about how their kids were in tears.
Some of my friends were even in tears.
That was me yesterday.
My older three have lots of experience with Google Classroom, so they were fine.
But the younger two were a fucking disaster.
Expecting your children to learn, from home, in completely new classroom settings, without a trained teacher present (or at least instructing via video), when their parents have to work from home, with siblings of all ages in the home, and just about all of their usual outlets — friends, playgrounds, sports teams, after school activities, etc. — completely stripped away from them is just, well…
It’s completely ridiculous.
The amount of stress and pressure I felt yesterday was off the charts.
And I’m a highly educated and experienced former teacher.
Let’s take the teaching background out.
Then let’s add in a few things.
Let’s add in the kids whose parents were just laid off and have no income and had no savings.
Then let’s add in the parents who are scared shitless they will be laid off if they don’t produce work from home.
Then let’s add in the women who are in abusive relationships and are now trapped at home 24/7 with their abusive partners.
Let’s add in the kids who are now home 24/7 with abusive parents.
Let’s add in the parents who are essential workers who are working in ridiculous conditions in hospitals and many grocery stores where ignorant people are clueless about protocol.
People are stressed out beyond belief.
And on top of that, let’s now require them to be their kids’ full-time teacher.
It’s not okay.
I know there are people from different camps on the whole at home instruction thing.
I posed this question on the NYAM Facebook page today.
Which situation are you in:
1 — Our school has moved to mandatory online learning.
2 — Our school has given suggested guidelines for kids to follow and has provided resources, but nothing is mandatory.
3 — Our school is putting no pressure on us to instruct our kids at home.
Well over 100 people replied from all different parts of the country.
I don’t have exact numbers, because people keep commenting, but the majority of people are #1 and #2, with maybe more people in the #2 situation.
I’m estimating 10-15% of people are in the 3rd situation.
So that’s what schools are doing.
Then people fall into the following categories:
- I want my kids doing school full time from home.
- I want my kids to have access to stuff so they can do some school work if they want to, plus I need some structure.
- I have no interest in structure or formal learning right now.
I understand all three categories of parenting.
We all have to do what works best for us.
Especially during times of crisis.
But we are in a fucking crisis!
How are we expecting anyone to make massive changes like this in a crisis?
I, myself fall between category 2 and 3. I need some structure. So do my kids.
But I also do not believe that learning online and submitting assignments is the only way to learn right now.
Or even the best way to learn.
Someone left a comment along the lines of “I am not letting my child learn nothing for 6 months.”
I hear that.
I really do.
But there are so many ways to learn.
And after yesterday and our first day of distance learning, here is what I am sure of.
Many, many, many parents are more stressed out than they have ever been right now.
Their lives have been turned upside down.
Opportunities for relief from our kids are very hard to come by.
Now is not the time to force parents to teach their children.
I know the level of frustration I was at yesterday.
It was high.
Take a parent whose parenting skills are questionable, who has no teaching experience, who is terrified she won’t be able to feed her family in a couple weeks, and then add in a kid who is fucking losing his or her shit because this online school stuff is too much right now, and you are setting that parent and child up for disaster.
Parents are going to snap, and kids are literally going to get their asses kicked.
It’s not a fair situation for us to put kids or parents in.
I think the schools should get as many resources and options out there as they can. With the key word being options. And optional.
Let the parents who want that serious structure and who have the patience and resources and time to deliver the instruction and guidance it takes for distance learning to effectively take place to go that route.
But what if we asked our schools to do their best to facilitate education in other ways for parents who just can’t manage the GC stuff?
If I was in charge right now, I’d encourage my teachers do the following (for elementary school teachers who have self-contained classrooms):
- Email each student individually daily. Most kids have access to email at home. Ask them questions about how things are going at home. Give them a daily safe spot to come to. Remind them that you care about them. Give them genuine daily connections.
- Send hand written letters weekly to each student. Ask them to write back.
- Ask students to cook or bake something each week with their parents, and use a recipe that utilizes fractions.
- Ask parents to read a book aloud (just like teachers do in school) daily with their children.
Just asking kids to do those 4 things will have them practicing keyboarding skills (one of the things that was kind of brutal on day one of distance learning for us), communication skills, writing skills, and reading and math skills.
And they are things that parents can manage fairly easily.
It will encourage families to spend more time together, and it will provide opportunities and activities that apply to real life situations.
It will keep teachers in touch with students daily.
All the other online stuff will be there, and parents who want to utilize that can do that as well.
When I look at all the responses to the question I posed on the NYAM Facebook page, there is such a wide range of what is being done not only across the country, but across each individual state.
There is no possible way to level the playing field as far as what kids learn in the next few months.
And the reality is that it doesn’t really matter if kids learn the parts of speech now, or in the fall.
They will all get caught up.
Teachers know how to do that stuff.
After yesterday’s distance learning day from hell, I emailed Number 6 and 7’s teachers.
I told them the only thing we’d be doing was learning how to log in to Google Classroom independently, and then doing whatever the assigned math work was.
That was it.
I am not in a position right now to teach my kids how to use a virtual learning platform overnight, and then deliver the content that is posted on it.
I assured both teachers that I’d be making sure the kids were reading at home. Maybe we would do some writing.
You know what happened when I told the kids last night that we were only going to do the math that was assigned from their teachers?
The pressure disappeared.
The kids relaxed.
There were no meltdowns today.
There were no tears.
When I sat down on the couch with the kids to read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, the kids were 100% engaged. Nobody argued.
The only thing they asked was if we could read more.
There was a lot of learning happening here today.
But the one who learned the most was me.
I’m following my gut.
I’m focusing on doing what I can to teach my kids all the stuff that really matters.
Especially right now.
They need to continue to learn the importance and value of contributing at home.
They need to learn the importance of self care.
They need to learn how to express themselves effectively in times of uncertainty.
If you can learn how to do it via Google, then it can wait.
But for the next couple weeks — and more likely, months — I’m going to focus on the things that Google Classroom can’t teach my kids.