You’ve likely read here and/or heard from others about the failures that plagued education in the spring of 2020. The nation was quarantining (read: shut down) for weeks. We’re still in various phases of re-opening nationwide. In March 2020, students that had been attending in-person instruction were now at home with expectations of continuing their learning virtually. This was a real struggle on a number of levels; not all students had access to internet and technologies to attend school remotely, some children were left home with little to no supervision as essential employees reported to work, lesson plans hadn’t been designed for remote learning and teachers had to adapt quickly. The list of gaps and opportunities seemed endless.
As we look ahead to the incoming school year we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t reflect on the pain points that detracted from a successful remote learning experience in the spring and plan for those now.
In this blog post I’m going to detail the 3 pain points from the spring semester that still resonate with me months later, and share our mitigation strategies such that we don’t make the same mistakes again.
- Meetings – As the primary educator in our new homeschool scenario I’m going to write this opportunity from my point of view. It’s common for me to work more than 40 hours each week. I’ve worked from home for years. I manage projects where teams are spread geographically across the U.S. Because of my remote work status, phone calls and video conferencing are how I collaborate and get the job done. In the spring my children were in preschool and 1st grade. While both know what an iPad is and how to navigate it – one requires help to enter the passcode as he’s yet to learn his numbers and neither were able to log-in and participate in their daily Zoom meetings without my constant reminders of the time, reminding them where the mute/un-mute buttons were, how to raise their hand, how to turn the camera around and actually aim it at the project/work they were to show, etc. My son would get bored and just walk away from the iPad while his class was still meeting or worse interrupt the class telling a poopy butt joke.
The times for my children’s daily Zoom calls seemed to always be when I had another conference call or video meeting where I did a majority of the speaking. As such I was unable to help my kids navigate their meetings or even encourage them to stay and pay attention in their meeting for the duration – after 2 weeks we stopped even trying to attend any school-related Zoom meetings.
If I had told my employer or any of our other partners that I needed to reschedule my meetings because I had to help my kids with school – well, I can’t even imagine that scenario because I get paid to do my job – not teach – and so in my daily professional priority setting – my work came first. When would I have even offered to reschedule the meetings to? My kids are home ALL DAY EVERY DAY. I’ll also add that I’ve spent the past decade of my professional career creating a reputation for being able to reliably manage and deliver high quality outcomes on multi-million dollar federal contracts. I refuse to mar my professional reputation or give up my job because as a working woman who happens to also have kids I’m being defaulted into a position I didn’t ask for, nor was trained for, nor was/is being paid for.
Solution: I don’t know that I call it a solution, but at least as this new school year approaches companies, including mine, are recognizing that many employees are being called on to once again support remote education for their students. Organizations have advanced notice that this is happening and can offer support where able, but the expectation is that the job still gets done. Of course it is because without the work getting done the jobs are gone. In the spring, the pandemic in effect brought our entire nation to a halt – everything was in such turmoil that I clung to the things I knew and had control over. I know how to do my job. My job motivates me. I have control over the level of work I deliver and I know my efforts are appreciated. I cannot with any straight face say those same things about my parenting or teaching abilities.
This overlap of my work/mom/teacher lives is a primary reason why we chose homeschooling this year. When I saw that our school system was requiring 4 hours of synchronous (via live videoconferencing) and 2 hours of asynchronous learning each day – that’s 6 hours of an 8+ hour work day. With homeschooling I control the schedule and can therefore set better boundaries for myself and my children such that we all meet our milestones for the next year and keep what little sanity we have left.
- Philosophy – As remote learning became a reality for my first grader specifically it became increasingly clear to me how much busy work she’s being given each day. For example, each week she had to write 10 sentences in Spanish. After she wrote them she’d read them and when I asked for her to tell me what they translate into in English – she couldn’t or wouldn’t, but I didn’t have the skills to know what they were either so I couldn’t ask the right questions to prompt her. We did 2 check-ins with her teachers whose feedback to us was that they didn’t want a picture of Madison’s completed work, but a video showing her process. So now I’m also a movie producer or vlogger??? No.
It was at this juncture that my perspective shifted on the value of the public education we were receiving. I don’t want a “check the box” curricula. I want to know that you know that she’s mastered the competencies and skills being covered. Me showing you a video of her actually writing a sentence that she doesn’t comprehend does nothing for her. It’s busy work. We quit doing it. She writes our grocery list and other things every week so I know she knows how to write.
Solution: With the homeschool option chosen we will choose a curricula and delivery model that allows me to assess that not only can my children read and write, but that they comprehend what they’re reading or being told. I can nurture their curiosity in asking and answering all of the questions. I can cultivate independent learners and thinkers.
- Environment – Quite literally over the course of one random weekend in March my kids transitioned home unannounced. They didn’t get to tell their teachers or friends bye. Their teachers weren’t able to communicate expectations for what would happen when we went home. All my 5 and 6 year old kids knew was that they didn’t have school any more – YAY!!!
I’ve been told I’m wrong, but I don’t believe otherwise – kids have a mental mapping for the rules and expectations based on environment. We all do. My kids know that when they get out of my car and start walking into school that they are to have their book bag and lunch. They know where to hang those things in their classrooms, to wash their hands before they sit down at their desks, to talk with inside voices, to share and respect their teachers, peers, etc. At home, they know not to watch TV until they’ve done their homework. They know to disguise their cheetos as carrots so mommy doesn’t realize what’s they’re actually eating. I kid. Kind of. But there are very different rules of engagement at home vs. at school. Now our children are needing to navigate different rules of engagement for home and school without leaving home.
They don’t have peers unless they have siblings and this may be one of only two times when I say that it’s awesome our kids are so close in age. They are peers and need to know how to encourage, respect, listen to and communicate with each other. They are also siblings prone to fighting, arguing, petty sarcasm and general taunting. They’re also with each other 24/7/365 right now and it’s a lot of emotions – I’m not going to lie.
Then there’s me. I have a pretty great relationship with my kids. They love me. They are still at the age where they both seek me out for validation, referee, regular kisses and snuggles. They don’t know me as their teacher who ensures their work gets done, grades their work, gives them tests, and stops them from eating all of the snacks in the pantry on Monday. In the spring, we were just doing what needed to be done to stay safe, sane and moving forward. Now this has become a way of life and “mom” is now a dual role and one that I’m sure will take some getting used to as the new school year starts.
I understand that you may think I’m overreacting on this one, but my relationship with my kids (my daughter specifically) really suffered in the spring. We yelled more. We cried more. It was a bad place for both of us with me enforcing the prescribed curriculum the school passed down. I won’t go down that road again.
Solution: As we’ve navigated even creating this homeschool concept for this year, our kids have been involved in every step. They were in the car when we named it. They told me what they thought would be “fun” and what their favorite things about school were and weren’t. They helped me create the rules that we’ll operate under this year. Madison’s said that she wants to teach Cole some of the Kindergarten stuff. Cole committed to teaching Madison how to clean her room. They know they’ll be homeschooled. They know that I’m their teacher. They know they have their desk space and supplies they are to manage. They know that mommy still gets to work and we can have conversations about what that looks like day-to-day and respect that we all have “work” to do. They know they can’t just watch YouTube all day. Unlike the spring and what the public school system is planning for fall – they are part of this solution which I’m hopeful will add to how successful we’ll find this academic year to have been.
I realize this academic year against the backdrop of a pandemic and their mom serving dual roles as parent and teacher won’t be easy and the schedule won’t always get followed. Some days will be a dumpster fire. Some days will be amazing.
Unlike in the spring I’m better prepared and able to flex for the unknown. I mean at this point with COVID-19, murder hornets, hurricanes, earthquakes, Saharan dust storms – I mean it’s all unknown. But this plan was crafted through complete transparency across our family. We can create boundaries that allow us to be successful in all things and I’m holding on to the fact that our family dynamic will be stronger for having lived through this literally all in the same boat with no life jackets or life rafts – just each other and a shared vision for the future.