Checking in with 3 teacher moms in my home town

Nothing is great but everything is probably gonna be fine

I wanted to know how educators teaching online are making do when they also have to manage their own children’s e-learning: here is the second in a series of three. Today I chatted with three moms in my home town (Evanston, IL) about their lives teaching while facilitating their own kids’ e-learning, about how they prioritize and what they let go.

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J., elementary school social worker, married to another educator, children in virtual 1st and 5th grade:

My husband and I are both home. We send the girls to the neighbors; they have a nanny half of the day, and they also have his mom and my mom. It's working, and it's not ideal.

I have nothing to do with my kids’ schoolwork. They work with the nanny in the morning or my mom or or my husband’s mom in the afternoon. That was a whole ball of wax trying to set that up: how to relay information to them, making everybody comfortable, setting expectations for the kids and getting them to respond to all these different people trying to get them to work. 

At the beginning I felt guilty about not involved in their learning. Now I feel like we're privileged to be able to pay for help and have family around that will help. It’s been working out and they’re doing pretty well.

I just don’t stop working now. Remote work is far more intense, schedule-wise than in person. There’s no breaks, no down time. Anyone can reach me at any time with email in a different way. When you're in person, people stop by, you have meetings. Now every thought people have in their mind is in an email.

You can track patterns in the kids who are struggling: frustration, motivation and social connectedness are the big themes. Organization and trying to stay focused when at home.

With kids who are really struggling to get work done or motivated, parents and teachers should prioritize the basics: math, reading and writing. focus on doing little bits of that each day and set the other things aside. If you can build capacity with achieving those things in a day then start building on that. In terms of social emotional health, looking for big red flags. Is your kid acting different? Is there a lot of irritability, frustration, are you seeing tantrums start you haven’t before, have your kids been saying “I’m bored” a lot? Working with the school or provider can help them cope, and work with the teacher to make some adaptive plans if motivation is become an issue that’s affecting their quality of life.

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S., math instructor, private high school, children in virtual 3rd and 5th grade

My kids are totally remote and work with their grandparents or my husband. I’m in person one day a week and the rest of the days are remote. I really think I can round things up to “They’re doing pretty good.’ My 5th grader is totally independent. Is she making great gains this year? No. Do we care? No.

My teaching is so demanding that my husband is the primary helper for the kids. During the day I just can’t be interrupted. I’m expected to be with my students 8-4 every day.

It's really hard to be a math teacher and grade work digitally. I feel like I'm not doing a good job assessing my students’ needs and skills. I love my school and believe in its mission so I end up talking to parents as well as teaching to help them understand our wonky schedule. On top of the teaching, there's so much organizational work that's hard for me to do at home. It’s hard to get in my “This is my teacher, this is my school stuff” mindset when I’m in my bedroom and my kid is next to me in my bed.

Because teaching is so much less efficient online I find I’m assessing work less frequently. Two or three weeks can go by before I’m like, “They really don't understand that.” There’s no walking around looking over their shoulder. I’m also constantly chasing students. I probably send 30 emails a day to remind students to turn things in. I would have never had had to do that work if we were in person. 

There are still high expectations from parents. Some of them are very upset, which is upsetting to teachers who are working night and day to figure out how to make this work, how to meet expectations and how to provide one-on-one help for all students. Some students are struggling and some are doing great. Any progress is good progress right now. It surprises me how many people are fixated on the failures of schools when we are truly building the plane while flying it, and I actually think we are doing a pretty good job, as I do with my kids’ teachers at a local public school.  Unless there are big concerns, I want parents to trust the teachers who are working really hard to find a way to make this a meaningful year.  

We get COVID tested once a week. That's amazing. We all wear masks. The students are only there half a day, so there’s no eating, no need to take off their mask. They don’t even drink water. We also have new air filtration systems and very specific paths you can walk so the hallways don’t get crowded, ways you dismiss classes. However it’s a new building and none of the windows open. 

I do manage to exercise, but every expectation is lowered. What used to be a normal one hour exercise routine is now 20-30 minutes. I eat so much. I don’t enjoy most of it. At night my brain shuts down at 8:30. I can’t work late. So then I watch TV. That’s been my joy. And sugary cereal: anything with marshmallows. 

I received an email last week from a parent and he started off saying “I've been so focused on my daughter's experience,  I haven't thought about the teacher. I want to say thank you and I didn't realize how hard this is for you.” He went on to say “I think my kid is struggling, here are some ideas, what do you think?” The idea that he recognized that this is so much for the teacher and then he didn't say “Yeah what more can I do about my kid?” meant a lot.

If it comes down between a parent’s job and their kid’s schoolwork, I think they should prioritize their job. I think the kids will be okay and the worst case scenario they redo this year which probably lots of kids should do.

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A.: Part-time tutor, children in virtual first and 4th grade.

It is crazy to me that I do so much enrichment. Everyone is at or above grade level. I think many parents are more worried about their kids being bored. Just let them be. They’re fine. In 2nd grade, kids are not normally being told to write a whole page. We have no memories of what we actually did when we were that age in school. They’re not supposed to read two hours and spell everything correctly. If you're not with kids that age all the time, you have a higher expectation of what they can do. 

I think that parents whose kids are having a super hard time with school, when your kids ask for your help, help them. But if they don’t want your help, walk away. It’s so hard. When I look at my daughter’s writing, I think, “Wow does that word say what you think it says?”

I feel like if you’re middle class and above, there’s gonna be no long term major effects on the kids. My son lost second grade in person. It showed, but he’s fine. His writing took longer to get there. My kids are getting high quality instruction. I know it feels and looks different than what I’m used to. I think it’s hard for parents to see. I keep having to remind people that children don’t normally get six hours of instruction a day. The kids get a mini lesson and they go off and do something else. It’s not teachers just talking for hours. When your kids were doing their writing in school, they’d be with four kids, they might be chatting or sharing an idea. Without that, you can see how it’s like, “Ughh.”

I have found that smoking pot after the workday is finished calms me. Being home with the kids all day is boring and you’re annoyed with them and they’re making fucking messes all the time. It makes me so much more patient, present, and more interested in what they’re saying.

I have emailed both of my kids’ teachers and principals multiple times to just say thank you and they’re doing a great job. I think so many parents forget or just are clueless as to how hard this is for teachers. 

I’ve chilled out as a parent. My son is part of a feral neighborhood pack of boys. I get weird text messages, “They’re in the alley with a pickaxe.” In general, I’d prefer to let them figure their own shit out. 

Everyone is figuring out their new normal. My biggest worry is the dead of winter. 


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