E-learning teachers-parents with IRL kids also e-learning

AKA give til it hurts at holiday bonus time

I was curious to hear how educators teaching online are making do when they also have to manage their own children’s e-learning, so I’m going to present a few discussions with some teachers over the next couple of weeks.

For today’s issue I chatted with H., a 7th grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools whose husband teaches phys-ed in the same system and whose twin preschool daughters also learn remotely in CPS. The following “as told to” conversation has been edited and condensed:

The kids spend part of the week with my mother-in-law. They stay at her house, they live far away, and the drive sucks. Those days of the week, I’m working all the time and into the night to make sure that when they’re home I won’t be attached to my computer. Some of my colleagues have paid for private daycare. I feel funny about doing it. How can I ask the teachers to put themselves around kids when I won’t?

I deal with that that weird mom guilt of preschoolers being absent. The other day my daughter got hurt and needed stitches, so we got home at 10, and the kids slept in. We texted that they would miss their morning their meeting; and we still we got robo-calls from CPS because they were absent. So much of school hangs on the children’s attention, but from a parent perspective, it’s like “Oh my God, really? At the end of the day, who cares? Who cares. It has no effect on anything.”

There were a lot of tears at the beginning of the pandemic. It was stressful to transfer our lives online. I've taught for 15 years: I worked my butt to be the teacher I am now. To start over was very humbling and difficult.  I got very offended this summer that CPS did not decide whether to stay virtual or go hybrid until the last minute. Someone on Twitter said, “A good teacher would be preparing for any scenario.” I refused to hear that. I’m going to spend that time with my children, thanks.

You already know the kids who would be struggling in person, and then you add WiFi to it: some of them have terrible internet. School computers are not great; the kids can log in and hide and go watch TV on their phone. In person, we have those tricks and relationships, to go down to lunch, talk to those kids, help them. Now it’s like “Please log in so we can talk about this class you’re not doing well in. I’m sure you really want to talk to me, a middle aged teacher, about how to write thesis statements.”  We don’t want to be mean to a kid who’s just got the free Chicago WiFi which doesn’t support e learning. There’s that frustration. “You need to get your stuff done, -ish.” We have had some students with serious stuff which is difficult to manage when you don’t know them at all. “This avatar is really struggling.”

The failure is on CPS; they’re going 100% hardcore. They’re implemented Continuous Improvement Work Plan goals, but how will you fulfill them? My administration has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, but not everyone is in the same position.

To some extent, letting go of control has been great. There is a girl in my call who was playing Solo cups, stacking them and unstacking them while we talked. “Do you think that’s helping you organize your thoughts? Great.” 

I’m grateful to be virtual. I live on the northwest side of Chicago. I watch people pretend they’re not living in a pandemic and demand schools reopen. You're the last person I’d want to see send their kids to school. I see you on an airplane, I have to be in a room with your child in our 1902 building. I don’t know what to believe. I believe in Dr. Fauci. Sometimes I feel paranoid. 

My husband does not like teaching PE online. He gets headaches from the screen. When kids don’t come to PE, he has to fail them per CPS. That feels so crappy. Who knows what's going on in that kid’s life? There are the kids who don’t do anything ever and then come right now, “Why am I failing?” “Uh, what? Where have you been?” I’m lucky to work at a school that has standards based grading. We can work with you, vs. “You’re not here. That’s a zero.” You see these parents who say, “Why should my kid have to go to specials? That’s such a waste of time.” But that’s my husband’s profession, that’s what he loves.

I have always sought to let parents know when their kids do a good job: calling parents, sending an email home, saying “Oh my gosh, I could tell your child was really trying today in class.” They almost always say something nice back. I don’t do it for that reason, but it's so nice, when you make that positive connection, and a parent says “She said the other day she loves your class.” Oh, yay! I’m always looking for kids doing something good. “Wow, you got a C! I saw your hard work. That's so much more important than a thesis statement. I’m so glad you’re here at school.” I always copy the student on those emails. 

 We need to really seek the voices of our most vulnerable families and prioritize what they need over what we need. That is antithetical to American parenting, where you're supposed to make sure what your kids get what they need all the time. There might be a moment, if you’re privileged, where you think, “My kids need to see their friends, but this other kid needs to be in the building to have WiFi; that’s way more important at this moment.” I hate seeing privileged parents weaponize poor kids and Black and brown kids. “What about these poor kids? They need to be in school.” Teacher parents are shut down: “You’re union, so your union speaks for you.” I'm allowed to wear many hats and look through multiple lenses.

Of course I want my kids back in school. Some days I'm about to lose my f-ing mind, but we need to think about bigger things and seek to empathize with how people in other communities are doing. Some of my former students still have to go to the laundromat— in order to be clean, they have to put themselves at risk. That's such an important piece that we often forget because we don’t live it. That’s been so interesting, to see the people I live among saying, “I’m still stressed in my nice house in my nice neighborhood with my nice job.” As hard as it is for me, I'm not even touching what a lot of my students are experiencing.  Thinking about really trying to empathize with that makes me a bit sad. Because of who is in charge, this moment has not made more people more empathetic. 

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