What a Teacher Wants You to Know About Homeschooling



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The Learning Curve

You're in a Zoom meeting when your child comes and says, "Mommy, the computer's broken ("See that little battery picture? It's at zero."). Or you're crunching numbers when your daughter, who you're pretty sure is supposed to be in algebra, asks where the milk is ("See that big box plugged into the wall?"). The new apps are coming fast and furious, they're all for the kids, and 6-year-olds aren't great at remembering how to find their assignments in Google Classroom.

The stories on parent stress while kids are learning at home have been frequent. And even parents who aren't working remotely (by choice or by layoff) find themselves worried: Is my child falling behind? How am I supposed to help three kids learn simultaneously? What do these teachers want from me?

I'm a teacher, and I can tell you what I and most of my colleagues want: To ease the pain on you and your family.

Empty Classroom

Are We Really Going to Replicate School When the Building Is Closed?

Teachers know better than anyone that this is not an ideal learning environment. Some of us were on spring break when we learned we would not be returning; others went home on hours' notice. Teaching is a hands-on profession; most teachers derive energy from in-person interactions with your children. So much of what we do is conveyed through physical objects, group work, and the small gestures that are understood when you have built a strong relationship with your class.

Most had a cursory understanding of Google Classroom when their inboxes began filling with new technologies mandated by their employers and offered (often free) by every ed-tech company existing. The learning curve was steep, and we are still making adjustments. I've never been technologically gifted, and suddenly I'm creating lessons on apps I've never seen, adding bells, whistles, and activities in the desperate hope that the work will be interesting enough to keep students coming back. Some districts began using Zoom meetings and then switched to other platforms because of privacy issues. And, of course, many of us have our own children struggling with being and learning at home all day.

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Distance Learning

So Why Do It at All?

Students need to learn online during this time, primarily to give their days shape and to give them contact with children. I spend hours planning my math instruction, but I spend just as much time finding ways for my kids to interact. School is an opportunity for them to express their feelings, to socialize with their friends, and to find some giggles. Right now, this is my first priority. I want my students to find comfort in their class and to access a piece of what was their normal lives.

It's not consistent. Some students show up five minutes before every class, ready and eager to learn. Some come two hours into their school day, missing live sessions and confused as to what's happening. Others are falling asleep at their iPads, casualties of sleep schedules that feel permanently out of whack. All of it is okay.

Playing Basketball

Exercise Is Essential

My child needs physical activity. Running, walking, doing planks while watching "PE with Joe" on YouTube: They all keep her body healthy and help to improve her spirits. Exercising her mind has the same impact. Bedtimes are hard, as she thinks of all the things she is missing. But during school, her mind is active and engaged. She is not only taking in information, but also sharing her own ideas and responding to unexpected situations. Her teachers are keeping her brain limber and ready to spring into action when she is set out into the world.

Related: 18 Fitness Challenges to Keep Pace (and Your Distance) During the Pandemic

Video Call

Social Development

Not all school districts are offering live classes online, but they should be. Classroom meetings or group work on the side does so much of the heavy lifting when it comes to students' mental health. Does it make up for what has been lost? Not even close. But when my students are participating in a group meeting and seeing one another "Brady Bunch"-style (I'm Alice), they begin to break the shell of isolation in which they are living. Students who are trying to maintain a brave face with parents may share those feelings with teachers or classmates. Younger children continue to learn valuable social skills about when to speak, when to listen, and how to respond. Every time I hear my child giggle from her bedroom, I am grateful there is a teacher across town giving his students space to interact.


What Really Matters

In my bricks-and-mortar classroom, we felt great pressure to prepare for standardized testing. Academic instruction was expected to begin and end on time. Those priorities have shifted, and for the better. When my sixth-graders come to math class, we begin with a check-in. How are we? What do we need? Many days, we spend the first 20 minutes performing "Romeo and Juliet" together, trading parts on different days. It is, literally, a way for children to play together. In second grade, students look for hidden pictures online together, or answer questions like, "If you could change one rule in your family, what would it be?" Diverting those 20 minutes makes the instructional time far more productive and the students more engaged. But that's just a fringe benefit. The social time is the most valuable part of the lesson.

Doing Homework

Won't They Fall Behind?

This fear that we all have of our child falling behind is a symptom of the competitive culture in our country and in our schools. Who are our children competing with? Who do they need to pass? Nearly every child on earth is out of school right now, or has been, or will be. We set 18 as the arbitrary age at which a child's secondary education would be complete in the U.S.; it varies around the world. No school will be able to maintain the rigid expectation that all students keep up the same relentless push toward end-of-year expectations.

 When schools resume, every school on earth will have to remediate what has been missed, and to fill in the gaps of students coming from wildly disparate home environments and learning experiences. Teachers have studied educational psychology. We know that children develop at different rates; our educational policy has not reflected the conclusions of behavioral scientists. Moses was not handed the Common Core State Standards on Mount Sinai. If our kids reach the same end points by 19, what horrors will befall them?

Sad Girl at Home

My Kid Hates This

If your child is not responding well to live classes, don't make that child attend. If they are sick of staring at a computer screen, let them take a break. Let that break last 15 minutes, or an hour, or two days if necessary. These are exceptional times and we should not expect our children to carry on like normal when we ourselves are struggling. If your child is having a hard time focusing, aren't we all?

Your child should read, because reading is a gift and an escape. Your child should do enough math not to lose everything they've already gained. Beyond that, fill in the subjects that decades of education cuts have taken away. Art, music, drama, and pillow fights are the Common Core of the moment.