“We have decided to close school due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and move to remote learning for the time being.”
I didn’t have to be in the same room with my school’s parents when this message was received to hear the collective gasp. To see the looks of panic. To watch as guardians everywhere scrambled to figure out just how they were going to coordinate their own unfolding work-from-home scenarios with those of their children.
It wasn’t easy in March, and it still isn’t easy now.
Over my years as a teacher, there are so many things that I have wanted the parents of my students to know.
That some of the best learning in life comes from failure.
That children need to know that they are loved, unconditionally.
That an emailed tirade is counterproductive to the teamwork needed between parent and teacher, and a conversation is so much better towards resolution.
But now, as we find ourselves still staring into the abyss of remote and/or hybrid learning, there are a host of new things that I want parents to know. Things that will make homeschooling more successful. Students more independent. And, parents? Ideally less stressed and more at-ease.
I want parents to know that while we love to collaborate and communicate with them, it needs to be outside of our teaching time. Zoom chats are not for parents to contact teachers with questions about a lesson. Text messages and phone calls can’t and shouldn’t be answered while we have a screen full of kiddos clamoring for our attention and instruction. We want to talk with the parents of our students, and we will—I promise. But, it needs to be either during designated office hours or after our students have left our virtual care for the day. I encourage parents to please give kids the space they need to learn independently and authentically. Families won’t be able to sit on the couch next to their students when they return to the classroom, so please don’t start that habit now. When a student’s day is done, talk with them about what they learned and how it all went. And, if questions or concerns persist, then by all means call us. Text us. Email us. Or, message us through the school’s portal. Teachers are problem-solvers by nature, and we want to support our families in making sure that no hurdle is insurmountable when it comes to their child’s academic success.
I want parents to know that it’s important to kick it old school. Online learning, for all of the wonderful resources that it provides, doesn’t enable the tactile, pen-to-paper experience that is synonymous with true in-person instruction. Yes, students are growing more accustomed to reading on a screen and typing their first draft essays on a keyboard. But, comprehension comes from putting thoughts, ideas, equations, and rough drafts down on paper. As a middle school teacher, I always required my students to write their initial essays on binder paper, going over their work several times, making notes in the margins, crossing out words and replacing those with more astute vocabulary. Learning how to craft an essay on the screen is far too sterile an experience. Students’ capacity for the true written word needs to be just that—written down and revised with frequency. Problem solving in Math is much the same—while mental math and the retention of math facts and number sense is crucial to a student’s lifelong academic success, they must, too, use scratch paper to breakdown complex problems and illustrate solving strategies. I want parents to know that it’s essential to have notebooks, scratch paper, pens, pencils, highlighters, and flashcards available as essential enhancements to their children’s digital devices.
I want parents to know that we appreciate them. The parents and guardians of our students are our eyes and ears on the ground. We recognize fully that there is only so much that we can see and observe from behind a screen and that online learning will never replicate the hands-on approach we take with each and every student in our care when they are in front of us in the classroom. We value parents’ insights and observations. We are supremely grateful for the times when they step away from their own meetings to mitigate failed wi-fi or unsuccessful Zoom credentials. For the times when parents get into the trenches of new Math or reviewing facts for an upcoming Science test. Every moment matters. We couldn’t do what we do without that partnership.
Remote learning isn’t going to be here forever, but it’s also not going away anytime soon. The more that teachers and parents embrace this opportunity, together, to enable students to pivot when an unexpected hurdle blocks their lane of success, the better equipped those kids are going to be for life’s marathon. So, let’s get creative and work together to keep our students learning and growing in these unprecedented times.