As more and more school districts are going virtual until January and or offering virtual alternatives for families that are reluctant to send their kids to school (and also to ease transitions when school inevitably closes again) the idea of another semester of virtual / zoom school – is actually kind of a nightmare for me (and my family) and I say this as both a parent and an educator.
While the global pandemic has completely changed our lives as we once knew it there are still certain truths I hold onto: I absolutely cannot be my children’s teacher, I am absolutely a great teacher for other people’s children, I am a better and more effective teacher when I can do so in person, my own children and students survived their time on zoom but did not thrive.
Now, while I am about to take you down a rabbit hole of the social emotional needs of our children I want to pause for a moment and expound on why I am a better teacher in person than I am virtually. The key to great teaching or highly effective educational experiences is directly correlated to the emotional intuitiveness and responsiveness of the environment builder ie the teacher, in fact here is a great article that explains why this is and how hard we work to create those types of environments. The social isolation of our children caused by the closings of our schools impacted not just our students but our teachers as well. When me and my fellow colleagues would lament “zoom fatigue” what we were really saying was: we are emotionally drained. No matter what age you teach the inability to make eye contact, anticipate emotions and to connect with students via cues that can not be spoken literally kicked teachers in the behind. It is exhausting trying to be emotionally responsive when the environment you are operating in inherently rejects the ability to convey human emotion.
But we are talking about our kids and not the struggles of our teachers (though it will all come full circle in the end) and we are grappling with the very real reality of at least another semester of “homeschool” and this, from what I can see and hear from the parents around me, is a collective nightmare.
So, let us rewind to March of 2020; back then a lot of us made the same rookie mistake – we thought we were suddenly homeschooling (I, the educator was guilty of this too). In reality what we were doing was crisis management – and we had a lot of crises to manage. Parents suddenly found themselves as on site IT and tech support, personal chefs, administrative assistants, housekeepers – and doing all of this while also maintaining their own workload and production rates from home. In reality, while there were and are too many crises to manage – that’s all parents were doing – getting their child signed on, plugged in – or even “parked” so that they could get some work done. These parents – or US (if we are being honest), what we were and are still doing is managing a crisis. In March of 2020 what parents were NOT doing was: thoughtfully executing and planning grade level curriculum adapted to new circumstances. Parents were NOT thinking about data collection, maintaining previously taught skills, spiral down reviews, or even how to teach math without manipulatives etc –
Perhaps, the only thing crisis management parents were doing the same as true homeschooling families was worrying about the social / emotional toll isolating our children will have. In a study conducted in 2014, researchers found that: “Classroom programs designed to improve elementary school students’ social and emotional needs can also increase reading and math achievement, even if academic improvement is not a direct goal of the skills building” (Rimm-Kaufman). Human beings are social animals, period. Even when we are socializing for socializing reasons there is still a positive impact on academic gains – the social isolation of our children is hurting them emotionally and academically and we as parents fear the impact of another term of virtual school on both the emotional health of our children and their ability to maintain and learn new academic skills.
The educator in me is also the lifelong student in me and what she has learned is the following: for families that cannot face another semester of virtual schooling on their own we need to transition from crisis managers to true homeschoolers. So let’s skip the analyses of homeschooling vs typical schooling because the majority of parents who are ready to transition from crisis managers to homeschoolers are doing this for the short term – we understand that we are not the homeschooling types traditionally, but it is time for us to become them. Successful homeschooling families are successful because they are thoughtful about curriculum design and experiential opportunities while also being mindful to create opportunities for social interaction so that learning from home doesn’t necessarily mean being isolated from a peer group. In a study conducted in 2009 on homeschooled teens and homeschool graduates it was found that the degree of social interaction available to homeschooled children is exceedingly important to the quality of their homeschool experience and academic achievements (Saunders, 2009). So now what does this mean for us – the non traditional, situation only homeschoolers? The ones who can’t design an at home curriculum, create experiences or can even wrap their head around creating social interactions in a global pandemic.
On July 17th The Washington Post published this article and as a parent of private school children it struck a chord and as a teacher it had me inspired to do something. Small groups of parents are finding educators to create little collectives that address the academic and social challenges our children are facing in the upcoming 2020- 2021 academic year.
Here is where we come full circle – joining one of these groups not only answers the academic and social challenges 2020 has presented us with, it also provides teachers with a chance to do what they do best – and to do so in real life! The idea of teaching and learning with and from a small mixed aged collective has reinvigorated the teacher in me. I am excited to be back in an environment that demands and delivers emotional responsiveness and my excitement will directly correlate to my students excitement and vice versa – these collectives not only solve my problem as a parent but if you are an educator like me – the idea of leaving zoom behind and instead interfacing with a small group of children has me looking forward to the 2020/2021 academic year – and isn’t that what we parents want? Invigorated and inspired teachers ready to create socially and emotionally healthy environments where our kids can learn together? Let’s say that you are not an educator – and you don’t have any educator friends BUT you do have a small group of neighbors or friends that you feel your child can safely learn with – I’ll quote the article for you (in case you didn’t click) “It’s not all ad hoc parent organizing. An industry normally focused on providing tutors has seized this moment and is working to connect families with educators” – those agencies, like A+ Solutions – were already doing what we weren’t doing in March 2020. A+ Solutions is always thoughtful about curriculum and design, their whole business is data collection and spiral down review – by nature they are doing all of the things we didn’t know how to do in March 2020 – don’t reinvent the wheel!
Here’s the best part: – even if virtual school did work for you but you still want social opportunities for your children, or maybe you want an adult that is not you to be available while your child is in school virtually – agencies like A+ Solutions can help you too! Agencies like A+ can help all of us – those who can’t, those who can but won’t and even those who just don’t want to – agencies like A+ can help us all and in helping us (the parents) we can then help our children continue to adapt and not just academically but socially and emotionally too during these very challenging times…
Sima Ackerman Maryles, MA ELL
Educator at A+ Solutions