Schools are going to open up again here in my county in Florida in just a couple weeks. It was supposed to start yesterday. We delayed it. But have we used that time to prepare for the inevitability of another semester of online?
On a governmental level, Florida, like so many other states, has stuck its heels in the mud and insisted on brick-and-mortar schooling this term. In fact, counties disobeying that order will not receive the funds they will so desperately need for an online school option. Thus, on a faculty level, we are not preparing for online as we should. We are instead bracing for face-to-face impact. Detailed descriptions of mask protocol, sanitizing measures, lunch line spacing and more greet parents on the schools’ websites.
On a parental level, we’re trying, but the road is foggy and long.
Bracing for the Inevitable
The truth is, regardless of whether we send our children back to school buildings in mere days, we must prepare for the real possibility that we will be homeschooling via online means again. My family will be participating in what they are calling Digital Academy, where they will sit at the computer for six hours a day on Zoom calls with teachers. That is literally all we know.
The e-learning option is also available, where students will work at their own pace on assignments and parents will do the majority of the teaching. The point is, even now, three months after the summer break started, and six months after schools shut down, we have no plan. This means it is up to us.
And what is it doing to our students? Last year, at least the students had known their teachers when they were thrown into online school. Here in my county in Florida, there had been very few online lectures, mostly just assignments and home learning that the students had to do themselves with our help.
Kids are as Stressed as Adults
My children just turned 12. They are twins, entering the 7th grade. This pandemic is shaping them in ways impossible to predict, with friendships withering and loneliness setting in. They had a quarantine birthday party with their father and myself. They are sad. They are lonely. They chose six hours of computer work plus assignments over the easier do-it-at-your-own-pace option so they could “at least see other people.” That’s how much it means to them.
Meanwhile, last semester, online school basically said: hi parents, here are 20 Google meet-ups and 728 assignments that you can’t actually find. Also, you’ll need 67 passwords you don’t have. Good luck.
We all have to prepare for the possibility that this is exactly what will happen again, when schools shut down (or don’t open to begin with), and the unplanned digital academies result in chaos. We must be ready to take up the mantle of schooling, while also trying to work, while also trying to parent. And we must do it with grace and compassion. The way forward is through a gentle understanding that may not come easily to most of us.
Hands-Off Parenting Often Backfires
For instance, last year, I tried letting my kids handle their assignments themselves with light check-ins throughout the day from me. “Did you do your work?” I would ask. “Yes!” they would say. Alas, they had not done their work.
Everything Else Often Backfires Too
Then, I tried bribing and cajoling them to get their work done, but that, too, was a failure; they didn’t care about my nagging. After that, I tried literally being a full-time, nonstop teacher, on top of them all the time. As you can imagine, that was the worst of the three options, emotionally. Everyone got so stressed that we were all in tears.
Managing the School Day – What Worked for Me
It was only after that, on my fourth try, that I finally settled into a rhythm I think could help other parents: each morning, I collected a list of their assignments from various google classrooms and emails. I found their Zoom meetings and classroom meetups. I was a bit like their personal assistant, it’s true, but it saved everyone time and interruptions later in the day.
My kids can manage 5-8 assignments a day, depending on the depth and difficulty of each one. Once I wrote them down, I numbered them in terms of due dates and general importance.
The girls tackled their work down the list, coming to me with questions, and alerting me before they turned something in, which prevented the guess-work quiz fails and also ensured the assignments were turned in correctly, as each teacher had their own method. If they spent more than an hour on an assignment, I sat with them and coached them through it.
We scheduled breaks every two assignments. Using this method, we had productive, 6-hour school days from home, without me having to hover over them, and without them having to spend all day staring at a virtual teacher on a computer screen.
Is it ideal? No. Is it the best we can all do right now? Quite possibly.
The best thing for us all to do is to remember this will not be forever. So long as we keep calm and let our children live, play, and learn on their own terms, we will survive this interlude of illness. While everything is combining into a parent’s nightmare, we must remember that the kids are also going through a once-in-a-century pandemic and are confused and scared in their own right. They are growing up in this, they’ve not known much else.
It is us, the parents, who must keep the priorities in mind, and those priorities right now are health and happiness. We will catch up with school. We will be okay. You are doing the best you can, and your kids will be okay this semester. Good luck.
Darlena Cunha is an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Florida and freelance writer whose work appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and more.