Actual to Virtual
The challenges of the online classroom
From a mother and a teacher
For long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to teach. I would say that it was my life’s calling. I enjoy every single second of it. I enjoy teenage behavior, I love their stories, their excuses. I love watching them grow through insecurities and I just plain love how hysterical they can be without even knowing it. I experience pure joy throughout the day sharing my knowledge with young people. With all that being said, I am also the mother of two teenage girls who also bring me joy. However, they do not bring me joy in the same way that my students do. The joy a mother feels with her children is quite different from the joy that a teacher feels with her students. I do not find their excuses funny, I do not want them to be insecure and I for sure do not want them to be funny when they are supposed to be doing their assignments. Over the past seven weeks, teachers and parents across this nation have had to do a complete mindset shift. We had no choice, it was forced upon us.
The last day I saw my students’ faces was March 13. The phone call came on Sunday March 15 that we were closing for two to three weeks. Luckily, I like to plan ahead and was able to talk to my students a bit about what was going on and the possibility of a temporary school closure. I teach Algebra I to 8th graders and I had an excellent three week plan ready; group project week 1, and planned for weeks 2 and 3 were review activities to prepare for the final unit of the year. They were all set and ready to go, no problem. I was thinking man, maybe this won’t be so bad! I am going to clean stuff, organize stuff, walk a lot, watch all of those shows I never had time for before and maybe just maybe start reading books again.
Well, I could not have been more wrong.
Let me preface with my girls, for the most part, are good kids. My oldest even got an award for being an “all around” pleasant kid at her 8th grade graduation. The first week of homeschool for my teenage girls was...well...rough. Yes I will say rough. My girls use two different “classroom” platforms. One uses google classroom and one uses teams. My older daughter is a freshman in mostly honors classes, and my youngest is in the ever dreaded 7th grade. I am a teacher, I thought this is going to be a breeze. No problem, this is what I do every single day and guess what? I am really good at it. I surely can handle two teenage girls, I mean, I teach classes of 20 plus. The first week was like a bad experiment, my youngest was running around with a laptop screaming her assignments were due in five minutes, crying because she “missed” class times, checking her grades and seeing zeros for assignments she never knew she had. Teachers were emailing and calling, she didn't know how to play the baritone and her band teacher needed a video, it went on and on and on. Meanwhile, my oldest is the polar opposite. No mess, no stress. Assignments were 10-15 minutes late each time. She missed daily check-ins because she did not know they were on her google classroom. She had zero sense of urgency or worry to get her work in. That first week was like a tornado, and I needed to get control or this was going to be a very bad situation for all of us. My husband is great, but left this to me...you know since I was the expert in this field!! All this was going on and I almost forgot I had my own students working on that super awesome project I got ready for them.
On March 17, I woke up to “check” on my students and to see how they were doing on their project. When I opened my email, I was not even prepared for what awaited me. I had over 200 emails full of questions and submissions about the project from the students and from google classroom. I thought, how is this possible????? I only have 56 students!!!!! I made my coffee and started to read and go through every email and question, review and comment on every project for revisions, and respond to any emails if necessary. It was 7:00 AM and I had a solid hour before the girls needed to be up for their classes and that debauchery would again begin. I almost wanted to just let them sleep, so I could get through what I needed to do, but I was actually afraid of being yelled at by my youngest if I did. So at 8:15 (only got through about 55 of the comments and emails at this point), I braced myself and went in. My youngest yelled at me anyway, telling me she had 23 more minutes until class started. I had to access the 9th grader’s google classroom and teach her how to not miss assignments. I had to learn how to navigate both platforms as a student and as a teacher, so that my children were doing all the assignments that they needed to do. I was thinking, when will this all be over and it was only day two, week one. I could not take it, I had to figure this out, I had to nip this in the bud. I had to outsmart this somehow, some way. I had to learn how to navigate this new norm or none of us would make it. My students, my kids, my family and I would all suffer if I did not get a real plan in place that would work for all of us. I was comforted by the fact that mothers and teachers everywhere were experiencing the same struggles. I was yearning to get back in the classroom and to send my two crazies to the professionals. I was anticipating spring break to regroup and get it together. I was dreaming of the weekend where I did not have to force feed learning to my own children, something I typically love to do. I was working now more than ever.
Eventually, my daughters and myself found our groove. We had no choice. There is still no end in sight. With all of this, I am not sure I would ever learn or experience what I have without this situation. I am not sure if I would know what I know about my children. I am not sure I would learn what I have learned about my students. I am not sure if I would learn all the possible ways to teach children remotely or all the wonderful resources that are out there for educators and parents. With all this craziness and all of this negativity, there have been truly positive outcomes.
By watching my children, I learned that school work truly and honestly stresses children and parents out. Is it necessary? Yes, but to what extent? I learned that my kids are creative and smart and they know stuff that I don’t. I learned from my students, that children can be so creative with getting their work done. Kids are resilient. I learned that children yearn to learn and will work given the right environment and circumstances. I also learned that some students will only work with the teacher standing over them in a classroom and actually NEED that support. I learned that although parents are not always as involved as you would like them to be everyday, they are there and support their children in the ways that they feel that they should. I learned how to teach via zoom, facetime, google hangout and google duo. I learned that my child can be a pleasure to have in class, even if they are not a pleasure at home. I want parents to know that the reverse is true as well, although you are struggling with your own children at home, believe me they can be respectful and hard working in a different environment.
This will be over soon enough, but the resounding lessons will be with us forever. There will be true changes in the way that teachers teach and that children learn. This experience, although awful will have everlasting positive outcomes. Education will be changed forever for the better. Educators and students everywhere were forced to adapt and evolve, which will make education from kindergarten to college so much better….just you wait and see.