I survived the first week of distance learning…did you?
Last week, I was asked to participate in an interview for a local paper about the impact of distance learning on children and working families, and more importantly, the barriers that may interfere with success. To read the article, please click here.
Preparing for this interview encouraged me to reflect on this issue from both lenses: that of a parent and that of a Social Worker. I thought for this week’s blog, I would share my personal experience with distance learning, as well as, my professional advice to families.
My Personal experience with distance learning
Prior to the distance learning curriculum being launched this past week, I was one of those parents who tried to “homeschool” my kids in the mornings in order to give them something to do other than playing on their video games and watching television (yes, I totally added the ” “). I bought the curriculum books online and went through “lessons” with both my sons, who are in grade 7 and grade 3. For the most part, I tried to be flexible: let them pick the subjects they wanted to do, start the day whenever we were finished breakfast, let them take breaks whenever they wanted. “Homeschool” went pretty smoothly and the boys both actually seemed to like it. Last week, when the distance learning curriculum launched, several observations came to light, like a gigantic beacon in the dead of night (yes, I’m aware that rhymed).
First, “homeschooling” by my standards is not the same as distance learning. Distance learning consists of designed lessons in a structured order with deadlines and processes to submit or turn in assignments. It does not consist of one worksheet with a short paragraph at the top of the page with directions and then a brief exercise – only to move onto a new concept on the next page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a formalized education setting, and you would think, grade 3 and grade 7 concepts should come naturally. So untrue. I have had to give myself permission to learn (or re-learn, I mean) concepts with my boys and be okay with telling them that I don’t know something. Sometimes, I will ask them to teach it to me. That seems to work.
Second, distance learning is not the same as regular school. As I had to explain to my eldest son during his brief episode of frustration at the beginning, I am not a certified teacher and am going through each lesson the way it is outlined by his real, certified teachers. The workload is significantly less but seems like more to the kids because there are not used to this. They have been out of school for a month. Real school, I mean. But our kids are being given, at most, two hours of work per day, as opposed to 6 hours per day. It should be manageable, user-friendly, and, most importantly, not considered a replacement of their formalized education. That’s too much pressure for any parent.
Third, as technologically capable I believe myself to be, learning the new platform to access their lessons, utilize electronic textbooks, submit work and communicate with teachers is foreign territory. For the most part, I am fascinated by the ease of information being shared and am grateful that there are avenues that are available to make this learning process somewhat easier. But I am learning as I go along and I have had to remind myself to be patient with my process and ask for help from the teachers whenever I need it.
My advice to families from the lens of a social worker
The advice that I gave the reporter last week was really a combination of my personal and professional experiences. In theory, I have to remind parents and families that anxiety, as a basic emotion, tends to show itself in times of uncertainty and unpredictably. We like to know what to expect and we like it even more when we feel like we have some control over what it happening in our lives. This can be helpful to remind us all that the overwhelming feeling that you may be experiencing or your children may be experiencing is understandable – it’s coming from somewhere…more specifically, the unpredictable pandemic that is currently impacting the entire world and restricting our day-to-day civil liberties.
I think I’ve said this in pretty much all of my blogs during this pandemic because it is so important: Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best that you can. You are not a teacher. And if you are a teacher and you’re teaching your children, they may still not see you as a teacher, they see you as a parent. When I think about the lessons and struggles that I experienced last week (and this week) as a parent, I couldn’t help but think of the systemic issues that could serve as barriers for some families. Those include: poor internet connection in rural areas; working parents who still have to work a full shift from home and may not have the time to go through each lesson with their children; single parents and/or parents of multiple children at different grade levels who may or may not have access to more than one electronic device; families who cannot afford strong internet services or electronic devices needed to complete distance learning; families whose first language may not be English and may have difficulty understanding some of the lesson plans; families whose educational training may find it difficult to understand some of the concepts being taught; students who may struggle with learning disabilities or require additional support that may not be able to be provided through this distance learning method; parents or other caregivers who may not be technologically knowledgeable; etc. I know I am missing more, but those are just a few, at the top of my head.
We can only do the best we can. We need to modify our expectations and be okay with not knowing how to do some of this. We need to use our resources and ask for help when we need it. We can still be flexible. The teachers don’t expect you to be teachers either. I commend all educators for the work that they have had to put in to help our children continuing to learn and I understand that some of the teachers may also be facing some systemic barriers too. We are all in unfamiliar territory and we are in survival mode, meaning that our main focus is to get through each day healthy and safe. If something is not finished today because you and your child(ren) are about to throw the laptop out the window out of pure frustration, put the laptop down gently and carefully walk away. It will be there tomorrow. Because unfortunately, this is our reality, our normal, for now. Our children will likely not be as prepared for the next school year as we would want them to be. That’s okay. We have been put in the position to be creative in continuing the education of our children, and I am referring to both families and educators.
So be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job. Be grateful that in the current mode of survival, you have succeeded one more day. Your home is not a school, and it’s not meant to be. Your children will be fine. They are resilient. They will learn to adapt to new environments and unpredictable changes. Everything after this will hopefully be more manageable. Just think, one day in our future, we will be able to say, “You think that’s bad? It’s not a pandemic, remember??”