Andrea Bear, an educator and a mother of school-age children, shares her spring experience from both perspectives.
Are you returning to distance learning this fall? Whether you’re in a mask with partial distance learning or 100% full time on line, it affects how you function at home. Here is my advice (as a mom and a teacher) for families returning to a school year that may or may not be completely digital -- and how to navigate it the second time around.
When the pandemic hit in the spring, many parents were not well equipped to handle the full throttle of online learning. Depending on which moms and kids you asked, their spring varied from positive learning opportunities to struggles and poor outcomes. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say for my own experience, it was a double whammy. Already a high-school teacher to more than 150 students, I had now become a first-grade, sixth-grade, and eighth-grade teacher to my children.
Fortunately, my older two were pretty savvy with technology and didn’t need a lot of tech or academic support from me, but my youngest needed more hands-on instruction. I would love to tell you that as an experienced teacher of 17 years I handled both homeschooling and distance learning with grace and style, but truth be told, I felt like I was drowning.
My 7-year-old thought I was the worst teacher in the world (I jokingly say I expelled her about five times) because according to her I didn’t make the experience fun like her regular teacher did. In my own classroom, I had limited time with my students, because the traditional high school day no longer worked with the classroom times, and I found I had to split my time with my own children while also accommodating my students and their other classroom schedules.
In addition, home life had changed. Unlike school with bells and schedule times, it became a struggle to keep a daily agenda that didn’t feel suffocating. As I look forward to this fall, the schools in our area all choosing online learning, and that puts me back into the same driver’s seat. But this time I have a little more time to prepare and have tried to consider what school and home life should look like in order to survive it all.
8 tips to help make at-home learning a little smoother the second time around
Mom timeouts. I start with this one because It’s amazing how much moms can set the tone. If you’re struggling, your kids will see that and it affects them. I’ll be the first to admit I had some pretty bad days, but I allowed myself those moments and in the end I felt stronger for getting through them. Lower your expectations of what you think homeschooling should look like. If you can only do art once a week, that’s okay. If you need a mom timeout to get yourself refocused, take it and then get back on board. Your mental health is important to you and to your family.
You are the primary educator. I repeat: YOU are the primary educator. Regardless of what teachers are doing in the classroom, you are still the parent, and you still decide what your child’s educational path should be. Don’t assume all the responsibility falls on the teacher. As much as I struggled in the spring balancing home and work, I knew that my children would be successful if I guided them.
Create a weekly projected schedule. No one knows what the future holds, but it helps to at least have an idea of what the week looks like. As a teacher, I made a point to announce my schedule for students at the beginning of each week so they could adapt with their own quarantined world. As a parent, I found this was helpful from the teachers who did the same for my kids. We can’t assume, being at home, that school will run full time. Life happens in the middle, but if you have a projection of the week, you’re likely to shuffle things around when needed.
Food schedules instead of free-range snacking. I realized the first time around that my kids didn’t have a meal schedule. They would snack throughout the day, which put their bodies out of sync for meal times and made them more lethargic. Keeping a snack schedule and meal times limits not only your grocery bill but also the constant interruptions of preparing meals and overeating.
Make a space. In the Spring I used our dining table to get my lessons done while helping my 7-year-old with school work, only to clean it off for lunch, then dinner and it was a multiuse location that felt chaotic. I don’t have my own office so my husband has now helped me turn a small corner of our bedroom into an area where I can keep my work separate from my kids and also create spaces in our home for each of our girls. Keep an area where you can create a corner for yourself helps not only organize your work but keep school and home life more in check.
Don’t go straight from sleep to work. This is much easier said than done. I knew there were days I awoke straight from the bed with hair in a bun, coffee, and yoga pants -- and stayed that way all day, feeling unmotivated. Would I go to work that way? So why should my kids and I do the same? Our family agreed we were much more productive when we took the time to get ready. Start your day an hour or two before online learning begins. If you feel accomplished, then you’ll be accomplished. A few ideas to help get this rolling: Get dressed, do a 5- minute clean up around the house for a clean work space, eat breakfast, pray together. Avoid the desire to turn on the TV (a hard one for our family). If you didn’t do it in a regular school day, don’t do it now.
Communicate: Communication is important. Talk with your kids' school if something doesn’t work; praise them if something does. Teachers are trying to do their best, but if they don’t know something isn't working, kindly inform but don’t ridicule. This is all new to them too. Additionally, talk with your kids and see how they're doing through all of this and what they believe will help them for the fall.
Lean on God for guidance. This is probably the most important tip. You can’t do this alone -- so don’t try to. God wants you to lean on Him, even in the hard times. He will get you through this. “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).
About the Author
Andrea Bear is a wife, mom, and teacher in Northern California. She runs a blog called Life in the Grace Lane and also contributes to Catholic Stand and Today's Catholic Teacher magazine. When she's not writing or taking her kids to volleyball practice you can find her sipping coffee from the neighborhood coffee establishments or tasting wine from the local vineyards.