Today’s Homeschool Struggles Are Yesterday’s In-School Struggles

“Pa-Pa!” my kindergartener yelled out as I taught 10 feet away.  “Papa!  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”  I looked up to see my youngest daughter red-faced, panicked, and irritated as her eyes darted from her computer screen to me to the papers scattered around her.  “I need Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” her arms raised in frustration.
After trying to remind her, several times, that the Mo Willems packet was in her bin, I stopped my class to help her.  I was irritated and conflicted.
In talking to other parents, this scene of juggling work and homeschool is a common one.  It pits a parent’s instinct to help and care for their own child against the duty and responsibility of work.  It challenges our patience and values, and in many cases, it is fueling a call for schools to reopen.  
But, if we simply reopen schools without recognizing that the stress and difficulty going on at home isn’t far removed from the stress and aggravation that occurs in schools regularly, we miss a golden opportunity for reform. Click To Tweet
Parents at home managing and guiding students through online learning are getting a taste of school. 
And, for those parents at their wits end as they watch their children struggle, I hear you. 
For those parents feeling helpless as their child fails to keep up with assignments, I’m sorry. 
For those parents frustrated and incapable of motivating their kids, I get it. 
Ultimately, for those parents bearing witness to an education system that disregards the needs or interests of their kids, I’m with you.
But, while these struggles are unique in that they are on full display in homes across America, they are, in many ways, challenges schools have been struggling with for years.  Teachers have talked about the apathy, the mental health struggles, the lack of choice, and the failure of schools to provide kids with an education that responds to their interests. 
Even as a teacher watching my kids’ teachers, I’m baffled. How can they manage 20-25 of these elementary kids? I’m exhausted just watching their screen. Click To Tweet
Parents juggling work and school can feel teacher’s frustrations that come with running remedial sessions during lunch or planning lessons during hall duty or trying to make phone calls while covering another class.  Teaching is a full-time gig.  It cannot continue like this.      
Teachers want school to be different.  I want school to be different, and, now, we need to demand schools be different.    
First, this sense of constantly being overwhelmed has to end.  Educating kids involves a lot more than cramming content into young minds.  COVID-19 is exposing the fact that content is secondary to health and security.  If it wasn’t clear before, social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and extracurricular activities all have a role in the school day.  But, to have a more robust school day, we have to give up something.   
If care, concern, and compassion are to become more important, content has to become less important, and, it’s cousin, testing, needs a diminished role too.  As school staff has worked overtime this year, I haven’t heard a peep about test scores.  There is nothing like a crisis to expose one’s misaligned priorities.  This doesn’t necessarily mean testing has to go entirely, but we have to recognize how many resources we devote to testing and how much better off we would be devoting those resources elsewhere.  
Finally, the school calendar remains a relic of the past, but COVID-19 has forced a re-examination here too.  For example, in my district, we have designated Wednesday as an asynchronous day.  For me, it’s meant that I have time to contact students and parents in a personal way.  We talk about teachers being involved and connected with families and the community they work in, but we never give them the time to actually connect.  If we want teachers to work differently, we have to adjust the system they work within.    
So, to the parents that feel like they are failing as schoolmasters: stop.  It’s not your fault.  You are not a bad person.  You’ve been set up to fail.  You, no more than your kid’s teacher, cannot do this alone.  We need a better system that allows kids to get the attention they need.  We can have it too.    

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