We were sent home from work so we would not get sick and then our children were sent home with us. After a week or so of juggling work and parenting, a new responsibility has befallen us, that of teacher. For the parents of the approximate 1.1 million school children in New York City, home school seems to have officially begun this week. And with school cancelled through the end of term, this is reality now.
My son’s teachers, glorious and remarkable individuals who work extremely hard to educate my brilliant but somewhat unfocussed child, have set up a Google Classroom. Parents, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In this virtual room, they post assignments, math problems, essays to read, questions to answer. The only thing missing from the vast resource of education available in this Google space is something telling me how to teach.
I am not a teacher. I have never really aspired to teach, though I have toyed with the idea here and there, summers off, etc. It seems basically impossible, herding cats, or even worse, children.
The first morning of home school was yesterday. I had to try to teach, while trying to work, while trying to not freak out about the massive global contagion, and it was an unmitigated disaster. That thing where as a work-from-home person you’re supposed to take yourself seriously and at least put on some proper pants, that never happened. My son ended up on video games or his iPhone or watching YouTube or whatever, I have no idea, for at least 6 hours after we gave up on education.
Since my work day fell apart, and the school day was a non-starter, I reached out to friends, other parents, mostly moms, to find out how they were coping with this whole mess.
I asked: “Parents! Are you letting your kids run around like feral beasts? Zone out on devices? Enforcing a strict homeschool regimen? Let me know how you're coping.”
I posted my missive with the hope of finding tips from people who were doing better at this whole thing than me, but instead I got something way better: confirmation that everyone, for the most part, is struggling.
It turns out I’m not the only one who finds the anxiety level of working from home, teaching children, maintaining some sort of domestic stability, meal planning on rations, quarantining, and stressing about what appears to be some kind of coronapocalypse, unbearably difficult.
Kathrine Jebsen Moore sent this from northern Europe: “Day one here, so not much useful advice! But it's becoming clear that me doing any work of my own is going to be a struggle. I've not really started lessons, but that's the plan.”
“It’s overwhelming and confusing and if you do any work from home, very difficult,” Stacy, musician and mother of two, said from LA. “Especially the more kids you add into the mix with different assignments and needs.”
Parents of grown kids just made fun: John Faithful Hamer said “I’m keeping them sedated in my basement until the Rapture.” Hey, at least it’s a plan.
“We’re on the 7th work/school day of all of us at home,” Lucinda said from Pennsylvania. “I made a schedule based roughly on school activities sent home by teachers, plus art and exercise breaks, plus snacks to keep blood sugar and moods up. It has only been followed very loosely because both parents are supposed to be working full time. I try to sit them in the room with me after breakfast just to get them started. Then it devolves into fighting and staring at screens.”
Super organized moms like Jen in Maine make me recognize my own inadequacies: “I write a schedule for her every day that roughly mimics what she does at school. We fill it in with work sent home from her teacher and whatever online stuff they've recommended or we come up with. We stick to it more or less but stay flexible.”
“Also been trying to schedule a daily call with a friend -- 4 o'clock is FaceTime time! -- and that silliness goes on for 30-60 minutes. This works for us because we're all pretty routine-type people. It may fall apart at some point, but I figured let's at least start with order. I've seen movies.” But then, Jen has always been impressive.
“Oy. A little bit of each. Mostly trying to chill and spend time with the kids,” said a friend in Toronto. “I’m not enforcing proper academics but we are watching films together and talking about them, analyzing them. Bought sidewalk chalk for our balcony, we prepared soil for planting seeds which we will observe growing, cooking basic things, some crafts.”
“Completely feral,” said an old friend with a high schooler in Pennsylvania. “He sleeps until 11 or noon, and bought himself Animal Crossing for his switch. His food intake is totally unmonitored except for dinner, but he's pretty self sufficient. I'm enforcing teeth brushing and showers. But remote/virtual learning starts Wednesday at 9:30 for testing, and for real next week. It's a shorter, modified schedule with 3 classes per day.”
Everyone seems to have downloaded Animal Crossing.
My kid’s best friend’s mom in Brooklyn said “My son's teachers are posting daily assignments on Google classroom and iready for math & ELA as well as actual reading. I don't know how he's going to get it all done since we only have 1 laptop & I need it for work the vast majority of the day.” And she’s a teacher herself.
This from my sister in upstate New York: “My high school junior is pretty self motivated, but the second child and middle schooler— Well, he has always been a struggle, he is currently running feral, but we are preparing him and (mostly) ourselves for actual school work tomorrow. He got a huge packet of work to get through. I did have the kids pick 2 meals for the week, and I am going to help/teach them how to cook it. So that's productive lol”
My favorite reply came from a high school friend in Ohio who said simply “I don’t know how to do this.”
That’s my whole thing too.
My old grad school friend, now a dad, noted from Virginia “It's a navigation of everyone's state of mind—we have some good routines and plans, but with a five, almost six year old finishing K and a 4th grader—they are in two different worlds. And then there's the pressure on our work, and the processing of the emotional world. My wife has been amazing for the last week, but collapsed this morning and couldn't handle anything. It's a huge adaptation.”
It is challenging. And there are no tried and true answers. That’s what I keep trying to remember. The rules are different, and while normalcy is something to try to stick to, this isn’t normal. The key things are to keep your cool, maintain your good temper, find joy, laughter, and know that your kids will find their own way. If you keep them on course with love, make them read, help them learn how to master their own resourcefulness, then when we come out on the other side of this, they should be alright, even if they haven’t mastered grade 4 math.
We’re locked inside with our kids, without much in the way of release for any of us, trying not to drink our way through a dozen bottles of wine a day, use up all the weed spray for those of you in the legal places, not eat all the food just because it’s there, and now we’re trying to educate these children that we once gladly sent off to school in the morning. I love my kid, we all love our kids, but this trying to be all the things for all the people for all the reasons is a bit much. I’m going to stop trying.