Distance learning was far from ideal. Who wasn’t angry that public schools couldn’t find a more creative solution to teaching? But, this article does not chronicle my complaints about the school year. As we prepare to return to two days of in-person school this week, it reflects the positives that stemmed from the experience.
The kids logged in from Seattle, Palm Springs, Dallas, Arnold…I-5. Like the VRBO ads that flood online, these “field trips” to adventure-filled lakes, indigenous reservations, expansive deserts, playful pools, or towering redwood forests got them off their devices and stimulated learning.
Remote learning also opened afternoons for play.
The remote learning school day ended around 1 pm. Suddenly, like West Coast bankers keeping market hours, we had full afternoons for play. Tuesdays brought boulder climbs with a friend at the canyon. Thursdays offered basketball shots with other friends at the blacktops. Fridays, we biked the Great Highway with yet another set of friends. Relaxed masked afternoons outside took over for hectic commutes to practices starting right after school.
Observing my child in the classroom, however, topped the positives.
Distance learning yielded the opportunity to listen and watch my children in the classroom. Previously, I had only glimpsed into their classroom lives, say on days I chaperoned a field trip to the orchestra. The months of distance learning gifted ample time to observe them in their natural habitat.
Listening in like a fly on Pence’s head, I enjoyed hearing my three kids readily offer their opinions and values. Their confidence suggested we are doing ok raising them.
Listening in throughout the entire school year also allowed me to calibrate their learning.
Hearing my seventh grader struggling to engage classmates in breakout discussions, I encouraged him to attempt carrot and stick leadership tactics. Detecting my fifth grader did not know classmates’ names, I suggested she reflect on what it feels like when others don’t know her name and facilitated ways to get to know her virtual classmates. Likewise, realizing my kindergartener’s class just watched the same three videos every day, I took to teaching my child actual math, reading and writing.
Listening also exposed me to the content public schools taught and its approach to education. The Common Core Curriculum emphasizes critical thinking. By extension, our San Francisco public schools excel at teaching civics and social justice issues. However, the schools only teach the basics of math and writing. Science and art instruction is minimal. There is no discussion on how to manage projects, money, or people.
Consequently, I keyed into how to best supplement what the schools are teaching through lessons. To strengthen their math skills, they practiced concepts using Beast Academy. To improve their writing, we worked on structuring outlines, arguments, and sentences. To add to the science curriculum, we experimented, measured, and analyzed data.
We carved out time to sketch and sing. We delved into credit cards, bank accounts, and interest rates. We presented, drafted meeting agendas and ran effective meetings. We considered nutrition, table manners, and healthy eating. We learned how to negotiate and influence people. We explored the principles of economics and business.
From this list, you might exhaustedly think, “How is all this extra work a positive?”
In retrospect, auditing their learning helped me gauge how to best support them across the disciplines.
That said, all that extra work nearly drove me insane. Frazzled and tired of teaching three, I called for reinforcements. Valiantly, my mom, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and brother stepped in. Each took to weekly video calls with the kids to teach reading, writing, singing, and drawing, respectively. What a surprise victory. Their consistent teaching provided me with a break and strengthened my children’s relationship with each other.
Seeing my children blossom under their tutelage illuminated the value of my village.
Droves of working parents in our community did not have the same experience. Their children retreated into their shells. Parents struggled to balance work with their children’s needs. At the end of their lines, many desperately switched their children from public to private schools for essential relief.
I’m not sure why distance learning instead provided me with peace. Perhaps, as at-home home parent, it was just easier as my priority was educating my children. Perhaps, we were just lucky and won the genetic lottery. Regardless of why, during distance learning I watched my kids lead class discussions. I learned what skills and subjects to supplement. My village supported me.
The year made it clear that — if I was willing and able to prioritize their education over my career — there was no need for private schooling.
In-person school resumes this week. I’m grateful it only runs two days a week. The new schedule fully integrates teachers and peers into the mix. It still allows for extended field trips, afternoon play dates and continued project-based, hands-on learning.
Maybe a hybrid education model is what should take hold after the pandemic?