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As an education reporter, I’ve watched hundreds of teachers lead classrooms and I’ve learned that their job is one of the hardest in the world. The best teachers seem to have endless supplies of energy, patience and creativity. They manage to inspire both love and awe, keeping kids simultaneously inspired and on task.
It’s a job I know I could never do myself. And yet here I am. Here we all are.
My 4-year-old and 6-year-old attend public school in New York City, which closed schools Monday, March 15, to slow the virulent spread of the coronavirus here. During the first week, our school sent home a handful of worksheets and some links to educational software and shows. I made a color-coded schedule accounting for every hour of the day that usually fell apart by 10am.
A week later, we were hit with a flurry of instructions about how to set up remote schooling on laptops and iPads in our homes (parents who needed devices were instructed to apply for them online, of all things). The Google Classroom page for my first grader included multiple assignments from multiple teachers, plus instructions on how to teach her to type in a pdf.
That first day seems like years ago. I feel exhausted and frayed by this new expectation that I add homeschooling to the already overwhelming demands of parenting and working. And that, to top it off, I must somehow do all these tasks all at the same time — as the economy crashes and coronavirus threatens our livelihoods and our lives. One parent wrote in an email that she was in tears: “It is way, way too much.”
I’ve heard the same thing from dozens of parents across the country. It’s a universal cry: HELP US!
For homeschooling, we need simple, easy-to-follow schedules that don’t require hours of work navigating online software and explaining math concepts we forgot ages ago. We need printed worksheets, assignments on paper and books (because the libraries are closed, too), resources that don’t require a device and wi-fi.
Even more urgently, we need more help and support for parents who have kids with disabilities, who don’t speak English, who are homeless and who otherwise especially vulnerable. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Pour everything you can into getting help to the kids who need extra even in normal times.
And we need lowered expectations for what we can accomplish with a pandemic raging, even if we’re trying as hard as we can. Many of us will get sick. Already, two families I know have parents who are severely ill.
How can we do it all then?
At Hechinger, we’ve tried to ease the stress by asking parents with kids at home to put in half days and make up the rest of their work when they can, although many of us are staying up late and working seven days a week to get everything done.
Many parents need more than added flexibility. I spoke with Rita, a 43-year-old single mom in Thomasville, North Carolina, who works at home assembling window locks. (She asked that her last name not be used.) Her son has a Chromebook his school sent home at the beginning of the year. Since teachers and students there are used to doing assignments online, the transition to full-time remote learning has been relatively smooth — once she can convince him to turn off Minecraft and log on.
Rita is more worried about what they’ll eat. And whether she’ll be able to keep on the electricity that powers the Chromebook and the cellphone service that powers the wi-fi. Her weekly paycheck of $120 slid to $40 in March as the economy crashed. She has $4.01 left of the $190 she receives in food stamps each month to last her until April 5.
Her 12-year-old son, Payton, attends Thomasville Middle School and has been getting food deliveries once a week: breakfast, lunch and some snacks. But he’s a preteen boy who is hungry and home all day wanting to snack. “These little meals, they don’t feed him,” Rita said.
“My light bill is going to be higher because I have a kid here all day,” she added. “Payton won’t have no way to do his homework if I don’t have that bill.”
Rita Tweeted at the North Carolina governor, Roy Cooper, about food stamps, also known as SNAP: “Are you going to release snap benefits early or give extra soon so it will help us parents that has kids home right now?”
No one responded.
She’s kept her television tuned to the news each day, following the status of the stimulus plan and whether it might reach parents like her; though she works, she makes so little she hasn’t filed taxes in a couple of years. “It still doesn’t tell whether I’m going to get a check or not,” she said.
Rita is grateful to the schools. Teachers are calling to check in, and a national program, Communities in Schools, which provides supports to low-income schools, delivered groceries from a food pantry last month and has checked in on her. Cathy Davis, the student support specialist for Communities in Schools at Thomasville Middle School, says she’s in touch with many parents like Rita. “It is taking a toll on some of our family members,” she said. “We are trying to be there and make that burden a little lighter till the end of this pandemic.”
Rita is also worried about getting sick. Both she and her son have health issues that put them at higher risk for Covid-19. She’s started making her own disinfectant wipes, and she cleans constantly. “I’m trying to keep a good attitude about it for his sake, so he doesn’t see me stressed, but it’s been hard,” she said. “It scares me.”
For parents who are sick already, the only thing they’re focused on is battling a deadly disease and staying alive. It is really hard out here, and we need help.