[44] Learning to Juggle

Day 195 and counting.

I mean, where does the time go?

Oh, it goes. Trust me. Long days, these ones. For many reasons, but mainly: distance learning as working parents. What. A. Time. It’s. Been.

Of course, being in the US, we started the new school year back in mid-August. Coco started Kindergarten, and Clara first grade. In the grand, far-reaching scheme of things, I can’t believe the girls are doing this via distance learning.

I mean, if you’d told me a few years back that Coco would begin such a formative period of her life online and in this kind of environment, I’d have laughed.

Well, I’m certainly not laughing now! Neither is Cam.

Let me paint the picture for you:

After more than half a year, Cam and I are still working from home. Our small, 1,300 square foot (120 square metres) home has undergone its millionth transformation to incorporate two home offices, two school areas, a preschool, and a gym.

You’ll remember that, way back in the day, I was working from the car which proved to be a temporary (very temporary) novelty. With my back and brain screaming for reprieve, I ordered a desk, picked up my office chair from work, and was outta there and back inside to a makeshift office space.

We thought those days were challenging.

And, look, they were. But at the time, we only had to support one child with distance learning… and she was at a private school with small class sizes and a good, head-screwed-on approach to live distance learning! The preschool for our two youngest was closed, but we didn’t have a schedule to adhere to either, so workday plans were much easier to manage.

Then, summer came, and we finally had more freedom. No school schedules whatsoever! The kids spent the majority of their days outdoors, swimming, hiking, and riding bikes. In retrospect, it was a completely, utterly, totally heavenly three months.

And then, the new school year started. But this time with two kids in the public school system. By comparison, those early days of lockdown now seem a breeze.

Okay, okay. But what exactly is the issue now, you ask?

Let’s begin with this overview of Coco’s Kindergarten schedule:

Coco’s kindergarten schedule

Maybe that doesn’t look so bad, if you take it at face value. But let’s add some context, shall we?

Firstly, teachers are taking hourly attendance. No, not daily attendance, but hourly attendance. Attendance every hour. EVERY. HOUR.

Now, let’s also highlight that each “block” of learning is not taught 100% live. The plan is for kids to get 10 minutes of that time with their teacher and for the rest of the lesson do self-directed learning or work in breakout rooms (with no teacher supervision).

…yes, you read correctly. So, a five year-old who’s never been to school before – and who can’t read or write – is doing self-directed learning and is expected to actively engage with their peers. Interesting stuff, hey?

Obviously, this is already enough to drive Cam and me nuts.

Buuuuut then we go and add Clara’s daily schedule to the mix!

Clara’s first grade schedule

Now it gets much trickier. Here’s why:

  • The unusually early lunch break starts at 10.50am (but really starts at 10.35am as there’s a break from 10.35-10.50am – go figure), and goes until 11.50am – that’s a 75-minute lunch break that ends before most people begin to eat their lunch.
  • Of course, Clara’s well-timed lunch break conveniently coordinates with Coco’s. Just kidding! That would be too straightforward! No, Clara is due back to distance learning at the exact same time Coco finishes for the day (and for her more appropriately timed lunch).
  • Independent work time. Oh, that’s a nice touch, you might be thinking… independent work time to end each day! Maybe we could clock off for the day at 1.35pm and use the rest of the time to do as we wish? Nope! Hourly attendance, remember? And a closing circle to make sure no-one goes rogue!
  • Okay, well on Wednesdays at least, we could finish the day at 10.35am given that all that follows is a break (10.35 – 10.50am), lunch (10.50 – 11.50am), ‘open office’ hours (basically an optional drop-in session from 11.50 – 12.35pm), another break, and student independent work time (12.50 – 2.35pm)… NOPE! SORRY! We’re going to make you check in online every hour just to make sure you’re not having fun!

It’s exhausting just reading about it, right?

So… I wrote to the principal, the teachers, the school district, to plead for some sense of reason. For a re-think. For any thinking at all. I even attended (virtual) school district meetings to speak, asking for things like:

  • A simplification of the schedule for students and teachers, focusing the curriculum on literacy and numeracy with PE, music and art left for families to build into their own schedules
  • Allowing families to self-report attendance – why force families onto a rigid schedule during a global pandemic?
  • Consider consolidating their schedule to shorter days or fewer days to support busy families

I mean, don’t get me wrong: I get it. Lockdown is important, and so is education. But why, then, isn’t education considered an essential service for which families can choose between multiple options? If it’s so important to be online all day with a teacher, don’t we need to do some deeper thinking here?

As far as I can see, any combination of the above [IMO completely ridiculous] schedules only really works for families with one non-working parent and just one child in those early elementary school years like Kinder and 1st grade. As for families with two working parents, or single parents, or children with special needs, of families with more than one young child… well, what then?

The administration that accompanies distance learning is absolutely ridiculous too. My inbox is full of instructions like:

No, really. Enough.

Print this. Pick up this. Return this. Come to the school at this time to pick up more stuff – in two hours’ time, sorry for the late notice. Fill in this form. Download this app.

…oh and make sure you read to the kids for 30 minutes each day. Make sure they go to bed early. Make sure they eat well.

Oh, did we mention too that lateness to class isn’t tolerated? Also, that last app doesn’t work anymore so now you need to set up a replacement app. Try this one.

Then, of course, well-meaning friends (generally friends without kids) also flood your inbox with suggestions of extra learning you could be doing:

Hey, Clare! Here’s an online class I heard was good for kids.

Here’s a book you could read to your kids about the pandemic!

Here’s an app that’s really good for teaching maths.

There’s an article you should read about distance learning… let me find it…

Oh, and have you heard about Learning Pods?

Did you know the Smithsonian offers virtual classes for kids?

* Delete. Delete. Delete. *

Sorry, friends. I know you mean well, but you’re really just adding to the stress.

I can tell you right now that even military-level organisation doesn’t get you through this. And I would know: organisation is my lifeblood.

Yes, we’re in a privileged position. We’ve both kept our jobs, which of course isn’t something that everyone can say. And yes, we even have a four-day-a-week nanny to support us.

But, even so, the toll that all of this takes on Cam and me is incredible. Say Maria, our nanny, manages Cece (because, conveniently, our preschool decided not to reopen at the last minute so there’s also a four year old at home to manage). And I manage Clara. And Cam manages Coco. That’s the kids covered. But who manages our jobs? We sigh with relief when the kids are finally asleep, and work well into the wee hours of the morning every night. After 4-5 hours of uninterrupted work, we finally climb into bed and wake again at 6am to do it all again.


And again.

In amongst this absolute madness, what am I making of all this, you ask?

Well, it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all education most certainly doesn’t work in a virtual setting (and probably doesn’t even work in a classroom, to be entirely honest). In a home setting, this kind of approach is additionally challenging as it offers no flexibility for how families differ in their schedules and makeup. Forcing families – who are diverse in so many ways – down the same path just doesn’t seem worth it… for teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike.

We’re in the trenches right now, people. And by ‘we’ I mean parents. Every day, I wake up ready to go to battle. That’s exactly what it feels like.

So, what do we do? Opt out of the system and consider alternatives?

Possibly. But the worst thing about all of this is simple: even for that, there just isn’t the time to research and organise and plan.

So, excuse me while I go take a big bloody nap and wake again when all this is over.

Oh, wait… I’ve got that closing circle to attend.

6 thoughts on “[44] Learning to Juggle

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