My wife taught fourth grade for years. Recently, her principal asked her to teach fifth grade. “Oh honey,“ I exclaimed, “you got smarter.“ My wife gave me the “teacher look,” usually reserved for an unfortunate combination of ten-year-olds and paper airplanes. Apparently, “you got smarter” is neither novel nor endearing. Good to know.
Patti also has a direct way of speaking with parents at back to school night: “I promise not to believe half of what your children say about you,” she begins, “if you promise not to believe half of what your children say about me.”
With the pandemic, meet the teacher night has gone from once a year to every day. Walt Kelly parodied John Paul Jones, “we have met the enemy and it is us.” Homebound Covid parents may as well acknowledge, that they have met the teacher and she is them. It is now the responsibility of parents to keep their first graders in their seats ogling the screen from immediately after breakfast through the sugar low before lunch and all the way through dismissal. The titular teacher—at her own computer across town—is removed from direct action. The parent is the one in the room with a young one, a young one who may have significant trouble sitting still or substantial trouble staying awake or momentous trouble attending to a glowing rectangle for seven endless hours.
Hence, home schooling takes on an entirely different meaning given who is doing the homing and the schooling. In pre-pandemic world, parents who home schooled could determined the homeschooling curriculum. Moms and dads could choose course work and supplement as they saw fit. Post Covid, parents can only observe what is being taught rather than control the syllabus. The advantage to parents watching the on-line process is that they are aware of what is being imparted. The disadvantage is the same: parents are aware of what is being taught without the agency to influence lessons. Nobody wants to have all of the consequences but none of the power.
Specifically, dad can only watch as the kindergarteners on the Zoom screen take turns counting to ten. What number comes after seven! But if his daughter is already doing two-digit multiplication, dad can only observe as his daughter becomes glassy-eyed, disengaged, and develops an antipathy for learning of any kind. Can you imagine listening to what number comes after seven? if you are capable of figuring out 23 times 27? Neither can I.
Dad can reach out to the teacher, ask for individual advanced work. Alternatively, dad could grab a plastic bucket, head to the beach, and endeavor to push back the tide. The teacher is dealing with learning software, denial of service attacks by hackers, and bad jokes from her husband. As professional and compassionate she may be, there is little energy left for imparting individual lessons to gifted students. At 3:01 even the most dedicated instructors want to attend to their own children and their own lives. Putting together individual lessons for advanced students in not what’s for dinner.
So, it’s time for dad to step up. Specifically, dad needs to:
- Take his advanced child to the library
- Encourage her to pick out some books
- Recommend that she tune out the vacuous on-line silliness and just read during the school day
- Find some good math stuff while he's at it.
“But what is my daughter gets called on?” dad opines. “My child has to be at her desk! What if she is reading and not paying attention? I don’t want my son to be a rule-breaker, an iconoclast, an oppositional defiant kid flouting authority, internalizing that it’s okay to be disrespectful to adults!”
Yeah, none of those things is going to happen. To the contrary, the child will understand that it’s not okay to be bored screaming, that dad supports her, that learning is not numbingly boring. Plus she gets to read some good books and practice two-digit multiplication which she enjoys.
Because at the end of the day—even by early in the afternoon—the only thing that matters is the child’s attitude toward learning. Joy, curiosity, and passion do not overlap with sitting still and excruciating tedium.
As parents, we are our children’s first and best teachers. We wouldn’t allow our beloved children to be bullied; why would we allow them to be bored? Loving parents must accept the responsibility of ensuring that our children are connected to their curriculum. Howling at the teachers or barking at the children are equally unproductive. Taking your kid to the library and asking, what would you like to learn? What is important to you? is a prodigious step.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.
You can't change the course of the pandemic. You are powerless to reopen schools in your town. But you can help your young ones to love learning rather than be bored.
It's time to go to work.