How a Teacher and Mom Copes with Remote Learning

By Susan McLester

When it comes to teaching with kids at home, parents need help.

There has been much discussion lately about the difficulty of teaching remotely, especially for teachers who have their own children at home. Teachers who work with students with learning differences, can face additional challenges. Here is how one teacher handles her days.

Mary King teaches high school special and general education in California’s Travis Unified School District in Fairfield, CA. The district includes 10 schools with a population of 5,466 students and draws from neighboring districts and the local U.S. air force base. The student population is 64 percent minority, primarily representing Hispanic and Asian students.  In addition to teaching both special education English and Algebra, and general education Algebra remotely, King’s challenges include taking care of her two pre-school aged daughters who are at home.

Challenges and Solutions

Both of King’s girls attend the same local in-home daycare/preschool program.  When schools first closed in March, she kept them home with her for a month.  “The expectations for instruction were not as rigorous at first, so it was manageable,” said King.

Some teachers supplied bookwork assignments for kids to submit via email, but King and her teaching partner decided to teach  the same Algebra 1 lesson twice a week (on Zoom) at different times to accommodate students’ needs.  They also held regular office hours.  In order to teach these classes and be available during office hours, King had her babysitter come over for a couple hours here and there, and fortunately her husband was able to be home around two pm each day for the afternoon shift.

“About mid-April is when expectations changed and I sent the girls back to daycare full time,” said King. Her daycare provider is excellent and takes a lot of safety precautions, keeping the group as small as possible to prevent exposures.  In April, King and her teaching partner kept up the same schedule, but as she is also as an IEP case manager, she added an additional seven hour-long Zoom sessions a week to offer students with IEPs additional support.  She began holding teleconference IEPs too.

“This school year, our students are completing three classes a quarter. They are expected to attend three live Google Meets a day and complete assignments in the afternoon.  I co-teach two periods a day and hold office hours three to four days a week.  As you would guess, everything takes a lot longer.  First quarter, my teaching partner and I planned daily for an hour or so…figuring out how to teach virtually has a steep learning curve.”  Luckily, she says, they are teaching first semester Algebra again this quarter so need to meet face to face less often given they already have a plan.

Still, King must also continue meeting face to face with individual students when required, masked and distanced, of course. She worries about the achievement of her students, noting there are often too many black screens during Zoom meetings. She and her co-worker focus a great deal of their efforts on trying to find the best strategies and activities to engage students, so the challenges remain ongoing.

“I don’t think I could be a good mom and teacher if I had to work with both kids at home…I do worry about their safety at daycare, but I think everyone is happier on a daily basis given we all have our own routines.”

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Susan McLester is a consultant for the MindPlay online literacy solution, an education journalist and former educator.