(Pandemic) Life Updates: The “Lost” Two Months of Remote Learning

Oh my goodness it’s mid-October already! We’re still editing vlogs from South Dakota. I haven’t updated the blog in awhile. And we’re putting the garden to rest for the season while also loading in the greenhouse. So much is happening at the Homestead to talk about, but before I can start the post routine again, I need to explain what exactly has been going on these past two months to make life so stressful and hectic that we’re this behind on homesteading.

You might remember that we were dealing with failing plumbing all summer long, putting us behind on some of the garden projects we had on the to-do list. When we last updated, we had gotten back from South Dakota and were getting ready for school to start. You may remember I had a choice between remote learning or hybrid learning for the kids, with the hybrid option oscillating between full in-person depending on numbers within our local county and the recommendations of the health department. We were told we would have the option to choose between remote and hybrid when the change to in-person occurred. The rules shift a little between elementary, where Liam still is, or middle school on up, where Chloe is.

Meanwhile, the university I teach at is recommending remote learning as much as possible, recognizing that different disciplines have different needs, and offering a high-degree of flexibility in course structure and faculty time. As an English professor, remote learning is actually my preference because it allows me flexibility: time to continue my administrative comittments as assistant director of the writing center and time to be the primary parent to my kids. Most of the research I’ve read lacks scientific consensus on things like children and community spread and whether children are at-risk for the virus or even for things like autoimmune diseases being triggered by exposure to COVID-19. Both of my parents are high risk. My elderly uncle just relocated to here from Florida and has no other family. I feel great responsibility for them and could not fathom a world in which we could not safely reach them in-person when necessary. And lastly, Liam wanted to be homeschooled, or at the very least a remote learner.

So, for these reasons we opted for the remote learning offering at both of their public schools. Liam would be assigned a remote learning classroom, and would have his own remote learning teacher for 4th grade. Chloe would be assigned a locker and a class schedule just as she would for in-person, and would Zoom into live classrooms with other remote learners. Liam’s option is automatically more pedagogically feasible than Chloe’s, and I was nervous for her from the start as a result. No matter how much of a super-hero a teacher is (and believe me, they all are right now), there is no possible way for a teacher to instruct a room full of face-to-face learners effectively while also instructing a handful of remote learning students. It’s asking far too much of teachers, and it’s stressful for all involved. Best practices between the two learning environments do not align, and so I really didn’t see how this was going to work for anyone.

Alas, though, for the first several weeks of school, Chloe assured me she was doing fine while Liam was absolutely not. His anxiety skyrocketed and we got him back into therapy with our family therapist. I began spending a large amount of my time each day helping him get through school. His teacher, like so many teachers this year, had never taught online before. Most often, teachers default to the pedagogies they enacted successfully in face-to-face environments, believing they will translate to the digital environment. With several meetings and a lot of hard work adjusting the schedule and listening on her part, within the first month of school, Liam started improving. There were still bad days, but not as many, and with some adjustments on our part, as well, we could get him through a school day and get his work finished, even if, at times, it took him until 4 or 5 in the afternoon instead of 2:30 when the school day is supposed to finish.

All during this time, my semester had started. I was spinning like a top between work, home, and Liam. I continued to check-in on Chloe each night, and each night she would assure me she was fine. I saw little of her during the day, however. Our carefully planned schedule didn’t completely match the reality of the school day, and she barely had time for lunch, let alone a walk with me in the forest. I felt suspicious that she was not fine, but had no concrete reason to doubt her assurances and so didn’t press any further. Until, one day, I received an email from one of her teachers asking why Chloe was missing so many assignments. Even though I should have been checking Canvas Parent (the learning management app used by their school and mine) to help her track her assignments, I simply had not; I was too busy setting up Canvas for my work, among other work tasks, and helping Liam simply get through a day. I talked things through with Chloe and together we made a plan to get her caught-up in what I thought was this one class. I still had not fully checked Canvas Parent, but instead trusted her to exercise agency and track her missing assignments herself.

The next week, however, I received emails from another two of Chloe’s teachers asking why she was missing so much work. I’m going to pause here to say a few things: 1) I sincerely doubt Chloe is alone in missing work as a remote learner 2) the adjustment for students used to face-to-face learning environments to digital learning environments is hefty 3) this is part of the adjustment of best practices: the type and amount of assignments should differ between face-to-face and digital classrooms and 4) life is just super hard right now between pandemic stuff and swirling political, socio-cultural, and environmental crises, and so I also doubt she is alone in general in missing work, remote learner or not. She’s super smart, but I care less about what grade she gets this year than I do about her mental and emotional health. I wanted her to gain enough points to pass her classes, but viewed the missing work as a symptom of a much deeper problem.

She started seeing our family therapist again, which means all four Hull’s meet with him independent of one another via Zoom each week, and thank goodness for it. Family therapy is more important now than ever before, and I highly recommend it. I also sat with her and gave her the option of homeschooling for the remainder of the year. We talked-through the pros and cons, what homeschooling would look and what it might feel like. And then we also met with her teachers. We talked about how detached she feels from the learning space and therefore the content. We talked about how she spends 12-13 hours each day sitting at her laptop, first attending the classes required of her, and then struggling on her own with the content to do her assignments. We thanked them for their energy and time spent with Chloe in break-out roooms and in meetings like this, but emphasized that 10 to 15 minutes summarizing content was not the same as feeling connected enough to engage in the content delivery method of the full-class period. At the end of the meeting, Chloe said she felt better and so we decided to keep her enrolled for now, but I let her know homeschooling was on the table as an option for her.

We got to Fall Break, which started last weekend. She spent three days in a row working until 11pm at night trying to get assignments turned-in. I awoke Saturday morning to a beautifully written note letting me know she wanted to homeschool. I’ve never homeschooled before. I teach college, not middle school, and do not view myself as somehow more adept or capable at teaching than her highly trained professional teachers. But I also know that those teachers aren’t actually super-heroes, even though we like to think they are and seem inclind to set expectations of them that matches. They did their absolute best and we thank them wholeheartedly. I may not be super-mom, either, but I can try my best for my daughter and that, at the very least, I can get her away from the screen and craft curriculum that caters to her learning styles, something almost impossible to do under the remote learning model set-up at her public school (she’s a kinetic and visual learner).

In the middle of all of this, and on top of me continuing to try to do my best for my students at my university, Brian unexpectedly and with next to no time to maneuver or make alternative arrangements, lost the shop space for the makerspace he’d been renting for a year. This set his business into a state of uncertainty that impacted his ability to be present and engaged with home chores and life and also set our finances into another tailspin.

I’ve spent the last week crafting assignments, writing a syllabus, and ordering materials for Chloe. Brian has reorganized our garage into a viable shop space so he can continue working on jobs he already had going (hey, I was barely using my car, anyway). And, most importantly for him, he’s also pursuing some interesting arrangements that could really help catapult the makerspace towards his highest goals while also providing more of an income for us (because despite what you may have heard, most university professors do not make a lot of money).

So, yes, all of this has been stressful. I dubbed these last two months “lost” because I honestly have no idea where the time went. I simultaneously dragged on and on but also felt like a blink. I doubt we’re alone in a story like this. And indeed, I’m positive there are far worse stories out there. We have our health and our homestead. I can, at least, exercise the privilege of having a flexible employment situation to homeschool Chloe. Brian can, at least, make his business work. There’s plenty in our nation right now who can’t say that. So while it has rightly demanded our time, attention and energy, we’re still here: grateful, full of hope and love, and ready to get dirty doing some Homestead chores.

The other day I weeded the perennial beds and planted some bulbs. A week or so ago we built-up the greenhouse structure to ready it for winter. And today I harvest the last of the summer garden. Tomorrow we start homeschool, and now that I’ve prepped, I feel excited for this journey.

Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, teacher, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

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