Renee Enyart, 28, was across the room from her sixth-grader when it happened. She glanced over and saw her daughter Emi, who was virtually attending science class at their home in Winter Haven, Fla., reaching for her laptop’s power cable. Suddenly, a sharp voice rang out from the speakers. “It was just an instant scolding: ‘I told you to look at the screen. You know what you’re supposed to be doing. I shouldn’t have to tell you guys,’ ” Enyart recalled.
Tears sprang into Emi’s eyes. “I didn’t know she was unmuted, and I just told her, ‘Go ahead and let it die.’ Because it just annoyed me — she was still paying attention. She was grabbing our charger, trying to be present in the class,” Enyart said. “I was actually kind of glad that the teacher did hear it, because for a second it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ She instantly apologized.”
From a survey of parents six months after schools closed:
*In the early days of the pandemic, the majority of parents (78%) were educating their child at home.
•Only about half (55%) of parents felt prepared to educate their child at home and 50% of parents felt overwhelmed by responsibilities to educate their child at home.
•Two out of every five parents met the criteria for major depression (40%) and criteria for moderate or severe anxiety (40%).
•Nearly 1 in 4 parents (24%) indicated that their child was fearful or anxious.
•Over half of parents (58%) who utilized free/reduced-cost breakfast or lunch programs reported that they were no longer able to receive them during the pandemic.
The worn but useful cliche that the parent is the first teacher who a child encounters remains true for those months that U.S. public schools have been closed. The research showing the strong influence of parental engagement with their children over schooling pays off in higher academic achievement than those parents who are less engaged (see here and here).
And then suddenly in March 2020, parents, uncles, aunts, adult cousins were drafted into an army of unpaid teachers to carry on remotely on screens what paid teachers were earnestly trying to deliver over laptops in kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms.
So what have we learned about parents as teachers in the past year?
*For the most part, they are stressed over the additional responsibility of not only parenting but also making sure that their sons and daughters are learning the required content and skills that teachers would ordinarily deliver in classrooms.
*Parents have learned teaching even one, two, or three children ain’t easy. They have increased respect for the act of teaching and expertise that teachers have in teaching individuals, small groups, and the entire class of 25-35 students.
*Teaching and parenting are emotional labor. Parental authority and children compliance with teacher-directed work delivered via screen has the potential to stretch and fray the emotionally charged parent/child bond, one that is the very basis for trust which is basic to all human relationships.
Thus, when Mom asks Tiffany to complete the worksheet that the teacher has on the screen and instead Tiffany gets on the couch and picks up the iPhone to check messages, friction erupts. And then adding pandemic math problems or reading assignments requiring students to do further research on the Internet further stretches the emotional bonds between child and Mom. No surprise that stress over home schooling has increased during the pandemic.
And many teachers have realized the new roles that parents have to play when instruction is remote.
Listen to Natasha, a 36-year-old high school science teacher in Nashville. She told a Washington Post reporter that she used to have a say in whether a student slept through class or not. Now, she said, she doesn’t.
“Since the kids aren’t in the classroom, [we’ve had] to rely on the parents,” said Natasha, who asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her career. She said it can be difficult for teachers to know whether kids are working. “If a student doesn’t have their camera on, I don’t know if they’re taking notes, if they’re laying across the bed asleep.”
Natasha knows that it is am adult’s job to enforce rules. Because students are now learning in their homes, parents have to enforce rules. And not every parent is either prepared or around to do it.
“As parents, when we send our kids to school, we feel assured that, you know, [teachers are] professionals, and they’re going to get the job done,” Natasha said. “But now, a lot of things that typically parents don’t have to be concerned about in the education process, they now do have to deal with.”
Natasha summed up well the shift in the parent/teacher role that occurred during Covid-19 closures of schools.
Pandemic or not, teachers need parents.