I was planning on writing this post a week or two ago, when my kids were mercifully transitioning to a hybrid classroom, where they attended class in-person two days a week.

However, on Monday, our school district announced that all grades will be returning to 100% virtual instruction next week. My attitude toward this subject has shifted dramatically, how that the virtual classrooms–which we were hoping we had escaped–are once again a reality for at least a month.

Probably longer.

So before Monday rolls around (and I may be feeling a bit less grateful for virtual learning), I need to get this off my chest and reflect on the positives. I will probably need a few reminders why this medium isn’t so horrible in the next few weeks.

(Just don’t say months . . . plural . . . I can’t handle that right now! I will cross that bridge when we come to it.)

It’s Not Homeschooling

On social media, I have seen some parents refer to virtual learning as homeschooling. Virtual learning may be many things, but thank God, it is not homeschooling.

Now, homeschooling is great for some families. I have a number of friends who love it. I love the idea of kids learning at their own pace, being self-directed, being able to have the flexibility and creativity that comes with only having two or three students. For those families who homeschool and love it, that’s wonderful! I hope it continues to be an excellent expereince for your family.

My family tried homeschooling last year.

We hated it.

Granted, we were in the middle of an international move. We were living at my parents’ house. My husband was still in Mexico, half the time in immigration limbo. Our heads were just not in the right place. We chose homeschooling out of necessity, not by choice. (Well, we had other choices, but they were really bad choices.) We desperately wanted to be in “real” school, but we couldn’t. Hmm . . . that sounds a lot like this year!

While virtual learning has many of the same drawbacks as homeschooling (being stuck at home, limited interactions with others, parents are the sole motivators of lazy students), the huge upside is that I am not the one planning lessons. My children’s teachers are the ones planning lessons, grading lessons, posting assignments, explaining lessons, etc. The teachers are still teachers. We as parents are certainly taking a more active role than we’re used to with our students’ educations while our kids attend virtual classes.

But–thank goodness–we are not the teachers.

We may be tutoring them. But the teachers are still directing this education. As the first quarter was ending and my son was on–what we thought–the last week of virtual education, I seriously considered pulling him out and homeschooling him, despite our horrible experience with homeschooling. (Frustration with missing assignments and technical difficulties was running high.) However, I realized that homeschooling would be a huge mistake on my part. I know myself, and I know my son. He is not the most motivated of students (to put it lightly). I know that I would start with high expectations and he would wear me down. This child can stare at a piece of homework (that he is perfectly capable of finishing on his own) and do absolutely nothing with it for three hours. I know that as I would cajole him to “just freakin’ finish this assignment”, my standards would go down, in the hopes that he would put something–ANYTHING–on that piece of paper.

His classroom teacher is made out of much tougher stuff than me. (That, and I hope he behaves much better for her than for me.) After blood, sweat, and tears (on both our parts) this kid finally turns in his assignment. The next day, his teacher often callously sends it back for correction. Does she not know how long it took us to finish the assignment in the first place? Come on–he’ll take the D that he deserves!

But she knows he can work up to her expectations. And he does.

If I were homeschooling him, I would cave into his whines and bellyaching, and he would learn next-to-nothing this year.

For that, among other reasons, I am so glad we have the opportunity to attend virtual learning when we can’t physically go to school.

As Normal As Possible

While online learning is far from ideal, it’s better than the “Blizzard Bags” we were sent home with in the Spring. Then, my students had a packet of worksheets to work on, over the course of three weeks. They turned them in, and then received another hefty packet.

We had no interaction with anyone outside our house.

I was the sole explainer. The sole motivator.

Now, thanks to the magic that is Google Classroom and Google Meet, my students can see their teachers every day and their fellow classmates every day. The teachers still read the students novels out loud, play spelling games with the entire class, tell jokes, and have their classes connect with each other, and provide direct instruction, of course.

As hard as this is on me and my kids, this is so very, very hard on the teachers. Of course, I can’t speak for all teachers, but my kids’ teachers are doing amazing jobs at this transition, making online learning as normal as possible. These teachers had been looking forward to the hybrid schedule so much that when the middle schoolers had their hybrid start date pushed back, my daughter’s teacher was on the point of tears when she told them that they would not be going back to school at the end of October.

Whatever disappointments we’re all facing right now (and I’m sure that our school district won’t be the last to return to 100% online learning in the coming weeks), and however much I hate that my kids are staring into screens for hours at a time, the magic of Goole Meet is making this a much more normal and positive situation than if we were facing this on our own, without the internet and video conferencing.

In the Know

Furthermore, thanks to Google classroom (and helping my kids navigate it), I’m not as surprised by late or missing assignments as I was last year.* To be honest, I’m not that great at checking my kids’ bags every day. One of my children also isn’t that great about turning things in, remembering to bring things home, or filling out his homework notebook. (Between the two of us, this is NOT a good combination.) However, once students reach a certain level (I’m reflecting on third grade here), they do need to begin to be responsible for their assignments on their own. At some point, I had to trust him when he told me he had no homework.

Sometimes, it turned out that trust wasn’t merited.

This year, thanks to Google Classroom, I can see exactly which assignments he is missing, which are late, and which are assigned. He can’t lie to me (or convieniently forget) because I am constantly checking!

Furthermore, thanks to everything being posted online, I can check the grades on the assignments he completed. Report cards shouldn’t be a surprise*, thanks to these handy means of constantly checking in on the kid.

*Update/Caveat: OK, I really thought I had a pretty good idea about what the 4th grader would get for his 1st quarter grades. It turns out that the grades he got were not at all the grades I expected him to get. I honestly thought he was failing reading. He got a B. I thought he was doing OK in language (grammar). He got a D. I give up. In theory, as parents (and students) we should have a pretty good idea how our kids are doing on a daily basis in a virtual classroom, as everything is posted right there, every second of every day.

It turns out, that’s another thing we’ve got some glitches to work out.

On the other hand, I’ve got another kid who I was quite sure was doing very well. Thank goodness, that confidence was well founded, so this theory of being better able to stay on top of assignments isn’t completely scrapped to the pooper.

The Choice

All that being said, were the kids getting a better education once they finally stepped back into the classroom? Yes. 100% yes.

In fact, as our district gave students the option of riding out COVID by choosing to either ride the waves of going to school, doing hybrid, and going virtual when necessary or families could choose to go 100% online for the semester (whether the rest of the district was attending in-person or not). A lot of families chose this option. So when the kids went back for hybrid schedules, their already small class sizes of about 20 students were programmed to be split in half, so 10 students attended each day. Because so many families opted for 100% online learning this year (and were withdrawn from their regular schools), my kids were attending class with only 6 kids in their class those few days they went back. Despite lamenting the absence of the Virtual Academy students, son’s teacher was thrilled that she was able to spend more one-on-one time with students than she has ever been able to experience in her whole career!

Unfortunately, that was short lived.

However, for those of us who were sending our kids to school, we did have the option to sign up for that 100% Virtual Academy offered through the district for the semester or year. Many families who chose the 100% online option did so because they didn’t want to worry about those transitions from virtual to hybrid, back to virtual, back to hybrid, etc.

I chose the “regular” system, with the option of possibly returning to school, because I was willing to ride those waves. Even if it was for a few days or weeks, I wanted my child to be able to go to school. My upper-elementary student attended school on a hybrid schedule for three weeks. He entered the school building for a grand total of five days.

But those five days were glorious.

In those three weeks, I saw some hope. In those three weeks, we saw some sense of normalcy. In those three weeks, my son got to attend school with five of his classmates and have some serious quality time with his teacher.

In those three weeks, we could all breathe a little.

Reality

Unfortunately, every prediction that was ever made about COVID-19 predicted this surge of new cases as the weather cooled. Ohio has been tracking new cases with a color code, and over the summer, our district decided that if our county was labeled at Red (high rate of contagion) that all students would attend school virtually. If our county was significantly lowering the rate of infection, students would attend school two days a week on a hybrid schedule. And once the county finally looks to be getting this under control, students will be able to attend every day, all together.

Given the upsurge of infections of any kind in the fall, we all knew, deep down, that students in our district would attend virtually again. A few weeks after transitioning to a hybrid schedule, our county hit the high level of contagion again.

However, given students’ and teachers’ experiences with virtual instruction, it seemed they were trying to keep the hybrid schedule going as long as possible.

However, Thanksgiving is two weeks from now. Christmas is a month from Thanksgiving.

Despite Governor DeWine’s repeated pleas that we avoid family gatherings for Thanksgiving, we all know that many, many kids will see their grandparents. Cases are going up. We may not think we’re exposed. But Grandma and Grandpa are they ones who will get sick and get serious complications from this.

If the cases are going up this high BEFORE the holidays, I shudder to think how they’ll be after the holidays.

We’re stuck between two awful choices. The kids are clearly getting a better education in person. However, two weeks from now, we will all be faced with the temptations of a LOT of social interactions. Given how social we’ve been all summer and fall, how many families are honestly going to refrain meeting for Thanksgiving? The numbers of cases will continue to rise exponentially.

I’m glad the decision wasn’t up to me, but I believe the school district is doing their part to mitigate a situation that is likely to get catastrophic.

I hope with all my heart I’m wrong on that. But hospitals in nearby states are already getting stretched to the max. How much worse will it be two weeks after Thanksgiving and Christmas?

So the district decided for us that we are all going to quarantine (or at least dramatically reduce our bubbles of expoure) before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yes, we’re sacrificing our kids’ education (to a point). But if we don’t, it’s possible we’ll be sacrificing a lot more people.

I want to believe the studies that kids aren’t spreading this. But the truth is that this is spreading, and it’s getting out of control. A lot of people are spreading this. Family holidays are a recipe for disaster this year. How many of us will honestly have the strength to tell our families, “Sorry Favorite People, but I will not share my turkey with you this year.”

Anyone? [crickets]

It’s been a relief to pretend that we’re getting back to normal. But that’s just it. We’re just pretending.

There’s nothing to bring us back to reality and shake us out of our complacency like having school cancelled. In a lot of ways, it’s easy for me to say this, being a stay-at-home mom. I don’t have to go to work and have my 15-year-old take care of his younger siblings while they’re all supposed to be doing school online. I don’t have to quit my job because I can’t find anyone to watch my kids.

However, given the numbers, something has to give. I feel our school district stepped up into a leadership void, saying, “Hey–we’ve got to do something about this situation. No one else is stepping up, so we will.” Is it the right decision? I honestly don’t know. This winter is going to be ugly, no matter what they decided.

Here’s hoping that cancelling school will make it a little less ugly–on some level, at least.

Perspective

Given the realities we’re facing, I’m grateful that at least we have online classrooms. I’m glad I’m not actually homeschooling this year. I’m glad we’ve had 9 weeks online to already work out the kinks and make this next quarter a more successful online experience than the first quarter.

I am so, so, so very grateful for those 3 weeks that my 4th grader was on a hybrid schedule, and the 6 weeks that my preschooler attended school.

Because of those few, precious weeks, I chose to ride these waves instead of opting for the 100% Virtual Academy for my students this year. (Not that I’m bashing that choice–if it works better for your family, that’s marvelous! Same thing with actual homeschooling.)

But I am hanging on for the hope that maybe, just maybe, in March we can try that hybrid schedule again.

Maybe, just maybe, they can go to school every day in May.

Somedays we just need hope.

I am so grateful that I had a taste of it these last few weeks.

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If you haven’t had that glorious break, I am so, so sorry. If that’s the case, may your district be out of these woods sooner than we will be here. But may it be as soon as possible for all of us! (Yes, I’m looking at you, Dane County and the entire country of Mexico!)

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