Many parents around the country are settling into an unexpected new role: substitute teachers for their school-age kids. Daniel Katz, PhD, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Department of Education Studies at Seton Hall University, works with new teachers who are getting their sea legs in the classroom. As a parent himself, Katz wants to offer tips to help make school-at-home work for everyone.
1. Remember what the situation is and what it isn’t
Dedicated homeschoolers have well-established curricula, activities, and social networks. Online learning platforms spend years creating formats that facilitate digital learning. Your students’ teachers were given weeks—possibly days—to move classes meant to be taught in person and with peers into a virtual environment. They have done this so learning can continue and your children won’t lose ground, but nobody has ever done this on this scale before. Be patient with the schools, teachers, and your children as we all figure this out.
2. Set a schedule—then feel free to break it
In school, students follow routines and schedules that they know well. Much of that is likely broken now. Help them adjust by setting clear times for when they’re expected to do schoolwork. However, your children are not in school, and other opportunities will come up. Don’t let a rigid schedule prevent your children from exploring what they want to do, including relaxing.
3. Pay attention to the social situation
School is a social environment. In fact, a lot of learning in school is also connected to social interaction and students learning from their peers. A lot of that has been taken away from students for now, and they need it. Opportunities to connect them with their peers are important and will help them adjust. Encourage them to use virtual “hang out” spaces to form study groups and keep in touch with friends and family while social distancing.
4. Ask teachers and school leaders what they need from you
You’re probably used to a lot of school-related issues being handled by teachers and administrators. Now that school is happening in your home space, there may be needs you haven’t thought of before that’ll make this transition easier for your student. Do they have a clear space to work? Does one student need more structure than the other one? Their teachers will have ideas that you can implement at home, so don’t be afraid to get in touch with any questions.
Teachers spend years in school, have earned advanced degrees, and often have decades of experience in the classroom. You don’t, and you have important things to do too. You aren’t expected to do everything your life demands of you and be a full-time teacher. Both you and your student will get frustrated and may take it out on each other at times. Learn to forgive yourself for not being an expert educator and your student for any stressful reactions they exhibit in a situation neither of you can control.
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