Online schooling provides parents with small window into world of teaching

While online schooling has become a source of significant frustration for many parents during the pandemic, some say it has provided a small window into how their kids are educated and the differing skills of teachers.

COVID-19 case surges have periodically interrupted the school year, with provincial governments across the country shutting down school buildings and forcing children to attend online classes from home. In Ontario, for example, schools are set to reopen for in-person learning after being shut down for weeks.

Although home online schooling is difficult to compare to in-person learning, some parents say the current situation has given them a glimpse into their child’s class experience.

“You’re seeing the stuff that you never see,” said Charlotte Schwartz, a Toronto mother of four children. “It’s such an interesting window into the kids’ day.”

“I never have had cause to be in my child’s classroom for an extended period of time. And suddenly I’m there every day in one way or the other and you see a lot of things.

‘My kid would never do that’

One thing that has come to her attention is the behaviour of her own children, Schwartz said. 

“It brings to light a lot of the things that you hear from teachers in the context of report cards or parent-teacher interviews where you’re like, ‘Oh, God, no, my kid would never do that.’

“And then since virtual school starts, I’m like, ‘oh, my God … I can’t believe this is how you behave in school.’ And you’re seeing it play out in real time.”

For Calgary parent Tara Fleming, who has daughters in grade 9 and 12, the e-learning experience has also provided  insights into the quality of teachers; some haven’t been able to adapt to the online education world.

COVID-19 case surges have periodically interrupted the school year, with provincial governments across the country shutting down school buildings and forcing children to attend online classes at home. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

“Some of the teachers have been amazing and really cared and nurtured the students in an online environment, which has been amazing,” Fleming said. “And then others are not as strong or keen to change.”

Called it a day

Fleming gave an example of one teacher who ate a sandwich, took a screenshot of who logged into class, asked the children to send any questions they may have by email, and called it a day.

“That was shocking to me,” she said. “Sometimes [you think] ‘that’s amazing. That teacher is getting up and engaging the class and giving them breaks and really fostering them.’ And then others are putting a hoagie in their mouth and calling it.”

Toronto parent Chi Nguyen, who has a six-year-old and three-year-old, said the online experience has brought to light some of the teaching issues she had already been concerned about.

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She said she used to hear from her son about the heavy reliance on YouTube videos by one of his teachers. 

“Now we’re getting the full view of how she uses video to supplement the learning experience, which basically is just put on YouTube videos for the first 40 minutes,” Nguyen said. “It’s kind of brutal.”

But the creativity of other teachers, she said, has been able to shine through.

‘Good adaptive capacities’

“Our gym teacher has been incredible. He’s got the kids running around the house, looking for objects from the bathroom that start with the letter G, you know, like really fun, playful things,” Nguyen said. “So some people have really good adaptive capacities.”

Toronto parent Aly Valli, father of a fourth-grader, said he was surprised to see the discrepancy in students’ skills. For example, some kids could do more complex multiplication questions while others were stuck on basic equations, he said.

“I’m just thinking, ‘how do you manage this as a teacher where you’ve got one set of kids that are one end of the spectrum and on the other end you’ve got people trying to catch up.’ How difficult is that?”

It has, he said, made his appreciation for teaching grow.

“One hundred per cent, that’s one of the first things that came to my mind when we started this,” he said.

While online learning has become a source of significant frustration and struggle for many parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, some say it has provided a small window into the differing skills of teachers and how their children are educated. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Additionally, he’s discovered that a teacher’s ability to hold class, not lose their temper and remain calm while dealing with 20-plus kids is “so critical.”

He said he also noticed his daughter likes to doodle and zone out at times — not unlike her father at that age.

“Every time she’s zoning out, I’m pulling her back in. What happens in the classroom? Who’s calling her out? And who’s delivering? Because she will be able to hide and just use her natural ability to kind of get through things.

“But is she learning? [Is] she understanding the concepts?”

Extra scrutiny

Schwartz, from Toronto, said she does feel for the teachers and the extra scrutiny online learning has placed on them.

“I think about what it would be like to have someone come in and sit across from me and watch me,” she said.

“There’s all these parents sort of sitting and potentially judging or whatever, and then you’re dealing with a lot of different expectations,” Schwartz said.

“There are a lot of parents who think [the work is] not enough. There are a lot of parents who think it’s too much. There are a lot of parents who say their children are overwhelmed. There are a lot of parents who say they’re overwhelmed.”

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