Long Island City, New York
You and your wife both have a point. Remote schooling is, for many kids, not providing anything close to the sort of education possible in a classroom. Instead of teachers, parents or other caretakers—many of whom, like you, have full-time jobs—are monitoring students. As a result, many students aren’t receiving the typical level of support—both in terms of academics, as you’ve focused on, and emotions, as your wife has.
The academic shortcomings are somewhat easier to describe. Every available e-learning interface has problems. Students need to learn to mute and unmute themselves; time lags and bad internet connections plague participants; teachers try to screen-share and fail. And those are just the technical issues. Even when the technology works perfectly, remote learning is no substitute for in-person learning, especially for children with special needs. Children in remote school are surely not learning as much this year as they would have in a non-COVID world, full stop.
The lack of joy in our students’ lives is equally apparent. So many students are missing out on the parts of school that they loved most: running around, playing games with friends, and just being silly.
Kids need both. They thrive on structure and benefit from enrichment, but they also need a chance to unwind and spend time with other people—real people, not on a computer screen. We suggest divvying up your free time between the two, guided by Caleb’s level of fatigue and his excitement about learning-based activities. But don’t wait to consider that question until 5 p.m., when you and he are both exhausted. Rather, let’s look at your whole day, and try to strategize about where you can intervene so that Caleb arrives at the end of the day in better shape.
Emily Gould: Remote learning is a bad joke
First let’s look at the roles you and your wife are playing in this dynamic. To help Caleb feel most comfortable and supported, you will need to make sure you’re both taking on a bit of the schoolwork and a bit of the fun. You don’t want to assume polarized roles where Caleb vilifies you as the parent who will make him work, and your wife as the nice parent whom he can just take it easy with. Kids are preternaturally disposed to know whom to ask for what, and polarized roles can lead to “answer shopping,” where Caleb perceives one parent as the person to ask for a break and the other as the person to ask for help. Consistency between you and your wife will allow you to be a united front, so Caleb will know to expect the same responses from both of his parents.
To make these difficult days less difficult, start by setting reasonable goals based on the age of the child. You say that Caleb is on the verge of tears by the end of the day and that he regularly interrupts you during your meetings. Both of these problems might be solved by taking a few minutes during breakfast each morning to create a daily plan. Review the day’s schedule with Caleb (both what’s on his schedule and what’s on yours), preparing tabs on the computer, printing out any materials he’s going to need, and setting out snacks and a water bottle where he can get them without your help. All of these changes will help mitigate your stress level and Caleb’s potential frustration.