When I finally broke down and emailed Ms. G to ask why she thought Sarah was struggling, she claimed that Sarah was better able to focus on in-person days than virtual ones, so I shouldn’t worry. Not worry? I can barely get Sarah to go to school on the days she’s supposedly “better.” What can I do?
First, you should know that Sarah is not alone. Most kids are having an exceptionally difficult year. See their best friends at school? Nope, they go on different days. Go to their annual Halloween party? Nope, canceled. Play soccer? Nope, the season has been postponed. And on and on.
We understand that you are upset about Sarah’s experience in Ms. G’s class. But as you note, it’s important to bear in mind that Ms. G, like all of us, has found her world upended by the pandemic. Trying to understand the challenges facing teachers in this moment may help you find a way to improve the situation for Sarah—and for Sarah to improve things for herself.
Let’s start with the difficulties of COVID-era teaching. Many teachers are managing a half-full classroom and a Zoom gallery of students at the same time. And that’s on top of new responsibilities such as taking temperatures, supervising hand-washing, and monitoring lunchtime. Regardless of Ms. G’s setup, the bottom line is the same: Teachers today are under an extraordinary amount of stress. They have spent the past year trying to figure out how to translate their curriculum into an entirely new learning environment. So some of what appears to be her harshness may actually be frustration with the challenges of supporting her students.
Read: How can I get my child to finish her work?
The only way to really know what’s going on is to schedule a more in-depth conversation with Ms. G than your email exchange allowed. Share your concern from a place of care for Sarah rather than criticism of Ms. G. Instead of an antagonistic approach—“Sarah says you never call on her, and I’m always there, so I know she’s right”—try discussing how Sarah has been disappointed because she doesn’t feel that she’s doing well in class, even though she’s eager to contribute to discussions. Is the problem that Ms. G doesn’t see Sarah’s hand raised, or maybe that Sarah disrupts the class? Ask Ms. G what she thinks Sarah should do.
When you share Ms. G’s feedback with Sarah, start with the positive: “She thinks your ideas are excellent, but in online classes you sometimes get distracted.” “Ms. G says she wants to know what you’re thinking, even if she can’t call on you in the moment, so incorporate your comment into any written work you are handing in.” The most important thing—both for you and for Ms. G—is to make sure Sarah feels like she has the agency to improve her situation.
Another thing: For Sarah to be able to improve her own situation, you have to make sure she actually has her own situation. As Ms. G mentioned, in-person days seem better for Sarah. In-person days are better for most students. They feel seen by their teacher. They can joke around with friends. And, perhaps most important, they have a bit of freedom from their parents.