Observations on the Home Schoolhouse

life Sep 10, 2020

Our family homestead, blessed as we are with a roomy house, is, officially, now a schoolhouse.

Not that we weren’t a schoolhouse during the chaos of last spring. But it’s different now. The start of the coronavirus world tended to lack focus when it came to education outcomes. More an ethos of “um, just try and get something done?” Far too many students and teachers (and schools and tech directors) spent their time going through a crash course on online learning necessities. The results, as expected, were messy.

With the buffering months of summer to prepare, most schools have started with a plan or variety of methods to kick off what, to be sure, will be an odd year of education. Still chaotic (we continue to live in uncertain times). But chaos with boundaries.

Diego's spot for the semester!

Together with our children, Renee and I decided to have everyone select online learning for this semester and quarter. Honestly, our youngest two do surprisingly well with virtual school (our eldest, less so, but she manages). Our thinking - which could be wrong - was that this would provide a degree of consistency (and safety) for the next few months.

Plus, I have the luxury of working from home.

Which is to say, I realize that this decision is based on privilege. Our kids have a home, resources, educator parents, and an accessible father with a (semi) flexible work schedule. We hit the sweet spot of the Venn diagram that says “families that can cope.” Such as it is.

Others, not so much. And I think we should personally be doing more to our experience more the norm in America. But that’s a different post. For this post, I want to focus on a few observations about the learning process at the Vander Veen schoolhouse.

The Silence

Oh, the quietness of work. My home, particularly with a daughter named Kelly, is usually a cacophony of noise and chit-chatter. Not so with school. From 7:30 to 1:00 it’s blissfully silent. The occasional key tapping and out-of-context (at least to me) answer to a Google Meet class breaks up the period, but I rarely notice it. I do hear the occasional lecture (more on that in a minute).

This silence affects my work. My productivity rose significantly when Renee returned to work and the kids returned to school. I worked from home this summer, but rarely would I maintain more than 30 minutes of sustained labor without some kind of odd interruption.

Don’t be Anal about Power Chargers

Like most middle-class Americans, we have way too many gadgets requiring charging. Because we won’t let our kids keep anything electronic in their rooms, all devices must return to the study by the end of the day. Because I’m a former tech director, I’ve strung up a beautiful tower of charging cords and surge protectors complete with zip-tied cord endings with name tags attached. Every device has a parking space.

It took 3 days for this work of art (the buttons sparkled like a Christmas tree) to be ripped apart in a panicked feeding frenzy for “more juice” to get through “this last Zoom call.”

This bugged me. More than it should have. I had to do some breathing exercises.

But it is what it is. The kids are already starting to misplace cords and fight over chargers. Ugh.

There’s a lot of Sitting

I know. Students spend a ton of time on their rears in normal, face to face, school. It’s one of those weird things about the modern world that our ancestors would likely find appalling.

That said, hunched over a 10-inch screen for hours and hours is not good. Even during a full school day, I find the kids have moments for breaks. During those breaks, I’ve had them walk their dog or go run down the ravine. Monica and Diego love it. Yet for Kelly, such breaks are hard. When she focuses on a task, she’s VERY focused (it’s why she’s doing so well with school).

Organization is Key

Both from the school and with the student. Over communicate. It’s slightly annoying but necessary. Our school districts (Finneytown and Milford) have done a pretty solid job with their communication. A slightly harder challenge is teaching my kids to check ALL the places where communication happens and often check them.

Keeping up with the steady stream of communication channels is a required 21st-century skill.

Email

Related, I’ve seen old school email become more necessary with online learning. Sure, we adults live in a world of email (even those of us who embrace Slack and more “modern” forms of communication). But in my experience, this is a skill used lightly with students, particularly at the younger grade levels.

Not so with the coronavirus education world.

Fortunately, I’ve seen many teachers step up and make this one of their first lessons. “How to write a proper email” is a life skill worthy of learning and reviewing regularly.

Knuckleheads are Knuckleheads. But They Lack Audience Controls.

I am curious to see how (and what) behaviors emerge in this online world. Every class has a clown or two. Every class has students who carry baggage and trauma in their own unique (and some infuriating) way.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen some behaviors that fit the mold of knuckheadishness.

But it’s hard to gain an audience when you’re one square of 20 on a 10 by 8 Chromebook screen. And a teacher who can mute students.

Education is Public

I honestly don’t know if teachers realize the degree of “public” teaching that is occurring. I suspect they do. And I find it interesting.

Throughout the day, I catch bits of teaching. My kids like to take the occasional headphone break and listen to their teachers via the Chromebook speakers. It’s delightful. Especially during the first few weeks of school as you hear many teachers working through the mechanics of this new way of learning.

Which brings me to my last observation.

There is a lot of Humility

And we parents (and community members) need to extend grace to our educators. Many of them are learning as they fly the plane. This is really hard. But they’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t and making the necessary changes. I’ve had to tell several friends and family to adjust expectations (or their expectations of time frames).

This extends to the students as well. My kids are making mistakes as they figure out how the system works. Yet Renee and I are pretty chill. Nothing is normal. I’m definitely embracing more of a “lo que sea” attitude this year.

Anyway. I’ll likely add to these observations as the year progresses. Fingers crossed that we see consistent academic growth.

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