Teacher Appreciation Week took on a whole new meaning this year courtesy of COVID-19, with thanks not only to the educators who continue to support their students remotely, but also to the many parents that have risen to the challenge of distance learning with gusto.
Jessica Muldoon of Harwich has four children: Quinn, in fifth grade at Monomoy Regional Middle School, Maeve, in second grade, and twins Rowan and Willem in kindergarten, the trio at Harwich Elementary School. Because of the nature of her husband Paul’s job as an architect, Muldoon was used to time at home with her kids, whom she said were pretty outdoorsy before distance learning became the new normal.
But since schools closed in March, Muldoon and her husband have plunged into distance learning with determination, though Jessica is quick to caution that she certainly doesn’t have everything figured out.
“What is challenging is that they’re all still at the age where they need a lot of hand holding to get through their work,” she said. “Nobody’s totally independent. It took us about three weeks to figure out a good system.”
Muldoon said it takes some finesse to keep her foursome focused during learning times, which were also challenged by the family’s prior eschewing of devices with screens.
“That is the most challenging part. We were very anti-screen,” Muldoon said. “They might have gotten an hour a day. I feel like it’s a drug — the longer they’re in front of a screen the more they need it.”
For Muldoon, it’s all about striking a balance, which means taking breaks, ideally outside.
“We still get outside as much as possible,” she said. “We’re very active, and we take lots of breaks during the day. If they’re struggling, we absolutely stop things. They don’t have to be straight A students. They have to be good people.”
Harwich Elementary School first grade teacher Rebecca Riley has the unique perspective of being a distance learning educator and the parent of two kids, son Connor Porter in third grade at HES and daughter Caitlin Porter in sixth grade at MRMS.
Riley said her children inspired her to boldly tackle distance learning.
“They’re my favorite humans in the world, so you want them to be happy in this very uncertain time,” Riley said. “You want them to feel some sort of comfort and a sense of normalcy.”
For Riley, distance learning means teaching her own HES students, while also checking in with her kids as they do their online work, no easy feat.
“My husband is a contractor so he’s still at work, so it’s just me at home all day,” she said. “It was very important for me to find a rhythm and a routine.”
Riley said her husband Dan is especially helpful when it comes to helping with Caitlin’s work, checking it at night.
“It’s a team effort to get everything done in my house,” Riley said.
Given the suddenness of the school closure, Riley said glitches in distance learning were inevitable, but that educators and administrators have been doing their utmost to address issues.
“This all happened very quickly and is a whole new model of teaching, [but] our district has been very supportive,” she said. “The administrators have put out a good plan, but even with the best of intentions it’s messy. Every week we’re fixing the bugs and making changes that are for the good of the family and the students. Everybody’s working incredibly hard. It’s challenging for all of us, but we’re all in it together.
Nichole Miller of Harwich is a stay-at-home mother with a family of six, including husband Rob and kids Landon, 10, Lyla, 8, Lily, 5, and Lincoln, almost 3. She said rising to the distance learning challenge was a no brainer.
“Kids need an education and structure and without a physical school that job fell to me,” Miller said. “Even before HES started their online learning I was up late lesson planning and printing worksheets and figuring out how to accommodate a wide range of learning styles and abilities. Keeping them in that school mindset was and is very important.”
Miller said it’s given her a new appreciation for all that teachers do.
“Things get chaotic here a lot. I have a super energetic 2-year-old. You name it he can trash it in seconds! Lincoln also doesn't talk and is in early intervention, so we have to fit that into our school day. We have three morning meetings a day, plus three different schedules to follow. Teaching can be very tiring. Trying to remain positive while keeping morale up is way easier said than done,” Miller said. “I have learned how hard my kids try to work to impress their teachers and how much they miss their friends and sports. I have also learned a lot about their different learning styles and how I need to act to take care of them all differently, so they don't shut down when things are harder on certain days.”
Heather Deveau of Chatham has two children at Chatham Elementary School and a toddler, so her days are full. Distance learning, she said, offered the chance to be part of her children’s education in a new way.
“Having never done this before, with no education background, we’re just learning as we go. Honestly, the hardest thing for us is working with their moods. Some days they want to learn and are excited for their different assignments, and others they just want to play,” she said. “I find the hardest thing is not knowing what they know and what they don’t, and whether to push. These computer programs can’t handle the variation of learning that needs to happen in a classroom, so having the insight from teachers is helpful.
Deveau said her appreciation for teachers is immense.
“The appreciation is through the roof,” she said. “What these teachers do in the course of a school day, five days a week, it’s unreal what they’re able to accomplish. They’ve learned so much from these amazing women. They go above and beyond in every way.”
Chatham Elementary parent Jessica Rogers has been wrapping up her degree in elementary education while supporting her kids through distance learning.
“I was excited to dive into remote learning,” she said. “I was confident that the school would put together a great program, so I was excited to get started and try to make life as normal as I could for the kids by setting up a routine and giving them the chance to see their teachers and friends during morning meeting.”
Rogers said her fourth grader attends morning meeting independently, with Rogers checking in periodically during the day to review assignments. With her younger children, Rogers must sit in on morning meeting, exchanging emails with teachers when questions arise.
“For example, I just emailed my kindergartner's teacher to see how I should support her when she tries to spell words independently,” Rogers said. “My preschooler has an IEP for a speech delay, so he has an extra morning meeting where he does activities with the speech pathologist. His teachers and I are in regular contact and discuss how he’s doing with current supports, what’s working and what’s not. Working together with the teachers has been instrumental in their success. I am so grateful for all of their support, and guidance because it’s keeping us afloat!”
Rogers said she has great admiration for teachers.
“We have some of the best teachers, and I’ve always felt that way. But to see how everything has come together and how they have adapted to the circumstances and taken into account parent feedback, it’s amazing,” she said. “Every time I have a question, I have received a thoughtful and timely response from all of the teachers and administrators throughout this time of transition. It takes a village to raise a child, and I feel so fortunate that Chatham is our village.”
Like Rebecca Riley, Danielle Massey of Chatham is doing double duty during the closures, as both an educator and a parent. Her two children, a second grader and a fourth grader, attend Chatham Elementary, while she works as the assistant special education coordinator and SPED teacher at Sturgis East. Her husband Bill is the school resource officer in Chatham and a sergeant for the Chatham Police.
“As a parent and an educator, I feel that students need to continue to learn,” Massey said. “We had created lessons and plans for the kids before Monomoy's distance learning went into place, [and] introduced many life skills activities into what we had the kids do every day.”
Massey said it’s been interesting trying to teach her own classes at the same time as her children have their class meetings each day but added that she and Bill were pleasantly surprised with how quickly the Monomoy district was able to roll out distance learning.
“For the first time ever having to do something like this, Monomoy impressed us with how quickly they had this up and running compared to all the districts on the Cape,” she said. “Aside from a few glitches, we feel it has exceeded our expectations. It reinforces my belief that teachers have a monumental responsibility and clearly have an impact on students' learning.”