I’m a high school teacher and a parent of elementary-aged children. All of us have been participating in school 100% online since March. Every day is an adventure. But some adventures are more exciting than others and today was an exceptionally interesting experience.
The day started out well, because the night before I made sure that the kids got all of their school materials ready. This happens with a regularity on par with how often Halley’s comet can be seen from Earth. I patted myself on the back. “Today’s going to be a good day,” I thought. I was testing the universe.
The girls grabbed their computers, sat down, and logged themselves in. “Ah, I have such good kids,” I said to myself. I smiled as I filled my cup of coffee and started sucking it down while I walked to my work station – where I discovered my earbuds were missing. The universe had started responding to my call.
I have two identical pairs of buds that I leave next to my computer and every so often one of my daughters borrows one. Or both, apparently. I cannot handle teaching without them – it is way too loud in my house, and my earbuds serve the same basic function for me that Ritalin does for an ADHD brain. I searched until I eventually found them.
My kids always start their school day seated at the kitchen table – but it is inevitable that one or both of them will end up migrating over to my classroom (a.k.a the dining room) later. It wasn’t too long before Older Daughter sat next to me in my dining room office. She was not wearing headphones because despite starting the school year with four pairs, three have broken and she can’t find the fourth. Clearly it is too much to ask for her to take care of them – after all, she didn’t even notice the earbuds she stole from me and didn’t put back, even though she must have had to lift them up in order to grab her laptop this morning.
I was working with my students and trying very hard to tune out the classroom conversations blaring out of Older Daughter’s screen. Her class was receiving full group instruction. I heard the teacher say, “I’m just waiting for Student Z and Older Daughter to enter their answers in the chat”. I turned to face her.
“She said your name! Send her a chat!” I demanded.
“No, she didn’t,” my daughter insisted. “She said Elsie.”
I heard it again. “She said your name again!” I said. Then I second guessed myself. “Didn’t she?”
“No,” my daughter assured me.
The third time I heard it there was no questioning. Her name was called out AGAIN. It happened three times and I’m sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HER! “Oh My God,” I said. My voice was louder this time. “SHE SAID IT AGAIN! SHE SAID YOUR NAME! DO WHATEVER IT IS SHE IS ASKING YOU TO DO!”
I return to my Zoom screen and notice that Student A, who had joined class and started working a few minutes ago, has turned off his video and is no longer responding to me.
I called home (this is a common occurrence, she knows my number). While the phone rang in my right ear, through my left ear I heard her through his zoom, “Student A! Why is Mrs. Grouch calling me???!!” I hear a door open and her voice, louder, “Student A!! Get yourself up! (he fell asleep apparently) It’s 9:00!” She may have added some colorful language. Slam! I heard rustling around and a moment later he got back to work. She never answered her phone.
The whole day was like this.
Older Daughter had to go to the bathroom during class time. I asked if she couldn’t wait until the break. She said she couldn’t and then informed me that she always records the class when it goes too fast or when she has to leave to use the bathroom so she can watch it later.
Um, WHAT? Holy crap, students can do that??! Yes. Yes, they can. The video recording only showed her face, not her teacher or her classmates, but all of the audio was recorded. As a teacher, I find this more than a little creepy.
At one point I saw Younger Daughter lying on the living room floor watching a video of herself that based on her clothing and appearance she must have recorded today.
“WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE DOING RIGHT NOW?” I yell across the room. She rolls her eyes at me and closes the video. I’m not sure if she immediately went back to her Zoom tab because I unmuted myself and went back to working with my class. At some point later in the day I saw that she had painted her own nails and also painted the outside of her chapstick container. No clue if that was immediately after I reminded her to do what she was supposed to do or if she waited five minutes before not paying attention again.
Is there a cut off age when students are no longer capable of learning how to write lower case letters? Like, it’s just too late? Because some children learn it in kindergarten, but other children have a substitute for the first half of kindergarten and global pandemic virtual instruction for the all of first grade and still haven’t learned how to do this because her parents suck. I’m asking for a friend.
My students were in rare form. In one of my class periods we sometimes play a fun game where everyone predicts how many tabs Student B has open on his browser. The winner is the one who guesses the closest and the number is always A LOT. So, we all made our bets and then I asked Student B to share his screen with us. Sure enough, SO MANY TABS. I asked if someone in the class will count the tabs out loud for us. Student C starts counting – only instead of his normal voice he is talking in an autotuned voice. I had not expected that little twist. We all died laughing. I laughed until he hadn’t stop speaking like that a full 20 minutes later and I had to threaten to move him into a breakout room by himself if he didn’t turn that crap off. I gave a social communication lesson about how a joke is only funny once and after that it’s just annoying.
Student D came to class on time but within five minutes he told me he was so tired and he left. So, I marked him absent. He didn’t show his face until thirty minutes into the next class period – and when he entered the room he shook his head at me (perhaps disappointed I marked him absent) and gave me the dirtiest look. I said, “Welcome back,” and asked if he was okay. Without saying anything, he kept giving me the same dirty look until he logged off a few seconds later. He literally came back on the Zoom just to give me a dirty look! That was a first for me.
Between that hour and the next I got up to refill my coffee and use the restroom. As washed my hands I looked up at my reflection in the mirror and grimaced. I’m so used to seeing myself at my “good” angle, all day every day in my Zoom meetings – the left side of my faced turned to the side since I’m always looking at my second monitor. Nowadays, I am constantly startled and disgusted when I look at myself in the mirror straight on. It has become an unfamiliar angle.
I didn’t leave the bathroom right away because for some reason the toilet doesn’t flush right. I flush it again, holding the handle down longer this time. I watch as the water in the bowl starts to rise. And then rise some more.
Sure enough, that damn thing started overflowing. I yelled out one curse word for each basement stair I ran down until I reach the drawer of rags. Water was already pouring in through the drop tile ceiling. More curse words were uttered. Inside my brain I screamed to myself, “I WOULD NEVER HAVE TO CLEAN UP AN OVERFLOWING TOILET DURING THE SCHOOL DAY IN THE BUILDING!!” I furiously soaked and mopped and wiped so I could get it cleaned and sanitized before my next class started. Maybe this will be good practice for when we return and I have to sanitize my entire classroom between class periods. This thought does nothing to improve my mood.
In the next hour things were going okay, except I had three students who I had to keep asking, “Are you there? Hello? Helloooooo? Student E and F and G, can you hear me?” And one of them responded. Student H has three dogs. Today they were all barking in the background, loudly. I muted him (nice Zoom feature!). He unmuted himself pretty quick (flaw to said feature).
Throughout the hour, my attention shifts from my classroom to the sounds that surround me in my house and back again. It is impossible for a mother to pay absolute full attention to her work when they hear their children need us, get hurt, or do something wrong. Teaching requires full attention. Parenting requires full attention. My brain is regularly in the middle of a tug of war match between my competing responsibilities.
At one point, Student I had a huge smile on his face. He was clearly NOT working on Chemistry. “Student I! Time to refocus!”
I heard one of my children walk to the pantry and rustle through the processed food drawer. “Whoever is in the pantry – get back to class!”
I asked Student J if he was doing okay and he unmuted, said nothing but gave me a thumbs up, and remuted. I laughed.
I heard kid footsteps go in and out of the bathroom three times within a 6 minute timespan. “Stop going into the bathroom to avoid class!” I yell.
I helped Student K understand the difference between a chemical compound and a mixture. He got it! I smile.
I edited Student L’s paper.
I emailed the parent of Student M about a concern she had about her child and penciled in an appointment on my calendar to meet with her.
I texted back and forth with my parapro, who was in another class providing 1-1 support.
I coached one of my autistic students (Student M) through the process of maintaining a conversation once it’s started. I sent him into a breakout room with other students to practice.
I told a kid, no, I couldn’t take his phone from him to reduce distractions like he asked me to but a) that teleportation technology really needs to become widely available and b) someday in the hopefully near future I’d be able to take his phone away all the time when we’re in person. And I told him he’d be SO thankful for that help and to remember that.
I became livid when Youngest Daughter accidentally called me through Facebook messenger. I got up, walked over and grabbed the Kindle out of her tiny, conniving little hands. I hid her Kindle in a very hard to reach cabinet and told her to get back to her class. For the 153rd time. a few minutes later she came back and handed me a picture she drew – of a stinking pile of shit. With a mad face. She also gave me a dirty look (second one of the day!) and stopped off. I won that battle in the end though because I framed the personified piece of shit and put it up on the wall. She tried really hard to stay mad at me but I did see a bit of a smirk break through her angry exterior.
Student N joines the Zoom well after class started, “Sorry I’m late, he said. “The couch is soooo comfortable. He was still laying on his coach in the dark but there was just enough light for me to see his half-opened eyes and disheveled hair.
“You can’t lay down during class!” I told him. “Go run around your house twice and get some water and come back.” e got up to do his laps. He actually returned not too long after.
Another teacher popped into my Zoom to discuss Student O. We went into a breakout room for privacy. While I was talking with the teacher I heard a LOUD BANG coming from somewhere in my house. I gave myself a moment to decide whether or not I was planning to find out what the hell that noise was or not. I didn’t hear anything else, so I decided not to investigate.
Moments later I heard a loud bubbling sound coming from the kitchen, where Younger Daughter was working. “Stop blowing into your drink with a straw!” I screamed. The noise drives me batty. “I will throw all of the straws away if I hear you do it again!” I remembered immediately after the words came out of my mouth that, no, I won’t actually do that because we got rid of plastic straws ages ago so she must be using my husband’s special metal straws. There’s nothing a parent hates more than doling out a great threat she can’t actually deliver.
Older Daughter got out the Scotch tape. She placed a strip over her mouth and started talking to me. It totally gave me the creeps and made me think of The Scarecrow in Batman, and I told her so. She moved the piece of tape up, over her upper lip.
“This is my waxing strip,” she told me.
“Do you know what a waxing strip is?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve seen it on Youtube. People cry because it hurts.”
I feel the need to educate her because our family is a Hairy Family.
“Have you seen me get waxed at the hair salon??
“No,” she replied.
“I get it done every time I go there.”
“Yep. Moustache and eyebrows.”
I wanted her to know that’s an option for her. That information will be like gold in a few years.
Older Daughter got kicked out of her Zoom. This happens. My 6 and 8 year old are both Zoom experts, they have literally taught me things I didn’t know about how to use Zoom. Older Daughter opened Zoom to get back in and she clicked on something (no clue what) and it pulled up a list of all the Zoom meetings she has ever attended. She read through the list and started questioning when certain Zoom meetings occurred based on the name of the meeting. Then she saw one meeting that had her name spelled wrong and she asked, “Who spelled my name like that?” She was trying to rope me in to help her figure out who had created that meeting. I got very annoyed with how long this was taking her and sternly reminded her to get back to class, and thought we’d both be quickly moving on with our own meetings.
Except she didn’t move on. She interrupted me yet again and told me she didn’t know what the meeting password was.
I lost my shit.
“OMG, WHAT? You literally have logged in to the same meeting link every day since August. And you’ve gotten kicked out of Zooms before. HOW DID YOU LOG IN ALL OF THOSE OTHER TIMES?! Whatever you usually do, do it! NOW!”
I looked back at my classroom Zoom and realized I was not muted during this exchange. I seized another opportunity.
I turned away from my daughter to face one of my students and said, “See Student P? You know how I always tell about you that I harass you because I care about you? And how if I didn’t care I’d let you sit peacefully and keep doing things that are not healthy or productive? Well, now you KNOW I care about you because you just heard me with my daughter. See how I nagged her? And obviously I care about her because she’s my daughter. Now do you understand?”
He laughed and told me he got it now.
“Plus, I’m way nicer to you than her,” I added. When it comes to schoolwork, I have so much patience helping my students but so little with my own children.
“I can see that,” he stated.
I turned back to my daughter and followed up on a lesson I gave her about a week ago. About how she comes from a long line of yellers. I reminded her that Papou used to yell at Baba and Grandpa used to yell at me, and now we both yell at her and her sister. “And someday….” I said, tears welling up in my eyes at the thought, “…someday you’ll yell at your own children.” I smiled tenderly. She gave me a quick double-punch in the shoulder.
Youngest Daughter walks into the dining room. “I’m done with school,” she tells me.
I glance at the clock. It’s way too early. “Did your teacher say you were done with school?”
“GET BACK ON!” I scream. I remembered to mute myself this time.
I continued helping my students navigate prioritizing work and making plans for work completion. I sent a couple of emails to parents. I filled out a bit of paperwork requested by the school psychologist. I checked one of the 40 Google Classrooms I am enrolled in to find out what the assignment is for U.S. History. I added 8930582 to my to do list for later. For when I can focus.
Oldest Daughter was still sitting next to me and was working on a math problem during large group instruction. She stared at the problem at the screen. “It don’t know how to do this,” she told me.
I heard her teacher say to the class that they might not know how to do this yet and that’s okay. This time I didn’t yell, I calmly looked over to see the problem. It was a subtraction problem that involved a couple of large numbers. I cocked my head. I was confused. It’s subtraction. She’s been working on multiplication and fractions. The weird thing is that even though her teacher said she might not know how to do this, I know that Younger Daughter does know how.
For awhile I tried helping Younger Daughter with a specific math problem set every day, and every day I would get so frustrated because she was struggling to do what I was asking her to do. We’d both raise our voices and turn red. My husband started to step in and this became work he completed with her. I heard them calmly completing the math each day, and neither one of them ever ended up crying. I wondered what was he doing to make everything sound so easy and wonderful when they did those problems together. I never knew what his trick was.
I have since learned the trick. My husband had no idea how to teach the Common Core method for subtraction so he taught her the old fashioned way. You know, lining up vertically, subtracting, borrowing if needed? Yeah – that was his trick. She mastered that method quickly and painlessly and now those problems were all rainbows and sunshiney. I never once considered that my older daughter wouldn’t know how to do that by now. I showed her how and she picked up the strategy immediately.
It was finally time for lunch. And in this online version of school we get a whole one hour lunch break. The joy of this extravagant luxury has not worn off yet even though we’re six months into the school year. Ahhhh. I push my shoulders away from my ears and took a deep breath.
And then I heard a very loud crash. This one was much more scary sounding than the mysterious bang from earlier. I walked into the kitchen and discovered that Youngest Daughter had dropped a large glass bowl, and on impact it had broken up into 8435 pieces that were now scattered across the entire kitchen floor.
Youngest Daughter was perched on top of the kitchen counter, like a vulture that was waiting to peck me to pieces after I died from an extreme case of annoyance and exhaustion. While she was up there I carefully swept every square inch of the floor. She patiently waited on the counter until I cleaned up the glass. I taught her to stay off the kitchen tile when glass breaks last week – when she broke a different glass bowl.
I got the vacuum to get the little dusty bits and turned it on. “CAN YOU DO THAT LATER?” my husband yells from his office down the hall. He’s on a conference call. He’s always on a conference call. Every day is Groundhog’s Day – me telling the girls to stop running around the house because their dad is on a conference call. Him opening his door and yelling at us to be quieter because he’s on a conference call. Me telling the girls to stop laughing so hard because their dad is on a conference call. The girls turning music on too loud and getting yelled at by both of us because dad is on a conference call. Me getting shushed because I excitedly yell yell out to my students things like, “You did it! Everybody unmute and give a round of applause!”
Their noises aren’t really not even that loud. On a Kid Loudness Scale, they’re totally normal, at least eighty percent of the time. All the shushing that goes on means the only place they can really yell is when they’re outside or when we’re in the car. And by “we” I mean me and the kids. Their dad can not handle screaming in the car, especially when he is tired of talking or listening to people after his full day of conference calls. What he probably doesn’t realize is how much those kids need to let out a certain quota of shouts every day in order to support their well-being. And how many quieter interruptions I’m dealing with every freaking moment of every single day.
Tonight the girls are spending the night at Yiayia and Papou’s. They’ll be doing school there tomorrow. I am going to purposefully delude myself and forcefully tell my brain that everything will go so much better than normal over there and that my kids are not just going to Zoom with each other from different rooms in the house all day (except when they’re playing Minecraft or watching TikTok on Papou’s Kindles, of course) instead of going to class. I am telling myself I will not even need to check their work because I know all of it will miraculously get done. I’m putting that plea out to the universe. We’ll see how it goes.