My children’s school district began the year with a number of asynchronous “virtual learning” days, and has continued to add more asynchronous virtual learning days as this year plods on. As a parent of two young elementary children, asynchronous virtual learning days concern me and as such, our family has decided to not participate in them anymore. This decision is based on three reasons unrelated to the performance of the educators at my children’s school and in no way is a negative reflection of the work their teachers have created.
The first reason we will not be participating in asynchronous virtual learning days anymore is because of the impact on the workforce. I am the mother of two young children who are still learning to read and write. Further, developmentally, they have not yet gained the ability to work independently without support and oversight. I work full time, and as such, to participate in asynchronous virtual learning days I need to take an entire day off of work. It takes me about one hour to read through the instructions, help them navigate Canvas, and figure out what works needs to be done. I then have to work with each child, on and off, for about 2-3 hours each to complete their work. The teachers have thoughtfully selected activities that require as little as possible from me (more on this next), but given that I am unfamiliar with the work as I did not create it, it still takes a great amount of my time. I am a former teacher, and currently train current and future teachers. As such, I probably have more expertise than most parents, and yet, it still takes me this long to support my children’s learning on virtual days.
I am extraordinarily lucky that I have a reasonably flexible job, and further, financially can afford to take a day off of work. However, although I do not bear financial burdens, the impact on my career for taking multiple days off is quite large. Further, women are primarily taking on the burden of schooling children virtually. Thus, I believe decisions for virtual school are essentially waging a war on working women and placing an unnecessary strain on our workforce. The reality is that women are unfairly burdened when schools make the choice to be virtual.
The second reason we are not participating in virtual learning days is related to the quality of the work. As I mentioned earlier, the teachers have thoughtfully selected activities that require as little as possible for me as a parent. However, to no fault of the teacher, this results in mostly worksheets or activities that allow for a small amount of practice and not a great degree of new learning. I want to again reiterate that I do not blame teachers here (and more on that next). They have done the best they can with the situation of creating asynchronous instruction for children who are developmentally not capable of learning independently. But children in third grade and below are just not capable of doing much asynchronous work that is truly meaningful learning.
Lastly, we have decided not to participate in virtual learning days anymore because it is undermines the value of the teacher and school, and in particular, the institution of public education. Teachers have a special craft, knowledge, skillset and training that makes them capable of doing the work of educating our youth. It is not something that can be boiled down to worksheets and instructions that parents can complete. By creating so many virtual learning days, I believe school boards are on a slippery (and quite dangerous) slope of undermining the teacher profession and public education. I believe in the professionalism of teachers and the public education system and don’t believe that parents (usually mothers) can simply step in and fill in the role. Thus, I don’t believe these virtual days “count” as education or school days. At most, my children receive some rote practice in a few previously taught skills. At worst, we are sending a message to the public that dangerously undermines the value of teachers and the public education system.
As such, for these three reasons our family will not be participating in any future virtual learning days. I hope for the sake of women, our community, teachers, and the future of public education that schools will reconsider virtual learning as a viable path given the burden carried by our community, particularly working women, and the devaluing of teachers’ skillset.