A side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the shifting of school out of the elementary, middle, and high school buildings, where it used to take place, and into the heart of students’ homes. With this movement has come a fundamental change in the role of parents, who are now newly responsible for the daily educational experience of their kids.
However, many parents work at front-line jobs that require them to be out of the home during the day, rather than supervising children’s schoolwork. Others may work the night shift, and need to sleep during the day. Some parents are unfamiliar with technology, or might not speak English well. Or they might be unfamiliar with the U.S. school system because they grew up abroad.
I suggest that community and religious leaders, the philanthropic community, and groups of individual parents should mobilize, build support systems, share resources, fund tutoring and mentoring programs, and collaborate in every way they can imagine to make the role of parent-teacher lighter, and prevent the academic achievement gap from widening.
Children need adults to be strong partners. Many young people struggle with establishing routines, and adults must help them shape their days, if they are to succeed. Teenagers have trouble waking up in time to attend classes, if left to their own devices. Many don’t access online office hours held by teachers. Some students regularly lose or fail to enter their laptop passwords correctly, missing out on class time. Kids (and adults) get discouraged when internet connections fail and, without support, they may give up in frustration. And most kids need a nudge to let a teacher know if they are confused and need help.
Parents could share their new teacher role with other parents. For example, a group of parents could take turns calling kids on the phone in the morning (and not giving up until they get up!) to make sure they get up for class – not just their own kids, but the kids of other families. Informal parent groups could handle other parts of the teacher job, as well, working with what each parent does best – someone could be in charge of making sure everyone knows how to check Infinite Campus for grades, others could be the troubleshooters for finding lost passwords, downloading Zoom, contacting guidance counselors, speaking with interpreters, or reaching out to teachers.
Educators are doing their best to connect with all students and help them, but they can’t do it alone. Parents and teachers are now basically teaching together. Educationally, we are in a Red Zone. This is a critical moment to make sure all children are progressing. Parents need to accept that this school year is not going to be the way they hoped and expected. Please reach out to your child’s teachers and ask for help. Contact social workers and parent community specialists who speak your language.
All parents can be helpful allies for their children during this difficult time. Certainly the teacher job is much easier for middle-class families to take on. They can hire tutors, work from home, and form learning pods with other families whose parents are at home. But immigrant communities are strong – I urge all parents to reach out to the schools, and to your community, for help. Since school is going to be more or less based at home all year, let’s work together to make sure immigrant kids don’t fall behind.