For Virtual Learning, Teachers Deserve Gratitude

by Markus O'Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

Three weeks into full online learning for our school-age kids, the great social experiment continues. The stories I’m sharing with friends and family about my 4 and 7-year-olds often leave them in stitches. From one cowering under their blankets in the middle of class, to messy kitchen experiments when mom and dad are still wrapped up in meetings and slow on the snacks. From IT connection issues (“I don’t know what I did!”), to becoming highly proficient at dumping out of Google Classroom, and getting onto Super Mario Run the moment supervision leaves the room.

As much as life is stressful for all parents of young kids at the moment, there is a group especially worthy of praise – the teachers who have young kids of their own. The energy and creativity my kids’ teachers have brought to their classrooms is nothing short of tremendous. But how do they do it? Probably not without great sacrifice.

I spoke to several teachers who are struggling with this balance. A Kindergarten teacher spoke about trying to manage her 4-year old’s online learning with 20 others in Google Classroom. The only solution was to add her child to her “virtual” class, but the young boy would often start climbing on her in the middle of a lesson.

A Grade 3 teacher talked about how little resources and training were available before the transition. She’s looking for materials sharable over a computer screen on a daily basis, keeping her at her desk past 9 PM most days. She gets to see her own small kids only on Saturday and Sunday.

A high school teacher, also with a child in kindergarten, talked about the “mom guilt” that had her spending as much time as possible with her kids outside of classroom hours. But that meant that marking and class prep usually happened between 10 PM and 3 AM. Is this sustainable?

Teachers, like most of us working in the public sector, are the fortunate ones. We at least have steady employment, even if it’s more challenging. But governments at all levels, as well as private employers, need to understand the emotional strain placed on all parents dealing with online learning, and in the case of teachers, often doubly so. Continuing that strain indefinitely will undoubtedly lead to a societal crisis in mental health issues and a need for significant supports and additional resources.

new report was released yesterday from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto identifying several good reasons for which school closures should be a last resort for the benefit of kids. As the Government of Ontario grapples with the question of what will happen in local schools after February 10, these are important considerations – but the mental health of parents and teachers also should be factored in.

Until then, if you have a chance, take a moment to thank a teacher in your life for everything they’ve been giving our kids over the last three weeks. Chances are, they’ve been making a lot of personal sacrifices to make it work and are highly deserving of our gratitude and support.