Pod People:

Three Lessons from our First Week of Distance Learning

Although Tulsa Public School’s fall semester began August 31, we are still figuring this distance learning thing out! Week 1 of the semester focused on familiarizing parents with the technology and general schedule. Week 2 was mostly taken up by Labor Day. So finally, we are mid-way through our second normal week. Whew! I am beyond grateful that Joss is in a study group (or “pandemic pod”) with three of his former preschool friends. (They’re still friends, just in Kindergarten now!)

We rotate among our four houses each week, with all the kids home on Fridays. For four hours each day, an outside teacher comes in to lead the children through their lessons and other fun activities. Then, from the time she leaves at 1 p.m. to the time the kids get picked up, the host parent is in charge.

This set-up allows each parent to get into the office at least 3 days a week. Plus, the kids have the benefit of having an in-home teacher who brings her own experience and fun ideas to the group. Not to mention some extra socialization!

1. Keep Calm and Zoom On?

Being in a “pandemic pod” the best possible situation for us at the moment – which doesn’t mean it’s easy. Last Friday, I oversaw Joss’s daily Zoom call with his teacher. Although his teacher is engaging and enthusiastic, Joss spend the first half of the call with his head on our table. The problem was that he’d been asked whether he’d rather be a shark or a tiger. His answer, “Neither, I want to be a kitty cat,” wasn’t given as an option, so he completely shut down. Let’s just say: The fact that I found this reaction very frustrating didn’t help matters.

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I tried to explain later that he could have told his teacher he didn’t like either option, and that choosing “tiger” or “shark” didn’t mean he wouldn’t still rather be a kitty. But it was a little late by that time.

By the end of the Zoom call, his patient teacher had coaxed not just a smile, but genuine participation from Joss. But it was a learning experience, mostly for me, in trying to stay calm when he’s just had it with the virtual learning. The other problem was that we’d spent all morning watching back-to-back pre-recorded videos, having missed an entire section of assigned work. Yikes.

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2. Get Organized

Prior to that Zoom meeting, his teacher had emailed the class informing us that we will have half as much work to accomplish each week moving forward. This is fantastic news, from the standpoint of trying to balance work and distance learning. But I can’t help but wonder: “But that means they’re only learning half as much?!”

Thankfully, his in-home teacher is doing an incredible job at keeping the kids busy with educational activities. Last year, he learned how to write letters and about the sounds they make. So I’m not really worried about him falling behind, but it’s hard not to entertain those thoughts, at least briefly.

At this point, I’m just relieved it’s going to be easier to keep up with his schoolwork. And hopefully it will start to feel more routine in the next week or so. So far, it’s felt like a constant struggle to stay on top of things.

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One thing that really helped in the past week is keeping a handwritten checklist of the assignments he needs to complete each week. Then checking them off once they’ve been accomplished. It’s low-tech organization, but I just really needed a place to mark off the completed assignments and track our progress.

3. Sticking to a Schedule

The first week of our rotating study group was fine, but I was left with the feeling that it would be easier to host four Kindergartners for four hours with some kind of schedule. Thankfully, one of the other moms in the group came up with a good schedule, and that did make this past week easier.

It’s a loose schedule: 1 hour for free play, 1 hour for group reading/specials, snack time, and free play until pickup.

Pandemic Pods and Inequality

I know there’s a lot of concern about pandemic pods and how they can increase inequality (https://www.npr.org/2020/07/28/896334963/pandemic-pods-raise-concerns-about-equityhttps://medium.com/understood-org/we-know-pandemic-pods-are-inequitable-how-do-we-change-that-79455afb738d, https://www.vox.com/2020/7/28/21340222/learning-pods-covid-private-pandemic-education-school, etc.). So that’s also on my mind. It’s a privilege to be able to afford an in-home teacher. After paying for preschool for the past few years (another privilege), I was really looking forward to entering our era of free public schooling. That didn’t happen, but it will be okay for us. So I just wanted to include a reminder that Tulsa Public Schools has worked with the Tulsa Area United Way to create a COVID-19 Kids Care Resources Portal, which can be found here: http://covidkidcareresources.tauw.org/.

Another resource that has been helping me recently is the Pantsuit Politics and Nuanced Life podcasts. The Nuanced Life recently had an episode talking about schooling during the pandemic and how parents can think through the creation of pandemic pods, etc. They talked about parents needing to do what’s best for their kids at this moment, and also realizing that what’s best for our kids at all times is is an equitable system. So I appreciated their thoughts on this matter.

How is your school year going? Are you distance learning, in a pandemic pod? What’s been most helpful to you as far as staying organized, balancing work and school, etc.?

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Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall