'Don't beat yourself up over what you can or can't do': Teachers, families face challenges educating at home

Saskatchewan Teachers Federation president Patrick Maze says parents shouldn't beat themselves up too much about what students can or cannot do, given the situation.

Teachers have been asked to set reasonable limits on what they're asking of students. says STF president

Saskatchewan teachers and parents are working to have students learn at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Teachers, students and family members across Saskatchewan have been trying to make education work at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 19 was the final day of in-person school classes in the province.

For Jessica Gibson's nine-year-old daughter, Anique, the schedule is running fairly smoothly. 

"So far it's been pretty seamless. So she does French for an hour every morning, and then also an hour of mathematics or about 45 minutes," the Regina mother said.

They also have homework, some gym and recess activities led by gym teachers, and small meeting groups through the week to stay in touch.

Anique does school work in her family's living room. (Supplied by Jessica Gibson)

Much of it is done through a video conferencing and file-sharing app that Gibson is familiar with from her work. Gibson is also working at home while Anique is learning. The parents are trying not to book conference calls or meetings during the same time as Anique's classes. 

"It's a fairly delicate balance, and you definitely have to not be super-tied to a very rigourous schedule. I have to kind of be able to step away during her class time, just to make sure she's getting the help and things she needs, and my husband does as much as he can," she said. 

It's not always easy. 

"I'm not a teacher and Anique doesn't always want to listen to me, so I think we have to be a bit more understanding," she said. "It's hard when your parents are suddenly the teacher, and things are not what they used to be."

Reasonable expectations

Saskatchewan Teachers Federation president Patrick Maze said that, considering the circumstances, at-home learning is going very well across the province. He said he's hearing that teachers have had varying success in reaching out to students. 

"We just have to make sure that teachers' expectations and parents' and students' expectations are set reasonably so that nobody gets frustrated," Maze said.

Patrick Maze is president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Maze said teachers and school divisions know there are all kinds of difficulties for learners, such as access to and use of technology, caregivers who are also working from home or perhaps out of work and general disruptions to a student's usual daily life.

He said teachers have been asked to set reasonable limits on what they're asking of students and that he's proud of what they've been able to do. 

"Nobody should be expecting teachers to perfectly replicate what goes on in the classroom, online. Realistically, this is not replicating. It's not online instruction even," he said.

"I've heard it referred to as emergency remote teaching. And given a crisis, that's all that can be expected."

Edry is learning about decimals for her Grade 4 class via Google Classroom. (Supplied by Crystal Nieviadomy)

Navigating home-school with multiples

Crystal Nieviadomy's home in Regina has become a bustling makeshift classroom. Her three girls are in Kindergarten, Grade 2 and Grade 4, and she's currently on a maternity leave with her newest addition. 

"Three little learners and a baby. It kind of sounds like a movie," she said with a laugh. "It kind of feels like a movie."


Nieviadomy said planning ahead is the key to making it all work in her house. 

"We haven't ever gotten them into the schedule where we sit them down at a table and everybody does their work at the same time. It just doesn't work for us and there's too many other distractions."

Mara, who is in Grade 2, does some school work at her kitchen table. (Supplied by Crystal Nieviadomy)

She works to find the best times when each daughter learns and makes sure the others have something keeping them busy while one student is video-conferencing with classmates or teachers.

"Some days I'd say we're doing a bang-up job, and things like schoolwork and dishes and laundry and all those things get done," she said. "There are other days where it's an absolute train wreck. We just do what we can and we try again the next day."

Ryus works on a follow-up activity from a story read to her Kindergarten class. (Supplied by Crystal Nieviadomy)

Nieviadomy said she's really appreciative of the ample support she has from the girls' teachers. She has also learned to lower her own expectations.

"I think we're probably in the same boat as lots of other families, where this is completely new, none of us expected to be doing this," she said. "At the same time it's a big commitment on a parent's part to make sure that all of the work that's assigned gets done, especially juggling other things that are going on in your family."

Don't worry too much about progress

Maze said the goal now is to ensure students have opportunities for enrichment and structure, and that teachers will be able to make sure they're back on track once things get back to normal. 

"Don't beat yourself up over what you can or can't do, or worry that your child is falling behind. A couple months seems like quite a while, but at the same point the teachers will be able to sort out gaps in learning in September."


Tory Gillis


Tory Gillis began work as a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan in 2012. You can hear her deliver the afternoon news on weekdays on CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan. She has also worked as a reporter, and as an associate producer on CBC Saskatchewan's radio shows, The Morning Edition, Bluesky and The Afternoon Edition.


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