teen looking at her laptop, frustrated


We Signed My Teen Up For In-Person Schooling, But It’s Been More Like ‘Barely There’

Oct 15, 2020

It’s 8:15 a.m. — if I'm lucky, I'll have four hours to squeeze in work while my daughter is physically at school, inside a classroom. This week and most weeks since school began a month ago, she is averaging eight hours a week at school, spread over two, sometimes three days a week.

Right now, I am struggling to see what parts of this are sustainable. We signed up for in-person high school. But how is this in-person schooling? How is it child centred, or personal or doable for families? While my daughter is mostly thrilled to be there at all, I am dubbing this "barely-there schooling."

"One amazing physical education teacher called weekly to check in and motivate [my daughter] to get moving."

When the local Catholic secondary school board here in London surveyed families back in the summer, they asked us if our child would be returning in person to school or if they would opt for remote learning. For us, this wasn’t even a question. My daughter missed school. She has an IEP (individual education plan) and some learning challenges, and needed to physically be there.

The pandemic schooling situation that occurred in March and lasted through June was a nightmare. We made the best of it, but there was very little learning going on. Here in the spring, it was passive, two-dimensional high school learning — on your own. My teen isn’t built that way.

The lack of a schedule and set hours, combined with no in-person interaction with teachers or school support staff, meant that my teenage daughter was unable and unmotivated to do most of the hastily posted schoolwork. In fact, she barely rolled out of bed at times. There was a period of time last spring where I rallied everyone, believing she was depressed. One amazing physical education teacher called weekly to check in and motivate her to get moving. I was genuinely grateful for that kindness. By contrast, a science teacher simply emailed me repeatedly to say she’s going to fail, unless she hands in all of the assignments by next week.

"I feel left behind" — read how 7,674 Canadians felt about this year's back to school season here.

The promise of in-person schooling

When we heard of in-person school this fall, at first it was an exciting thing. For us, it seemed like the only option. But details were slow to come in. So, we waited and practiced more patience.

The school board that our high school belongs to arranged students into cohorts. Each cohort class has 15-16 students. They do one class at a time, and each term is now called an octomester, instead of a semester. One class and subject lasts about five weeks.

My teen, who has a learning disability in the area of processing speed, needs more time and support than other kids in order to do schoolwork. She is supposed to get that in a normal school year — classroom withdrawal, resource room support, scribing and help, are generally accommodations provided during a typical year.

"So, make no mistake — this is a WE situation."

Obviously, 2020 is anything but a typical year.

When my daughter discovered two days before the start of the fall that she had English, she was thrilled. She enjoys reading and writing, almost as much as I do. But my heart fell just a little when I realized she/we had five weeks to do Macbeth, The Kiterunner and numerous essays. I tried not to let that show.

You might be wondering why I said "we." Isn’t it her class? Isn’t she in high school? Haven’t I already graduated? Indeed, all questions I ask myself weekly here. I graduated long ago. But I said "we" on purpose, because pandemic cohort B octomester high school means I am picking up tasks that would typically be performed by social workers or learning support teachers.

I say "we," because she can’t read fast enough to get through all of the books, and essays and questions in the time that we have. Plus, she’s home doing remote schooling the other three days a week and she has a disability. So, make no mistake — this is a WE situation.

This father proposes school this year should have an emphasis on outdoor learning. Read his plan here.

So, what do remote days look like?

My daughter logs into the computer at 8 a.m. so the school knows she is “present” and then she checks any new messages. Typically, there aren’t many new ones. Homework is assigned each night after the in-person school sessions. Last weekend, that looked like me working through the books and questions with her. A 400-page book and 42 questions about the novel, the plot and characters.

"... I assumed it would be virtual lectures or Zoom-style content where kids see a teacher and perhaps the other students too ...."

When the Ontario government was talking about what this remote portion would look like, I assumed it would be virtual lectures or Zoom-style content where kids see a teacher and perhaps the other students too, as it has been in some elementary remote learning situations. Curiously, not what we signed up for either and not what we expected when we chose in-person.

I run a business. I am a writer, editor and social media consultant. I am cramming in all of the editing for two magazines inside a four-hour period, two days a week. I wake early and go to bed late. But pre-pandemic, I had at least 25 hours of time weekly, where my child was in school at her desk learning and I was able to tend to clients, writing, editing, pitching, invoicing and accounting.

Of course, there’s always still cooking and cleaning, meal preparation, groceries and laundry around the house. My husband helps and so do the kids occasionally, but there are more messes when kids are physically inside the home more often. Dust bunnies are rolling through like tumbleweeds lately and I am pretty sure I just walked through a cobweb in the basement on my way to stock my freezer.

Not every parent can keep their kids at home — do you have pandemic privilege? Read about that here.

This is not what we signed up for

We did not sign up for eight to 12 hours a week at school (and a 12-hour week is rare, averaging one week a month right now). Nor did we reading The Kiterunner and Macbeth at warp speed. Or logging in at 8 a.m. so they can take attendance on the days you aren’t physically in school, and then reading and writing as fast as you can the rest of the time.

And can we talk about the fact that while my teen is there at school, she’s too nervous to even take her mask off to drink water or eat food?

So far, "in-person" school is not very in person. I genuinely understand now why people were setting up pod schooling for their kids.

On a positive note, at least we drew English first. I’m already stressing over five solid weeks of “in-person” mandatory Grade 11 math that should hit us right around December when the days are long and dark.

Send me all the happy thoughts. We’ll need them.

Article Author Paula Schuck
Paula Schuck

Read more from Paula here.

My name is Paula Schuck and I have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I am a mother of two daughters, and I am a fierce advocate for several health issues. I am a yoga nut, skier and content coordinator for two London, Ontario, trade magazines. I have been published online and in traditional magazines and newspapers including: Today’s Parent, The Globe and Mail, Kitchener Record, London Free Press, trivago.ca, Ontario Parks blog and Food, Wine and Travel magazine.