Distance Learning Won't 'Set Your Kids Up For Failure'

As A Former College Teacher, Let Me Assure You That Missing A Few Months Of School Won’t ‘Set Your Kids Up For Failure’

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Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

Right now, many of us are both parent and teacher to our children, helping them navigate distance learning during a global pandemic. If you’re like me, you’re frustrated, exhausted, and frazzled with e-learning. Even with my teaching background, I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the Zoom meetings, e-mails, logins, Google docs, paper packets, videos, and activities my children are expected to do on a daily basis. Not to mention, I have absolutely no knowledge of third grade math concepts.

Despite the daily schooling drama, I know one thing for certain. My four kids aren’t doomed to fail, watching our college dreams go up in smoke, just because crisis-learning is a hot mess. How do I know? I’m a former college teacher. The key to success in higher education isn’t being the smartest, taking the most AP courses, becoming the most tech-savvy, or being the school’s star athlete. Among all of the students I had over the course of a nine-year teaching career, the ones who were the most successful had a strong sense of personal responsibility, resilience, and adaptability.

I understand the concerns. I’ve heard many parents voice that their children are falling behind right now. How will they ever catch up? What if COVID-19 is ruining their child’s chance at getting into a good college? Won’t re-entry into school be the worst? Can’t we just go back to normal ASAP?

I admit, at times I’ve had similar thoughts and questions. Setting up our home to become a classroom has been anything but easy. How much are my children really learning right now? How is this season going to impact their future education and opportunities? In the short-term, I worry about my child with a learning disability and my child with ADHD and their educations. Learning certain information or procedures is more difficult for them than some other same-grade students.

We’ve been collectively so overly-reliant on the education system to teach our children everything they need to be successful in life (without even realizing it). Now that’s come to a screeching halt. Many of us are like, now what? Our worries are legitimate. If you don’t have a teaching background, the task of helping your kids e-learn is downright daunting. Even if you do have some education experience like I do, helping kids learn via tech at home is a whole new ball game. I’m among the overwhelmed, frazzled parents who are trying to crisis-school my kids, work, and maintain some sort of orderly household.

In the midst of one of our tougher days, I remembered when I had students go missing. They wouldn’t attend class for several sessions, then reappear one day and ask me, “So, um, did I miss anything?” Many of these students were smart, coming from some of the most highly ranked high schools. They had intelligence, but they lacked manners and respect (for themselves and others, including me and their peers). They didn’t hold themselves accountable for their own actions. As a college teacher, it wasn’t my responsibility to coddle them. I had actual teaching to do.

When I gained experience and dug deeper, the students who lacked personal responsibility were used to their parents rescuing them from every consequence and potential-mistake. The goal was to excel at lightening speed, not to actually learn and grow as a person. When I would direct students to the syllabus policies (the ones they’d received on the first day of the semester), they would often beg me for another chance via easy-peasy extra credit, claim I simply didn’t like them (I “played favorites”), or that I was being unfair.

Yes, you read that correctly. Some 18-year-old students were acting like toddlers, stomping their feet. Their behavior, their tone, and their words were simply appalling. My preschooler has better manners. She also knows how to fess up and apologize when she’s done something wrong.

The lack of humility, of honesty, and of self-awareness meant some students couldn’t truly be successful–no matter how smart they were. In college, a student needs some basic survival-thriving skills. There’s zero hand-holding. If you don’t show up to class a certain number of times, you’re dropped from the class. If you don’t turn in work on time, that work can’t be graded and therefore, receives a zero. If you don’t participate in group work, your peers will call you out on it. Many bright students would fail the class and have to repeat it the following semester, because they refused to abide by the syllabus.

Parents are freaking out right now about getting their kids to the next level at school, in academics and extracurriculars, but that’s not what we should be focusing on. The learning momentum isn’t gone. Children are naturally curious and adaptable. Our kids aren’t destined to fail because they missed a few months of in-the-building school. Even if the shelter in place mandates continue throughout the summer and into the fall, we will figure it out.

Parents, you can use these days and weeks to instill in your kids some skills that will serve them well for life. Say they mess up. Teach them to own up to their mistake, apologize, and make amends. Teach them about teamwork by doing projects and chores as a whole family. Show them how to manage money by setting up an allowance system. Let them struggle at times, because in the struggle they learn to problem-solve (and ask for help when necessary).

I beg of you, don’t do the work for them. Don’t pamper them like they’re at an educational spa. Yes, we may work alongside them more than ever before, but we need to err on the side of support and encouragement, not taking over. Instead, invest your time and energy into helping your kids learn skills that will benefit them in their education, in social situations, and in their future careers.

You and your kids have years to navigate academically-preparing for college, a trade school, or whatever future path they take. The time you have with them now is precious and offers the opportunity to invest in teaching your children life skills — which are, arguably, just as important.