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Teaching and Parenting During COVID-19: Tips from Fordham Educators

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Parenting and teaching are two tough jobs on any day. In a pandemic, they’re much harder. 

“It’s total chaos here, trying to support [Fordham College at Rose Hill] operations and third grade in my dining room,” Rachel Annunziato, associate dean for strategic initiatives at FCRH, a psychology professor, and a mother, said in an email.  

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government closed all New York City public schools last week. Last Monday, the school system’s 1.1 million students — the largest school system in the country — transitioned to remote learning, which will last until at least April 20.

But many parents and educators have been struggling with their new normal. How do you work remotely from home while caring for your kids? How do you connect with your students on an online platform? How do you help students who don’t have access to computers or the internet? 

Seven members of the Fordham community, from professors to current students, shared tips on how parents and educators can navigate remote learning throughout this pandemic. 

“This is a new experience for a lot of teachers,” said Alesia Moldavan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mathematics education in the Graduate School of Education who has taught remotely through Fordham’s partnership with the 2U program. “But I think it’s also going to push the way we look at education. We can broaden our resources and really make use of what is out there.” 

Advice for Parents 

Create a schedule with your kids. It can provide structure, routine, and momentum for children especially those with disabilities and developmental delays, said Annie George-Puskar, Ph.D., an assistant professor in curriculum and teaching in the Graduate School of Education who supports children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. A schedule should include getting up at the same time each day and having a set bedtime. “Turn it into a family activity and write it down similar to how children have rules and expectations at school,” said George-Puskar. “If something doesn’t work, give yourself grace to readjust and figure it out as you go.” 

John Craven, Ph.D., an associate professor of education in the Graduate School of Education, and his family are following schedules, too. When the pandemic began, he and his wife asked their five boys, ages 11 to 19, to create a schedule for themselves. 

“It’s not a two-month-long snow day. Get up. Have breakfast. Check your Google Classroom. Prioritize the work that you have to do. Insert the breaks get out and stretch, walk around the block. That’s all with the caveat that you’re not congregating with friends,” Craven said. “This is not a break — this is the new normal for now.” 

Develop a designated workspace for your child. This can help children separate their school time from recreational time. Listen to your child’s input, too. A productive place to complete homework could be a closet, as it was for David Rufo’s nephew. “Children are predisposed to think more divergently than adults,” said Rufo, Ph.D., an artist and clinical assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education. “Adults tend to rely on formulas, whereas children approach tasks in ways that are creative and imaginative. Therefore, children should be considered integral to the problem-solving and decision-making processes.” 

Create check-in times with your household. Set up a convenient time when family members can congregate and share what they’re up to. At the end of the week, take turns sharing something you learned; perform a skit, read a personal essay, or conduct a science experiment. “These types of dynamic and performance-based group share activities provide ways to celebrate learning and also have that communal family time so valued by children,” Rufo said. 

Don’t be afraid to relearn tough topics like calculus. When your child asks you for help with homework, you might not know where to start. “The National Council of Teachers in Mathematics provides a lot of resources,” said Moldavan. “You can type in the search word for what you’re interested in looking at, like finding the limits or a derivative. It will walk you through all the steps.” 

You don’t always need technology to learn. “Math can be part of cooking or baking. Reading can be done using newspapers and magazines and school textbooks. Think a little bit creatively about how we can still do some academic learning through the resources we may have more readily available in the home,” said George-Puskar.  

Annunziato and her sons are finding ways to stay creative at home, too. 

“We have built a sand pit in the backyard, cleaned the basement today so they could scooter there in the rain, and there are crafts galore going on. We also have been doing a ton of baking and cooking for picnics and meals. My boys are enjoying too finding ways we can help my parents and our elderly neighbors,” she said in an email. “As a mom-psychologist, I am trying to cultivate a sense of security and structure with whimsy that maybe is missing during the usual hustle and bustle.”

Convey a sense of safety and care. Be sensitive to your child’s losses, from plays to concerts to sports events to graduations. “School is very, very important. But I think the impact of this pandemic on students emotionally may run in deep, quiet waters. We want to watch for that,” said Craven. 

Try to maintain a sense of normalcy. Ask your child what they did in school today, said Craven. What did they learn? Did they have any issues or troubles? 

Have access to your child’s email. Make sure your child is staying on top of all the messages they are receiving from their teachers and school. “It’s really important for the parents to monitor that email with the student,” said Craven. 

Tips for Educators 

Keep things simple in the beginning. Get students comfortable with navigating the new system. “Have a routine in your instruction as you set up your Google Classroom,” said Craven. That might mean starting every class with stating the purpose of the day’s lesson, the outcomes, and how they’ll be assessed. 

Think about the best way to support your students and their families. “The way we’re doing that is through sending positive messages, allowing them the time to interact with us, whether that’s on the phone or text messages or a Google Classroom,” said Emma Salandra, a fifth-grade teacher in Manhattan and a student studying general and special education in the Graduate School of Education. “If they’re struggling with a worksheet we’ve sent home, I’ve FaceTimed or talked on the phone with them.”

Visual check-ins are important. By seeing a student’s face through video chat, you pick up on nonverbal cues that demonstrate whether or not a child understands the material. “A shrug may indicate, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’; raised eyebrows may show someone is puzzled. A smile can indicate ‘Yes, I do understand what’s being received,’” said Fran Blumberg, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and a professor in counseling psychology in the Graduate School of Education. 

Online programs can allow students to advance at their own pace. “This allows students who might need that extra time to review material multiple times, but also allows other students to go on to the next lesson or think about how they can expand on that topic and make it more challenging for them,” Moldavan said. 

Reach out to your colleagues for help. That includes math specialists, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists. “No educator is an island. I know you’re at home by yourself, but reach out to your colleagues and other teachers or providers so that you are working together,” George-Puskar said. 

Online Resources for Families 

When looking for online resources, students and their families should first refer to their local district, said George-Puskar. This will keep children aligned with the district curriculum. Local districts may also provide physical resources to students, including laptops and tablets. In the meantime, providers like Spectrum are offering free Wi-Fi access for a limited time to households. 

GSE educators suggested more resources that could be helpful for parents, caretakers, and teachers to keep students engaged at home. Among them are the New York State Education Department, the New York City Department of Education, BrainPOP, PBS KIDS, Khan Academy, and Common Sense Education’s resources for families and educators during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Keep an open mind that the curriculum is a guide. And while we need to follow that, we can embed other resources into it to make it stronger,” Moldavan said.

Perhaps above all, many educators agreed that it’s important for parents and teachers to have patience with the whole process. 

“Under the current COVID-19 situation, teachers now face pressure to develop plans in a matter of days at most,” said George-Puskar. “So it is important to have some patience with the process as we figure it out together.” 

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