Jace Erickson pictured at his home work station.
Photo submitted by Stephanie Erickson.
Local Journalism Initiative
Parents across Hinton are taking on the role as homeschool teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic as lessons resumed last week.
Hinton’s actual teachers have been hard at work, putting together packages of information for classes to help support families through emergency remote teaching and learning. While teachers have been helpful, some parents are just learning to adjust to the new normal of homeschool teaching.
“I’m not a teacher. Right now it’s not bad, but if they were in an older grade, I don’t even know if I could help them anymore,” said Megan Astalos, a parent of two Crescent Valley Elementary School (CVS) students.
One of her kids is in kindergarten, while the other is in Grade 2. Their teachers have emailed Astalos with a lesson plan every day, which they follow, but it hasn’t been all easy. Her kindergartener tells Astalos that she’s not her teacher, and it has been hard at times to focus with so many distractions around.
“Their toys, their games, the TV, playing music, and all that stuff is an easy distraction,” Astalos said.
She explained that she tries to ban the use of any electronics until after lunch to help them focus on school work, which has been helpful. Their school work only takes about an hour every day and the online assignments have been easy to find with the help of the daily lesson plans.
Some of the assignments are still done on paper, which they take a photo of and send back to their teacher. The kindergarten student mostly learns by cutting, colouring, and writing.
The biggest thing Astalos has learned is to be patient, as they are both learning. She said that while she always appreciated teachers, she now appreciates what they deal with every day and how they get a class of kids to focus.
“I struggle getting two kids to focus, I can’t imagine getting a whole classroom to focus. I’m thankful for them and thankful they’re putting stuff together for kids to do at home. It helps fill up our days a little bit too,” Astalos said.
“I’m a little bit lucky because my mom used to be a teacher’s aid, so when I’m struggling I’ll call her and she’ll say try it this way.”
Astalos is also finishing college herself. This allows her to be at home full time with her kids, but it puts some pressure on her own schedule.
Sarah Olson echoed Astalos’ sentiment, saying that homeschooling her kids has also been a challenge and finding a routine has been difficult. She’s a parent of a Grade 4 student at Ecole Mountain View (EMV) and a Grade 9 student at Harry Collinge High School (HCHS).
She said the roles of teachers haven’t changed and that they’ve all been open to ideas of parents and acknowledged that this time is a learning experience for everyone.
“I didn’t go to school to be a teacher, I don’t necessarily know how to instruct my own kids how to do things, it doesn’t come with a manual, it didn’t come in a textbook,” she said.
“Navigating the online system the teachers are using is a chore in itself but I know this will come in time.”
Her son in Grade 9 deals with multiple teachers which he receives assignments from every week. Some teachers have set times when they are available for each class, and teachers have used Google Meet to instruct students and answer questions.
“They’re handing out some homework and if they have questions, the kids can email and they can put it right on the stream for the classroom. The teachers seem to be really available for them,” Olson said.
Her son in Grade 4 still listens to the morning announcements and the Canadian anthem as he normally would at school, which are now posted online by the principal and teachers. He then receives his work for the day, which takes him roughly two to three hours every day to complete.
“What we find hardest at home is a consistent schedule. I have taken on a job with a grocery store that has ended up in 40 hours a week and then now trying to juggle a homeschooling schedule,” said Olson, who’s husband also works full-time.
Evenings have been hard for the kids, when they have to finish the work that was assigned to them. Olson added that her kids both need some guidance and directions, and if they’re not being pushed they won’t do the work. Not every parent has the time to make sure their kids are getting their work done, she continued.
Stephanie Erickson, a parent of a Grade 3 student at CVS, has found the whole homeschooling situation mostly frustrating. Fitting a Grade 3 school schedule into a home schedule where Erickson also has a three year old has posed its challenges, though she added that the change hasn’t completely derailed life due to her being a stay-at-home mom.
“I didn’t have to quit my job or find someone to watch them. I was already at home and we haven’t been thrown off too much,” she said.
Erickson said that they are still getting used to the situation and that she feels her frustration is echoed by other parents.
“People shouldn’t pressure themselves to be a homeschool teacher, that’s not what you were ready for,” Erickson said.
In order to home-school, Erickson and her husband bought a chrome book for their son, which is what he uses at school. CVS allows families to borrow the chrome books from the school or families can buy one through the school.
Figuring out how to use the chrome book, where to find the assignments, and which assignments to do has been a challenge, Erickson said.
“Not all teachers are tech-savvy, they weren’t all ready for cyber teaching. I think the teacher as well is trying to figure out how to get the best system,” she said.
Real assignments didn’t start coming until after Spring Break, giving them time to figure out how to tackle the current situation. Ericksons’ son uses a couple online resources for reading and mathematics that tracks his progress.
Erickson prints off some assignments and takes a photo to send back to the teacher.
An app is also available for Erickson to stay in contact with the teacher and other parents.
“Communication has been good, it’s just trying to figure out how to do most of these assignments and how to get to them and which ones to do because there’s quite a few different online sources,” said Erickson.
While not being able to see their friends has been hard for the kids, the learning curve of teaching has been the most frustrating for parents, Erickson added.
“It’s funny because I always thought about going into teaching, now I’m not so sure. It’s a hard job and it’s hard to do it at home because there’s different rules,” she said.
Homeschooling isn’t something Astalos will be taking up once schools are back open. When school returns, her kids will be there too, she said. Astalos noticed that one thing that has helped her kids is for them to stay in touch with their friends.
“It helps her focus throughout the day to play games with them online and stuff,” Astalos said.
Olson added that Facetime has been a lifesaver. Her older son also had a chance to talk to his two friends from the front door of their house as they walked by on the sidewalk. The Olsons have been diligent about staying home due to her younger son’s asthma and had serious conversations with both her kids.
“It’s been rough, they haven’t seen a different face for a month,” she said.
Once the kids go back to school in September, each parent was under the impression they would be moving on to the next grade.
“This happened to us as a country, this isn’t just the kids in Hinton, and not just the kids in Alberta. This is all of the kids,” said Olson.
“For a curriculum to maybe shift a little because this happened, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”