Remote education increases burden on already-strained parents and families

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Several days a week, Julian Burgess watches his two nephews, Joseph (Jojo), 9, and Elijah, 4, while their parents, a store sales clerk and an ultrasound technician, continue to work during the global pandemic. Burgess, a senior at FIU majoring in sports management, has also become Jojo’s de facto teacher. 

“It’s a fun challenge. We kind of test each other’s patience when I try to teach him how to do things right,” said Burgess. “Sometimes Jojo feels like giving up, but I try to push him and make sure he understands the homework we are doing.” 

Schools across the United States have closed in order to combat and contain the spread of the coronavirus, leaving parents to fill the void in both childcare and education. 

“I definitely want him to do good in class and make sure he’s passing his subjects in school, whether it’s math or grammar,” said Burgess about the pressure he feels to make sure he’s a good teacher to his nephew. 

Shawn Libman, a partner at Bowman and Brooke LLP, is feeling the pressure of being a mother and taking care of her daughter Emilia while also serving her clients. She feels fortunate that both she and her husband, Elad, are able to work from home, but the arrangement also comes with challenges.

“Elad’s taking on the larger load of Emilia because I have to work more,” Libman said. “I work longer hours so he ends up having to do a lot more of the work. That’s a challenge for him. . . to teach her at the same time as answering phone calls for work or responding to emails.”

Libman has been experiencing guilt, as she describes it, for placing a burden on her husband and also for missing out on these moments with her daughter. “You can’t give them the attention that they need and you don’t want them to feel rejected or neglected or alone. We’re all going through a lot of emotional issues with everything that’s happening; we all feel it and kids feel it too,” said Libman. 

But parents aren’t the only ones feeling the stress of the situation. Teachers suddenly tasked with remote education have also been inundated with questions and concerns.

“There has been much more interaction with parents,” said Mariana Valentine, a third-grade math and science teacher. “My students’ parents are contacting us almost daily. Before we would have a few parents who would contact us every few weeks.”

Valentine has also seen parents become more appreciative of the hard work teachers do. “A lot of parents are saying thank you, knowing that this change is challenging for teachers too,” she said. 

Ralph Toss, a Boston father of a six-year-old daughter, has not been saying thank you to any teachers since the closing of schools. “I hear teachers unions are trying to fight the idea of teachers doing some kind of Zoom teaching every day. Why would a teachers union try to fight that; I don’t understand that.” 

Boston is one of the cities where schools and teachers unions have come to an agreement that they will receive regular pay and video instruction cannot be required. Teachers are still expected to communicate with their students via phone, email and other means necessary, so long as it’s not face-to-face. 

Toss doesn’t believe that teachers are truly working from morning to the afternoon like they used to and are just spending an hour a day doing work. “I know me and my wife are going to be full blown on the teaching aspect of this,” he said. 

Teachers like Valentine, however, are just waiting for the chance to see their students again and get back to what they love to do: teach. “The transition was very unexpected, but we are moving forward and looking towards the day where the school hallways radiate with joy and energy,” she said.

Alexandra Yun is a senior, graduating in Spring 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She has interned for the South Florida News Service, now the South Florida Media Network. Upon graduation, she wants to venture out of Miami and live in New York, exploring different avenues of journalism.