The kids are alright: A Brooklyn mom’s reflection on remote learning

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Jill Cysner

The other day I heard my daughter and her classmates taking turns reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream aloud during their (virtual) seventh-grade English class. Just from listening, I could tell that the kids had a level of comfort with their teacher, built over the months they spent in the classroom together.

I think that comfort is the reason they’re able to have real engagement and interaction now — through their computer screens.

I’ve heard from many of my colleagues that their kids are just getting assignments to do on their own time, which is too bad. While it’s great that my kids are still learning new material, I’m less concerned about a slip in academics than I am about the social interactions they’re missing out on. Video calls may be a poor substitute for real-life engagement, but for now, I’m grateful that my kids regularly see their teachers’ and classmates’ faces and hear their voices. Under the circumstances, this seems to be as close to the norm as it could be.  

Like many parents, I have two very different kids.

My daughter, Ava, loves academics and has almost always been able to complete assignments independently. With Jonah, my fifth grader, I have to do everything in my power to get him to do his homework. When they started remote learning, I thought it would be harder on Jonah. But he’s actually thriving. I get the occasional text from his teacher when she can tell that he’s not focused or not participating in class, and I’ll pop in and check on him. That’s been working well. 

Unexpectedly, Ava is now the one who needs a little more support. In class, when her teacher covers something that she feels like she already knows, she gets bored and checks out. This happened in the classroom, but now, there’s no teacher in the room to bring her back to focus. Instead, she’s free to grab her phone and scroll, and it’s hard to bring her back once she’s lost focus. 

We’re still new at this remote learning thing. Teachers are still gauging how their students are coping.

Every morning, teachers at Success Academy Bed-Stuy Middle School start the day by checking in with the scholars in their homeroom to see how they’re doing emotionally before everyone starts another day. When I talk to their teachers, we share updates about the kids, but you have to remember that teachers are also going through this. There’s a personal and professional impact on everyone. I’m very grateful. I feel like I’m on a team with teachers and school staff, with a common goal of supporting our kids through this crisis. 

Despite the challenging circumstances, there are definitely moments of humor. I will be on a conference call, and then I’ll realize it’s 11:50 am and I say, “Okay, wait. I gotta go to lunch and recess! I gotta get off this call!” Then I go and make my kids lunch, which is actually great for me — as a full-time working mom who doesn’t get to spend this much time with her kids, it’s wonderful because we’re all doing our thing but doing it around each other.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that parents now have multiple full-time jobs at once. I have my job as a parent supervising remote learning, and my professional job that I feel incredibly lucky to still have. And it’s really hard to do both jobs well at the same time.

I’m probably not the only one experiencing “mom guilt” on a daily basis. I feel like I have to decide which job I’m going to focus on that day, hour, or minute, and manage my expectations. Determining what small things I can control among the chaos has been helpful for me. I try to get a good night’s sleep, make sure the dishes are washed and the laundry is folded, and have food prepped. When the inevitable bad day occurs, we’ve learned that hot showers, watching movies on the couch together, and eating lots of sweets makes us feel better. Little things like that help me feel like everything isn’t falling apart. 

The lesson that I think we, adults, keep learning over and over again is that kids are resilient. There are a lot of unknowns right now, but we’re going to figure it out. My kids learned in their first years as Success Academy scholars that you “try and try” until you succeed. Right now, we’re all trying what feels like the right thing for this particular moment. Maybe tomorrow, we’ll try something new — and that’s okay.

As long as we keep trying, we’ll get through this together. And the kids will be alright. 

Jill Cysner is a Success Academy parent and the vice president of PM Pediatrics, a nationwide urgent care provider for children. She is passionate about world travel and seeing the world through her kids’ eyes. Jill lives in Brooklyn with her two children.