Students, Parents and Teachers Tell Their Stories of Remote Learning

This article is part of our latest Learning special report, which focuses on ways that remote learning will shape the future.

From preschool to college, education continues to evolve in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In their own words, people who are living and working through this experience shared their victories, frustrations and strategies.

Recent Issues on America’s College Campuses

Slavery Ties: Harvard released a 134-page report on the universty’s four centuries of ties to slavery, in an effort to begin redressing the wrongs of the past.Admissions: The Supreme Court will decide whether two race-conscious admissions programs are lawful, raising serious doubts about the future of affirmative action.Hiring: Outrage ensued after U.C.L.A. posted an adjunct position that offered no pay. Turns out, the school is not unique.Tuition: After a plan for free community college failed to gain traction in Congress, New Mexico is taking the lead in the tuition-free movement.

Students: How Are You Coping?

While I can’t see my friends in person, I try to call, text, video chat and D.M. them as much as I can. Krystal Karman, 12th grade, Menifee, Calif.

Going to school used to excite me, but sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day does not interest me. I wish we could go back, even one day a week. Even one day a month. Even in small groups. I don’t really care. Fiona O’Toole, ninth grade, Chicago

My grades dropped a lot last year during remote learning. I went from having 90s to 70s. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. Schools did not have enough time to organize themselves for this. However, this year there is a noticeable difference: In every class, there is a Zoom call for live instruction, and I feel very much more productive because of it. Dominique Sollecito, 11th grade, Queens, N.Y.

I am surviving the semester by doing all of my assignments, and taking notes during class just like I would in a regular class. Every morning, I wake up, shower, get ready as I usually would, but then I go back to my room. Nicholas Forcina, 11th grade, Queens, N.Y.

I go to the lake near my house to watch a blue heron each week. Fatima Shiliwala, kindergarten, Piscataway, N.J.

It is really hard for me to separate the boundaries between school and home, and I often lose productivity. What’s been helping for me is repeating things out loud. Whether that be my notes, my essays, my textbook reading, or my schedule, it really helps me retain the information and keeps me on task. Ellie Koo, ninth grade, Los Angeles

The only thing that reminds me sometimes that I’m not going to Zoom or YouTube University is the little college logo on the online Canvas site where I access my classes. Ryan Hall-Hunt, a senior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, St. Paul, Minn.

Parents: How are you dealing with remote learning?

The homeroom teacher won’t repeat instructions on principle, so my kid spends a lot of time lost or needing help finding the page he’s supposed to be on (since, you know, he’s in kindergarten and just learning how to read page numbers and follow instructions). It’s especially tough because our kid has no relationship with these teachers — no reason to want to listen to them or follow along aside from it being what we’re telling him to do. Julia Martin, Takoma Park, Md.

We are in South Minneapolis and have three kids in fifth, first and pre-K, across three different schools. I’ve cried on the phone more with the school social worker for my special-needs student than I have with anyone in at least a decade; her team has really held our hand through Covid as well as the uprising. My brain is breaking just trying to track their schedules, portals, login information, device access and so on. Jeanine Malec, Minneapolis

My third-grader does not like his headphones, which means as I sit next to him, I hear every loud voice, every math lesson, and every time a child interrupts. But it is important that I sit by him, as he is still trying to navigate the eight different online websites that the teacher uses to supplement the classwork. He is also easily distracted and a wiggly 8-year-old boy that needs redirection. He cannot do it alone, and I cannot expect his teacher to do it on her own from her home. Jessica Justiniano, New Rochelle, N.Y.

The thing I do every night that makes the morning more bearable (and maybe even fun) for my kids [ages 5 and 11] is I set up our dining table with all the things they will do that day: the books we will read, their math books, their writing folders, maybe a new French workbook I ordered online, some books I ordered from the library and they haven’t seen yet, some terra cotta clay. What makes this enjoyable for all of us is that we are all learning together. I am relearning math I totally forgot. Caitlin Shetterly, Freeport, Maine

I got chickens. I know it sounds silly, but they have helped us [ages 8 and 11] cope immensely. My youngest is having fits of rage regularly around schoolwork. When that happens, she goes outside and plays with them. They calm her down immediately. Dana Rothermel, Pacifica, Calif.

The biggest success tool? Reminding them that the teacher is the boss during school hours and to act as if I’m not here unless absolutely necessary. My kids [ages 6 and 8] want to tell me every single thing that happens as it happens, and I love that, but it’s distracting for everyone. Kerry Railey, Weymouth, Mass.

Balancing is not a thing when you are parenting, teaching and working simultaneously. It’s simply not possible to do it all or do any of it well. Some days I focus more on my job and other days I focus more on managing my daughter’s [6] schooling and engagement. Mary Harris, Bloomington, Ind.

Teachers: How are you keeping your students engaged?

I am attempting to keep my middle school art students curious by being completely vulnerable with them. I cry in front of them when I’m sad or scared or frustrated. I’m transparent with them about my feelings and experiences. This encourages them to be more vulnerable and open with me and each other, which prompts us to talk openly about our challenges and struggles and then figure out together how to handle them. Meg Winnecour, a middle schoolteacher at Hanger Hall School for Girls, Asheville, N.C.

One of the ways I’m bringing that out is the use of virtual backgrounds for the kids. Rather than it being a distraction, having a daily challenge for a cool background is allowing kids to bring their creativity to the classroom. Each week, I give a super open-ended theme and then the kids get to show up with their cool backgrounds. Also, I spend about 10 minutes at the beginning of the class with a home scavenger hunt. Everything is very open-ended, so nobody has to feel bad about not having that exact object. “Find something that you could use to …” and the choices are “fix a robot satellite,” etc. It’s 10 minutes out of their day that enables them to be creative and they’re much more willing to engage in class after that. Loriann Schmidt, a middle school and high school teacher at Village Home Education Resource Center, Beaverton, Ore.

I make my online classes available 10 minutes before the official start of class. This time allows students to log in early and casually interact with me and their classmates. As students enter the online classroom, conversations are already happening. Even the chat box begins filling with call-and-response messages (or a roll call of the latest round of test results). It helps create the atmosphere of an in-person classroom. When it doubt, dial it up to an 11. Better to be unhinged than boring. Collin Bailey Jonkman, a college professor at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich.

My second graders went outside as “Nature Detectives” with plastic magnifying glasses and explored their yards for 20 minutes. They came back inside to our Zoom meeting to share the treasures of nature they found — colored leaves, seeds, grass blades, feathers, small stones, small plants with roots still attached, flower petals, acorns, pine cones and seed pods. Laura Avolio, second grade, Orchard View Elementary School, Grand Rapids, Mich.

I am trying to encourage students to go outside and take notice of the nature that surrounds them. This can be on a large or small scale, a piece of moss, a line of ants, or their favorite spot in the woods. The assignment simply boils down to go outside, slow down, and take notice of your surroundings. William J. Gunther, eighth grade, Valley Central Middle School in Montgomery, N.Y.

I’ve been teaching kindergarten for 20 years. I have found distance learning very tricky because I cannot see what my students are working on. I can’t see them pointing to words in their book. I can’t see how they are printing. I can’t see what algorithms they are using while solving problems. I invented a cheap solution to this problem. It’s basically a clip-on mirror that goes over a laptop’s camera and turns it into a document camera. Feel free to download the 3-D file and print as many as you need: Andres Thomas, kindergarten, John Muir Elementary, Berkeley, Calif.

I teach sixth grade, and my classes are fully online through Zoom. I have found that the chat box is a great way to get everyone talking. One tip: Make sure you turn off the private chat between participants. Mine is set so that all comments are seen by everyone or are private only to me. Stephanie Scott, sixth grade, Kettering Middle School, Kettering, Ohio

Create lessons using physical materials that every student has. Our school distributed some toys and materials, so we build lessons around those. If possible, use two computers. Perhaps you have a school-issued computer and a personal computer. Log in to your meetings on both computers (you’ll need a personal Zoom account for the second). Then use one computer to see all of the children in grid view, while the second computer is used for everything else. Joe Robinson, pre-K, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, Washington, D.C.