What Actually Happens if You Fail Virtual School? Not Asking for a Friend

It’s midnight on a Thursday, and I’m following along with a German yoga video from YouTube in my living room. As I down-dog, far from feeling awash in relaxation and peace, my mind is racing, composing a mental list of what comes after this video: floating an egg in saltwater; graphing a line; figuring out why Odysseus went on his quest in the first place (a terrible book! I said what I said – fight me!).

Well, I don’t have to do any of these things, technically, but I have to make sure my ninth grade daughter does them so she doesn’t fail virtual school.

This requires me to comb through two websites for lists of assignments uncompleted, find the instructions for each assignment, email teachers when we can’t find or don’t understand what to do (or when my daughter claims not to), and sit next to her while she completes and turns in her work, steering her back on track with prompts and encouragement when she stalls in despair.

Oh, and yell a lot.

Just kidding, kind of: I used to yell a lot, but now, six months into this virtual learning thing, we finally have a semi-workable system down, where at least one day a week after I come home from my own full-time job, we sit at the kitchen table and go through all her assignments one by one, completing them and turning them in, for as long as it takes.

Sometimes till 2 a.m.! It’s great! Everything’s fine! Winning!


A student frustrated: feeling like she is failing virtual school


I’m not trying to convince you I’m a martyr.

I actually feel grateful: we’ve stayed healthy and employed throughout a global pandemic, and she probably won’t actually fail virtual school. Probably. In fact, we’ve formed a bond by simplifying equations together for several hours straight. At least I’m getting to spend quality time with her! But it’s hard to find the gratitude when you’ve spent six hours trying to teach yourself to do an algebra-thing, like graph a line, so you can teach your child, and you’re really not getting it (I have a learning disability in math! It’s documented!).

Choosing the all-online schooling option for this year felt like the safest option, and was workable for our family. My daughter had sailed through junior high with great grades, so I wasn’t worried about it. I told myself, “She’s old enough to manage her own schoolwork; her teachers can communicate directly with her if there are any issues. I don’t need to micromanage.”

By a few months in, I was wondering what actually happens if you fail virtual school.

Feverishly jotting lists of assignments due for each class, and yelling things like, “IS THIS ON WORD WALL OR WIZER ME?!” while jabbing my finger at a list of similarly-titled assignments on the district’s PowerSchool website, as my daughter blinked at me sleepily from her bed at noon on a Saturday.

I emailed all her teachers until one of them knew how to help me get a “pairing code” for Canvas so I could set up a “parent observer account.” Each class Canvas page is set up differently, so I had to learn where to find assignments on each page and try to parse the difference between a “quiz” and a “Quizizz.” I have a master’s degree and am a native English speaker, and until a few months in, I didn’t know you could CLICK ON THE LETTER GRADE IN POWERSCHOOL AND IT WOULD OPEN UP A LIST OF ALL THE ASSIGNMENTS FROM THE CLASS.

I’m not trying to criticize her teachers.

They have all, without exception, been nothing but patient, flexible, accommodating, and compassionate, both to my daughter and to me (the writer of frequent frantic emails). They are suffering the same pandemic-related stresses and anxieties as the rest of us, on top of which they are tremendously overworked and underpaid. I admire their deft navigation and creative use of digital tools and web-based platforms to create an entirely new learning experience for their students.

They have like 200 students to monitor and have gone out of their way to be supportive to individual students. I have no quibble with teachers whatsoever: it’s the system we’re all flailing in. It’s the often-incomprehensible new digital tools. It’s the volume of assignments, combined. And the fact that my daughter, surrounded by the distractions of home and the entire internet at her fingertips, is completely disengaged during class and during her “asynchronous learning time.”


A student frustrated: feeling like she is failing virtual school


I get it: my eyes glaze over during Zoom meetings all the time.

The temptation to open a new tab and look at used hiking gear I might buy on Poshmark is powerful. There’s no adult oversight and a comfy bed and blankie right there. There’s, you know, Instagram and texting with your friends (yes, I have app limits set on her phone).

I never felt more tired than I did as a teenager, and that includes when I had newborn babies. I wanted to sleep constantly. All of us feel like nothing is real and nothing really counts right now. We don’t even know what day it is half the time. And I know my daughter feels anxious from the uncertainty and the changed expectations: her trichotillomania, an OCD-adjacent condition characterized by the compulsion to systematically pull out one’s own hair, has recurred after having lain dormant for several years. Oh, but the lying! THE LYING! “What? I thought I turned that in . . .”

I know everything’s hard and we’re all doing the best we can, truly.

It just makes me feel better to tell you this: virtual schooling is . . .Not. Going. Well. And when any other parent confesses publicly that their kid is also failing and they are struggling to figure out how to help them, I feel like a lifeline has been lowered into my isolated silo of shame.

So, if you are also pushing your child through hour, after hour, after hour, of schoolwork at your kitchen table when you’d rather be switching all your clothing to matching velvet hangers you bought after watching The Home Edit and you and your kid are both feeling anxious and overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

This has to end sometime, though, right? Right?


Related: Read the advice and stories of struggle and triumph from Iowa City Moms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Iowa City Moms Blog we’re a group of local moms who are passionate about connecting other moms to one another and to our community! Whether you’re an experienced mom, a newbie, expecting, or aspiring to be a mom someday, this blog is for you! Join us as we navigate this journey that is motherhood in the Iowa City area!

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