I’ve never been a fan of reality shows.
To my horror, it appears that with the recent cancellation of school, a new reality show is now being broadcast directly from my house. Working titles include: “Keeping Up with the Homeschoolians” and “Project Quarantine: Teen Edition.” My vote definitely goes to “The Biggest Loser: Shelter-in-Place Schooling.”
Whatever you call it, I’m giving the entire production two thumbs down. My family has rolled out five painful episodes this week, and I’m 100% ready to cancel this entire season.
The show features a small cast: a 50-something-year-old mom and her teenage daughters.
My immediate criticism is that this cast never changes. The only variety is the odd glimpse of the back of an Amazon Prime driver or Panera Delivery employee. Otherwise, it’s the same three-person ensemble, day in and day out. No one comes; no one goes. There’s not even the option to vote someone off of Quarantine Island. You’re stuck with this troupe of misfits all season long:
“14K”: An 8th-grader, extrovert. Repertoire includes a dramatic display of a wide range of emotions. Characterized by singing, dancing, and talking — lots of talking. Tune in between 7 PM and 2 AM for some of her most entertaining work.
“Sweet 16”: A sophomore, introvert. Characterized by a quiet spirit and a mastery of technology. Disappointment about the cancellation of spring sports is palpable. Seeking comfort in repeated viewings of all Harrison Ford movies. Best cat footage can be found when she is on screen.
“Teacher Mom”: A 50-something-year old, ambivert. Overwhelmed by trying to roll out lessons to her 77 students while simultaneously monitoring her own teenagers’ schoolwork and social-emotional health. Doing neither well. Has read far too many dystopian novels to relax. Characterized by a deepening forehead wrinkle and roots that need highlighting.
I didn’t mind being a part of this cast so much before all three of us had to jump back into school mode. It’s the schooling that’s set us off the rails. After you watch a few scenes from the show, you’ll see why I want to return to my regularly scheduled programming as soon as possible.
Scene 17 The Morning, Day 3
Close-up on phone alarm. At 6:10 A.M., we hear the cheerful notes of “Good Morning, Sunshine” welcoming a new day. TeacherMom moans, blindly locates glasses, and grabs Chromebook to check if assignments and videos have FINALLY uploaded to Google Classroom via archaic wi-fi service. YES. She rolls over and falls back asleep. Oh, wait. She’s not asleep. She has started scrolling through CoVid-19 coverage. (80 MINUTES LATER) Still scrolling.
Scene 24 Getting The Teenager Out of Bed
Synopsis: TeacherMom checks on 14K periodically at 9:45, 11:15, and noon. Next to her bed are two empty yogurt containers, candy wrappers, and a large bag of pretzels. Flashback to 14K singing and dancing to Broadway tunes at 1:30 A.M. that morning.
TeacherMom faces internal struggle: Should she be a responsible mom and wake up her daughter to start “school?” OR Should she be a selfish mom and try to get uninterrupted time to work on her own teaching? Teachermom backs quietly out of the room.
At noon, Teachermom wakes up 14K to work on taking history notes and completing a packet of worksheets. “What’s the point, Mom?” she asks. TeacherMom has no answer. She wants to vote worksheets off of the island.
Scenes 48-77 I’m Over Screentime
Synopsis: TeacherMom is frustrated with the absence of work assigned by the high school. Sophomore has had daily video meetings with teachers but with little to no work assigned. A “project” is completed in 22 minutes. Sweet 16 has spent hours playing Minecraft, watching YouTube videos, and scrolling through TikTok. How is this school? TeacherMom fears her daughter’s brain is turning into mush. She should give her daughter some direction for independent learning, but she is still figuring out how the heck to roll out meaningful work to her own students. Scene closes with Sweet16 rolled up in StarWars blanket with a blue orb of light emitting from her phone.
SCENE 135 In Which We See TeacherMom Offering Help
Synopsis: Textbooks and notes are strewn across kitchen table while daughter works on stack of science and math work. She is frustrated. She refuses help from her mom, her math wizard sister, and her teacher. She watches Khan Academy videos. We watch 14K spiral into emotional breakdown about how much she hates math. “I just suck at math, Mom. Face it!” TeacherMom contacts math tutor to Facetime her daughter for help. Mom overhears 14K say to math tutor, “Oh, I’ve got this. It’s easy.” She then takes a test and receives a D. TeacherMom knows her daughter is going to repeat Algebra in high school, so why is she learning math that she won’t see again for two years? How is this helping? TeacherMom turns to camera with silent scream of frustration.
SCENE 197 Checking on Homework
Synopsis: A typical conversation with the 14-year old.
TeacherMom: Did you finish your science homework?
14K: I’m unloading the dishwasher.
TeacherMom: So, your homework is finished?
14K: I did most of it. It’s not due until 11:59.
TeacherMom: What’s your plan to finish it?
14K: I’m going to do it … right after I make this cake.
(Full Beat) Mom and daughter stare each other down.
14K: …Mom, you know we NEED this cake.
Later, we see unwrapped cake on counter with cat eating frosting. Cat intermittently vomits purple frosting the rest of the day. At least we’ve learned one lesson today.
SCENE 399 Mom Misses Her Students and the Slow WiFi Isn’t Helping
Synopsis: TeacherMom has an existential crisis about the meaning of education and emotional breakdown worrying about the wellbeing of her students who have not checked in. The WiFi continues to function at snail’s pace. The cat jumps on keyboard and lays down. Mom and cat take a nap. No one checks on teenagers.
SCENE 892 Homework Check-In, Part 2
After dinner, the entire cast watches a television show together.The voices of Tiger King and Carole Baskins are heard in the background.
TeacherMom checks Chromebook periodically to look over the work from her students. She checks with girls if they have any work that needs to be submitted. Sweet 16 shakes her head no (Of course, she has no work). 14K says, “It’s not due until 11:59 P.M. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ve got this.” TeacherMom and 14K begin heated discussion about personal responsibility, independent learning, and time management. Sweet16 starts watching an Indiana Jones movie. She recites the dialogue from memory as the movie plays.
Scene 1,006 What is Happening?
It’s 11:10, and 14K should be working on final science worksheet. Instead, she is arguing with Alexa. Alexa, the Amazon Assistant. That Alexa. So, yeah, homeschooling is going well.
Scene 1,424 I Feel Like Wine Would Help
Synopsis: Two guest stars are featured: a bottle of Merlot and a gallon of iced tea. The two battle it out for TeacherMom’s attention. TeacherMom is afraid one glass of wine will put her straight to sleep. And then, who will homeschool? Who will remote teach? But, says Red Wine, does any of this really matter? What are we doing anyway? Scene closes with TeacherMom pouring another glass of iced tea. Red Wine looks knowingly into camera: She’ll be back.
I mean, can you see? Our Great American Homeschooling Challenge is a trainwreck. One daughter is inundated with work in which she finds little connection. Another daughter has no work and is in full technology immersion. I am struggling to provide meaningful work and a personal connection with my own classes. We are all a little stir crazy and all a little depressed.
While this is Day 18 (19? 20?) of social distancing, this was but our first 5-day week of remote learning (or online schooling, or whatever nomenclature is being wrapped around this new educational norm). Whatever it’s being called, we did not nail it. Not by a long shot.
Don’t get me wrong. Of all the kids in the world to be stuck with in quarantine, I am a really lucky mom. And of all the jobs in the world, I am a really lucky teacher. I’ve been humbled to see how difficult it is when my parenting world and my working world and their schooling worlds overlap. They miss being at school, and I miss my students. This has been a really tough week.
And it looks that there’s no end. I’m afraid that our reality show is on an unlimited run. The rumor on the set is that our producer, Governor Pritzker, will be extending our homeschool contracts until summer.
What’s next week going to look like? Fortunately, my brother-in-law helped me upgrade our WiFi. That probably means there won’t be any upcoming footage of me throwing my Chromebook out the window. Still, our “homeschooling” scenes won’t be pretty. But I know the resiliency of this cast. I know we will improve as we live out this new reality. It’s going to take us a while to find our stride.
Until then, should you stumble across our show – for the love of Education and moms everywhere – turn the channel immediately. And go pick up a book.
Be safe, be kind, be well.