In my homeschool journey, I’ve made extensive use of online courses, and I’ve alternately been grateful/thrilled and dismayed/horrified with what I find out there in cyberland that passes for educational material for young people. It’s been a particularly difficult year for me as my two younger kids slog their way through freshman year of high school while enduring a challenging athletic schedule. Simply put, I just don’t remember the online school resources being a) this stressful, and b) this substandard, when my older two were going through the same period.
My eldest child, who is about to graduate from college next month, tells me that I was simply too busy running after her younger sisters when she was at this phase of high school life, and that it was just as bad but I didn’t notice. Perhaps. But that means that she was fully able to navigate these waters without my constant supervision. And the fact is, I can’t leave my two high schoolers alone for long before someone brings me an exam filled with bad questions or a note from a teacher saying that my child hasn’t been submitting work (when she has).
Was it always this bad? I just don’t know. There were certainly some hairy patches with both my older kids. There was the math teacher who never answered email, the English teacher who sent warning notices addressed to some other student and then subsequently tried to kick my 4.0 Harvard-bound son out of class (she had apparently confused him with someone else), the economics teacher who subtracted points for any mention of Obama economic stimulus programs…it was never perfect, but what I am seeing now appears to be less about teacher snafus and quirky personalities (which you’ll find everywhere, after all, not just in online schools) and more about sheer volume.
I get the sense that teachers everywhere are overworked, underappreciated, and drowning. They are expected to make use of poor quality materials and outdated textbooks. They are given more and more to do, and expected to act like entrepreneurs as they piece together an existence out of their full time brick-and-mortar jobs plus their side hustles in the online world. The ones who are full-time in cybereducation are trying to shush their toddlers and throw together mac and cheese for their older kids, while turning on the minivan with the remote starter in preparation for the carpool to soccer. No kidding they’re confusing my student for some other student–they barely have a moment to catch their breath.
This is a plea addressed to the corporate execs out there who think the internet is going to change education in some earth-shattering way. Online courses are not a panacea. Just because they are delivered via computer individually to each student doesn’t mean you can skip the part where the teacher gets to figure out the student. That’s what teaching is all about, and the delivery vehicle and the materials are just tools. You can’t just deliver tools. That’s not how school works. If you give the teacher 150 students (that’s a real number, folks), what kind of teaching is going to get done with those kids?
I’m at a crossroads right now where I really wonder whether I want to stick with online curricula. And yet if I ditch it–that’s because I can. If you’re a teaching professional, you are doing the best you can with what you’re given. If the money in the field of education is being thrown into this type of educational tool without regard for the teachers who use it, I foresee some really bad results ahead.