Growing up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Carla Jones knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher, lining up dolls and stuffed animals to be her pretend students. But the Chicago-based, National Board Certified language arts teacher never imagined her classroom would be her kitchen table, and that she’d be juggling teaching her two daughters, in second grade and third grade.

But she’s working remotely while school buildings are closed to battle the spread of the coronavirus — and she’s discovering some improvements as she tries to connect with her fourth- and fifth-graders at John W. Cook Academy in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. 

One new practice: starting the day off asking “How are you doing?” and just letting the responses pour in via Google Classroom. 

“Today I received more responses from that than completed work,” said Jones, who has taught at Cook for 18 years. “I will keep doing what I can to show effort. What I can do, I will do.”

What advice would you give parents who are now being asked to help teach their children at home?

Be patient with yourself, and be willing to make changes to what doesn’t work. 

As a parent of two daughters, in second and third grades, teaching at home is a lot harder than I thought it would be. The first couple of days, my daughters were like, “This is not going to work.” “We don’t like you.” “We want our teachers back.” That was a stab at me. My own kids were shunning me and saying they didn’t want me to be their teacher.

I had to have honest conversations with them: I need you to be patient with me. I was still trying to jump on Zoom calls, answer emails, and do my own work. Everyone needed my attention at the same time. 

It has gotten better. I’ve figured out what they want to learn. I’ve ventured away from saying, this is your hour of reading, this is your hour of math. One of my daughters wanted to learn cursive. I thought that was a great thing to try and learn. So now we are trying to incorporate reading and math into a cursive lesson. So how many Bs can you write in a minute? Trying to infuse concepts into what they are learning really helps. 

And also, taking breaks. We don’t have flexible seating and comfy chairs like they do at school. We have the kitchen table. They need frequent breaks. 

How are you adapting to remote learning?

It’s tough. Although I used Google Classroom during the school year, many of my students have forgotten some of the features. On the first day of remote learning (Chicago officially launched remote learning this week), I spent much of the time with logins and how to turn in completed work.

I started the day off asking “How are you doing?” and I received more responses from that than completed work. About half actually completed the work.

I have some students I have not heard from at all. Aside from making phone calls — and some of the numbers are not correct — I don’t know how to reach them. I can just hope they are picking up packets at the school. I will keep doing what I can to show effort. What I can do, I will do. 

What about your students — how are they adjusting? 

They tell me they are good/fine/cool. Some of the kids who aren’t completing classwork are the same students who weren’t completing homework earlier in the year. I know some of my students are at home alone, in fourth grade. It’s tough. 

What should parents realistically expect of teachers who are working remotely? What’s not realistic?

Remote learning is new to teachers also. Parents should expect teachers to respond within a couple of hours during the school day. Parents should expect meaningful learning to continue through online platforms. Parents should not expect the same structure of instruction as during the school year.

What is a lesson that you think will translate well to being taught remotely that other teachers could emulate? 

I did an assignment about a COVID-19 podcast. In it, kids were asking questions of a doctor about the virus, and the doctor answered the questions. I had students listen, then write down what questions they would have. Then I asked them to think about how they would find the answer to the question and to use student interest to help guide their own research. 

I think meaningful learning and instruction should still be going on, but it’s not the same structure as in the class. It’s definitely going to look different. I think parents have that understanding. 

What’s the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I have received as a teacher was to work overtime during the workday and leave work at work at the end of the day.

Finally, what gives you hope at this moment?

Warmer weather and sunshine.