Michigan’s Teacher of the Year is homeschooling during the coronavirus crisis. Her children aren’t impressed.

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs.

With U.S. schools shuttered in an effort to contain the new coronavirus, millions of parents are attempting to teach their children from home. It’s no simple feat for even for the nation’s most celebrated educators. 

“Just so everyone is clear: my children are not the least bit impressed at being homeschooled by the Michigan Teacher of the Year,” Cara Lougheed tweeted earlier this week, striking a chord with parents everywhere. Her message received some 12,800 likes and more than 400 retweets. 

“As I scrolled through social media over the past week, it occurred to me the pressure teachers and parents are under to ‘teach’ their kids,” she told Chalkbeat. “This is not an easy job with other people’s kids, let alone your own. I wanted to make people laugh a little, and remind everyone we are all equally unimpressive to our own children, fancy title or not.”

Lougheed, a high school English and history teacher at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills, Michigan, is the state’s 2019-2020 Teacher of the Year. She’d been working out of the classroom this school year to attend to the duties associated with the honor. But since Michigan schools were closed last week, she’s been working from home with her two sons, ages 11 and 15.

Lougheed spoke with Chalkbeat about the advice she’d give to those new to teaching, what parents can realistically expect from their children while school buildings are closed, and how the fallout from this pandemic could bring about newfound respect for classroom educators.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What advice would you give parents who are being asked to homeschool their children amid the new coronavirus outbreak? 

Parents and caregivers: I want to share with you some advice I give to new teachers. Pace yourself — you have lots of days ahead of you, and there is plenty to learn. You don’t need to do all the cool things this week.

Be intentional about how you begin. One of the biggest mistakes I see new and young teachers make is over-promising to their students and to themselves. Keep your expectations and your schedules realistic. Ask yourself: Can I keep this up five days a week for a month or more? Will my kids be able to? If the answers are no, readjust your expectations. Yes, your kids will get more screen time. That. Is. OK.

Make time to speak with adults — and for yourself. Your kids don’t need constant entertainment. They can still play outside, build a fort, clean their rooms, stare at the ceiling, whatever, without your supervision or a task list to check off.

Your kids know you love them, and everyone is doing their best.

I will also add that this whole thing is hard no matter what age your kids are. In general, younger kids will need more structure and daily consistency, while teenagers want to have some freedom and flexibility. With our boys, we made a VERY flexible schedule with all of our input. We sat down with them and we each answered the questions: What do you want time for as an individual? What do you want time for as a family? What is important to you right now? But again, our boys are preteens/teens, so families have to do what is best for the ages and personalities of their kids.
In this moment, what can parents realistically expect of teachers who are working remotely?

I’m so glad you asked this! Most teachers are in unfamiliar territory here, and some will be ahead of others in their technology skills. I would ask parents and caregivers to extend grace and patience to their students’ teachers. Ask questions as needed, and be patient as teachers navigate all of this. As my own district is stressing, our primary focus should not be about grades. Rather, it is ensuring teachers are connecting with kids, and maintaining the relationships they forged in their classrooms.
In turn, what can teachers realistically expect of parents, especially those who need to work during the day?

Teachers also need to remember that not every student has an adult who can teach them all day. Some of our students may not even be able to log on at all, and that has to be OK. Teachers have to be flexible and understanding with expectations and assignments. Teachers should expect questions, but don’t answer if you don’t know what to say. Defer to your building or district leadership for consistency and clarity. If that isn’t possible, refer to guidance from your state’s Department of Education. Teachers can rely on parent and caregiver support, but we need to be clear, calm, and consistent.

And the children who are out of school — what can we expect of them?
Oh gosh, that is so different for every teacher and every student. I think everyone needs to keep it simple. No one was ready for something like this — especially not our kids. I think you just try to ensure the kids are feeling safe, cared for, and that we provide ways for them to learn new things (or review what they know) as many days as possible. None of us is an expert at every grade level and subject (in our own house we might need help with science!), so we do the best we can and make sure our kids and students know they are loved and that everything will be OK.

Do you think this experience we’re all having will give people a better appreciation of what classroom teachers do, day in and day out?

I sure hope so! We’d all love that. I do want to make clear, though, that classroom teaching, homeschooling, and what we are doing right now are not the same thing. Teachers are trained professionals, and homeschool parents take the time to research and figure out what their own children need. That is not what’s happening here. Everyone was thrust into this with very little notice. So while I deeply appreciate the kind words from everyone appreciating teachers, let’s also remember that so many children’s first teacher was a parent or caregiver, and we all deserve some appreciation when we come out the other side.

What was the biggest misconception you initially brought to teaching?

Probably that everything was in a book somewhere for me to read or copy. It was the realization that I had to figure out how to make material come alive for students — how to present it and assign it and then work to make it better when I did it wrong. That was the biggest shock to me. I love that aspect of teaching, but it takes a lot of time, effort, and reflection to make that work for kids. 

Recommend a book that has helped you become a better teacher.

I love Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly,” and Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.” Neither is specific to teaching, but that’s kind of the point. I realized I needed to be a better human — a better friend, spouse, mom, daughter — in order to be a better teacher. Both helped me see the ways my own insecurities, biases, assumptions, and unearned privilege were affecting what I brought to my classroom. I encourage all educators to keep learning from educators and non-educators. When you stop learning, you will feel stagnant, and your students will suffer.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?

Overall the best advice I’ve read and heard is to always assume that everyone is just doing the best they can in that moment. Extend more grace and have more patience than you think kids even deserve. Don’t assume you know what kids are going through, and don’t try to “solve” all of their problems for them. In general, it’s life advice that is especially true when working with children.