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Illustration by Wenzdai Figueroa

After the pandemic, parents and teachers are reflecting on the lessons learned from virtual schooling and how they feel about in-person instruction in the fall.

Now that the world is opening up after a year and half of being shut down, many parents are finally getting a moment to reflect on how the last year of virtual schooling affected our children — and how to apply that going forward into the new school year.

With many schools reopening for in-person instruction before the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for children under 12 years old, parents, guardians, and kids have understandable anxiety and concerns.

Last year, almost all schools closed for in-person instruction. While it was definitely inconvenient to both working and nonworking families — and especially teachers with kids of their own — the closures were vital to curbing the spread of COVID-19.

One of the biggest stressors for parents was figuring out how to juggle online schooling for their kids.

Regardless of whether parents were working or not — or how many kids they had at home — making sense of e-learning platforms and schedules caused a lot of upheaval and confusion.

“As a full-time working mom, the transition to virtual schooling was hard,” parent Sally Chen told Healthline. Chen admitted that though her two girls, ages 7 and 10 years old, are pretty easygoing and their private school was extremely supportive, it was still a difficult time.

“The hardest part was the constant off-and-on and little people constantly asking for stuff.” Chen added that her inability to set boundaries and stick to them contributed to her frustration, including, “…stupid things like having to locate your kids’ pencils and textbooks because they got scattered throughout the house instead of staying in one place [like] at school.”

Although entrepreneur and mom Aaronica Bell Cole really appreciated her kids learning in the safety of their home, it challenged her ability to work while maintaining her focus and sanity.

Cole’s oldest child often felt left out of activities that kids who opted to return to school were doing. Her middle child, on the other hand, really struggled with focusing and engagement in the first grade. “With her, we had to do a lot of follow-up work at home, and I’m 100 percent certain she’s now behind on reading despite our efforts,” Cole explained to Healthline.

Special education teacher Saisha Lacon told Healthline that even when she was teaching children in-person, she already had to constantly be aware and sensitive to the students’ various needs and lack of interest in school overall. “Virtual learning took away the opportunity for me to even do that. So if children were not motivated on their own at home to learn,” she said, “it was nearly impossible for them to really learn the curriculum.”

For high school biology teacher Laura Funk, the most difficult part of the pandemic was trying to teach while also parenting her two young children. “I have never felt more devalued, disrespected, and patronized in my entire career,” she told Healthline.

Funk explained that although her school and colleagues were great, the parents left much to be desired, mostly because they “…realized they couldn’t do both their jobs at the same time but still expected us to.”

Of course, nothing is entirely bad, and for many families, there were silver linings.

As a parent of a child with special needs, Missy Gatlan told Healthline that virtual learning gave her and her spouse a lot more insight into just how much their child’s special needs impacted his school day.

“I feel like we know him so much better as a student now,” she said. “It also provided the chance to see just what our kid is capable of when he receives the necessary support from his Individualized Education Program whenever he needs it — and not just during a specific period during the school day.”

School administrator and mom of three Audrey Lee said the lack of a commute was fantastic and that her children were able to focus on their work with fewer distractions.

“One of my kids has a toxic school social environment, so we were happy to not be in that environment for 1.5 years,” Lee told Healthline. “My high school freshman was transitioning from a tiny charter to a huge district school, so this was a nice slow ramp up into that transition,” she continued.

For many children and adults, the pandemic magnified their anxieties and took a toll on their mental health. The long-term effects of this period of isolation, stress, and uncertainty are still unknown.

“My 13-year-old son has ADHD, is introverted, and only has a few close friends,” mom Jinnie Kim told Healthline. Although her son doesn’t believe he fared too badly during quarantine living, he experienced outbursts where he struggled with not being able to see his friends in real life.

Mom of three Emily Wright told Healthline that her high school senior found it hard to become motivated. “There were no sports, marching band, pep rallies, or social opportunities. My recent high school graduate says her grades went ‘in the sh*tter,’” said Wright. “She also said that emotionally, it was very depressing and isolating, and socially, she did not feel connected to her classmates.”

Lacon added that students with social anxiety who were only in decent academic standing thrived during the pandemic. “They didn’t have to deal with as many people in their days,” she continued.

Gatlan, who is also a high school English teacher, mentioned that many students felt isolated.

“They were used to having ‘school friends’ — people they hung out with during breaks and chatted with during class but would never call on the phone or meet up with outside of school unless it was a school project,” she said. Although they knew they could reach out to these ‘school friends,’ they didn’t feel close enough to start the conversation or didn’t have the confidence to initiate contact.

Cole shared that all her children suffered. The sibling fights increased as her kids tired of each other. And although her oldest thrived educationally, she struggled emotionally and socially. “She now feels awkward in social settings,” Cole explained. “My middle child misses talking to people outside of her immediate family, and my youngest just misses his friends.”

With so much uncertainty and stress, parents and teachers coped the best they could.

Chen confessed she screamed and cried a lot, self-corrected, and powered through. “I did a lot of revenge bedtime procrastination and slept really strange hours. I bought a lot of stuff,” the lawyer said. “Also, antidepressants. That helped the most.”

Lee said she and her husband alternated days they went to the office. “This really helped to get work done and give us time away,” she said. “There was always a lot of yelling, too.”

For Cole, she also cried a lot. “I started taking supplements that helped with my anxiety and panic attacks. CBD, ashwagandha, and L-thiamine have been really helpful,” she said. Cole added that sharing her feelings and needs with her husband was helpful to not feel so alone.

Now that many schools are opening for in-person instruction this fall, it’s safe to say that parents and teachers have mixed feelings.

“A major concern for many parents is that students will be extremely lost and exhausted by trying to come into school again 5 days a week and receive all of their lessons, when that was cut down to about a quarter of the same amount of work per day,” said Lacon.

Kim worried that her son is behind, although she thought that was likely the case with most students. “I wonder then if there’s any plan in place for reacclimating the students when they return in person. Will they be held to previous standards?”

Chen said that she has lots of concerns about people who continue to resist vaccination. “Because of the Delta variant, it matters that we are not at herd immunity,” she said. “I feel like we are nowhere near safe, and we need to continue being vigilant.” Chen is also sad that her kids are being left out because her private school community is pretty comfortable getting together unmasked, while she is not.

For Wright, her child will be starting her freshman year at college in the fall, and she is definitely worried. “I am concerned about the transition from home by herself, to a huge campus,” she said. “As for my 18-year-old, she is looking forward to making new connections, feeling a sense of normalcy, and getting involved in sports again.”

While many families learned the value of more quality time, acknowledging and dealing with feelings, and prioritizing mental health, many other families did not have that luxury due to work, health, and — to put it plainly — financial status.

“What burdens me most is knowing that the pandemic was ‘easy’ for me because of my privilege and my money,” Chen reflected. “I want my children to know what a privilege it was — and continues to be — to be able to lead a relatively normal life.”

In addition, virtual schooling exposed a lot of holes in our education system, as well as in our support system for working families. Let us hope that in the rush to return to “normal,” parents and educators can work together to find ways to help students thrive in whatever educational setting they’re in this year.