To help keep children on track with school lessons, teachers advise parents to set a daily schedule.  Freepik photo / mindandi
To help keep children on track with school lessons, teachers advise parents to set a daily schedule. Freepik photo / mindandi
With long-distance learning a new reality for families with school-age students, two Catholic school teachers in the Diocese of Trenton give their advice on how to keep students – and parents – on track for a successful school year.

Teresa O’Neill is an eighth-grade religion teacher and seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher in St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford.

Catherine Sewing is the religion department chairwoman at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.

Q: What can parents do to assist their children with schoolwork?

O’Neill: Parents should set a daily schedule so that the children know what to expect. The schedule doesn’t necessarily have to duplicate the school’s schedule but should feel comfortable for the student. This daily schedule will be the students’ new normal, so we need to give them time to adjust and be flexible.

Sewing: If there is an online grading platform, check each day on the student’s grades. We have been encouraged by our administration to quickly post work as a way of seeing if students are actually doing what we are assigning. If it does not feel as if the student is doing enough homework, ask him or her to show you how the teachers are posting assignments and check that your child has submitted them.

Be patient and compassionate with your child. His or her world has been turned around overnight. Your child misses the social aspect of school as well as the class interaction he or she had with other students or teachers. Give your child and yourself time to adjust. This is new for all of us!

Q: How are teachers making themselves available to parents/students?

O’Neill: We answer parent emails and respond to Google classroom questions from the students throughout the day. Many teachers are also available for questions in the evening as well. If you teach middle and high school, you will find that many times the students are working later in the evening. So, again, flexibility is key. Our school will begin using Zoom video conferencing to conduct live, whole-class meetings. For students who need extra help, we will be using Google Hangouts to meet one-on-one or in small groups.

Sewing: At Notre Dame, our administration set up “office hours” for teachers and students each day. A parent can email a teacher at any time.

Q: What advice would you give families that need help staying on schedule?

O’Neill: I would tell them that if their children procrastinate, they may end up frustrated when the assignments pile up. I try to post an assignment allowing a reasonable length of time for completion – plus a little padding. You never know what is going on in a student’s family life, or they may simply be experiencing technical difficulties. Hopefully, being organized and presenting clear instructions will reduce the tendency to procrastinate for both parent and child.

Sewing: I would suggest that they talk to their child and ask them how they intend to complete the work. Then hold them to that. If that does not work, make a new plan together. We all need to be flexible and compassionate as we negotiate these uncharted waters!

Q: Any additional advice?

O’Neill: A suggestion for teachers would be to try to grade all assignments in a timely fashion. Students will respond more quickly to us if we give them feedback as quickly as possible. If we wait too long to give the students feedback, they won’t be as interested in completing the next assignment.

Sewing: Recently, I created a teaching video for my class, and many of the students wrote to me that it was so nice to see my face and hear my voice again because it made them feel that they were back in the classroom. St. Paul says that when we go through times of trial, God will also provide “a way out so that you can endure it.” I strongly believe that cyber learning and the support of our community is helping us all to endure this challenging time.