Newfound Appreciation: Parents and Teachers Forge New Bonds Amid Pandemic Learning

If juggling your kids’ Zoom classes while working from home leaves you feeling frantic, you’re not alone. Many parents have realized just how tough teaching can be.

Kathy Lynn Gray
Jill Gershutz and her children, Lauren and Nicholas

For the first three years that Lauren Gerschutz attended Washington Elementary School in the Hilliard City School District, teachers were her primary educators.

Her mom, Jill Gerschutz, helped with the school carnival and went to parent-teacher conferences religiously, but life in her daughter’s classrooms was something of a mystery to her.

Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, the Gerschutz home was Lauren’s classroom, and Gerschutz was an unofficial teacher’s aide.

It’s been eye-opening.

“That is definitely not my wheelhouse,” says Gerschutz, vice president of marketing and strategic planning for Credit Union of Ohio. “I would never have made it as a teacher.”

Although her sister is a teacher, Gerschutz says she didn’t appreciate everything that educators do until their home became school, first for Lauren, 9, now a third-grader, and then for 6-year-old Nicholas, a kindergartner.

When schools across the state suddenly closed their buildings in March 2020, educators had to instantly create online learning programs for students. “All of a sudden, their job truly changed,” Gerschutz says.

Hilliard schools remained virtual through the 2019-2020 school year, then reopened in August with a mostly hybrid schedule, though the district plans to bring students back full time in mid-March.

Superintendent John Marschhausen has heard both complaints and praise from parents about the drastic educational changes brought about by the pandemic. But as weeks turned into months, he’s sensed a higher regard developing for teachers, schools and education. “Everyone thinks they’re an expert about schools because they’ve experienced schools, but as parents have tried to teach their kids, they’ve realized it takes a certain kind of skill, that teaching kids is hard,” he says.

Parents also gained a new appreciation for the rhythm and organization that schools provide. “Before, you didn’t think anything about the fact that in August, kids were going back to school,” Marschhausen says. “These are things in our lives that provide value, safety and consistency and are really, really important.”

Many parents have thanked Marschhausen for the extra effort teachers put in to make remote and hybrid schedules work. One example: Some high school teachers switched their virtual “office hours” from mornings to 9-11 p.m. when they realized that’s when students would show up.

“They Were Very Selfless”

Teacher Ronda Mankamyer McIntyre has expanded her communications with the parents of fourth- and fifth-graders at Indianola Informal K-8 in Columbus with a texting app. Although she offered the app before the district went to virtual learning because of the pandemic, it’s become much more popular in the past year.

“They can sort of talk to me in real time and can text me a concern or question while I’m online with their kids,” she says. “I’m really using the app differently now, and it’s more important than ever. It’s helping with accountability and technical issues, too.”

Parents text her if a student has to leave class early or has internet problems or other concerns. She texts if she has connection issues or is running late.

Besides fostering better communication, the pandemic has caused parents to gain a greater understanding of the magnitude of a teacher’s job and the preparation that goes into each school day, McIntyre believes.

That has helped her overcome the challenge of teaching through a computer screen after 25 years in a physical classroom. “Without the parents’ patience and support, I think I’d be in a pretty dark place right now,” McIntyre says. “They’ve been like my personal cheerleaders and the appreciation has really kept me going.”

Nurse Anastasia Gerardi, who has two 12-year-old daughters at Toll Gate Middle School in Pickerington, says she’s amazed how quickly teachers adapted to the sudden shift to virtual classrooms. “Without hesitation, they picked up and did exactly what those students needed,” she says. “They were very selfless.”

When daughters Jasmine Johnson and Melanie Fallert-Gerardi began hybrid classes as sixth-graders in the fall, Gerardi realized teachers’ workloads had doubled as they taught half the class in school and simultaneously taught the other half virtually.

 Gerardi has been equally impressed with how teachers have looked after students’ psychological and emotional well-being, as well as their educational needs, during a year where so many unsettling events have rocked the country.

“They’ve been able to keep things as healthy and normal as possible for our children, and that’s what I appreciate the most,” Gerardi says.

“Challenging and Sometimes Demoralizing”

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, has heard plenty of animus about virtual learning since the pandemic began. Parents and school boards have had heated debates in many districts as parents struggled to figure out how they could both work and have their kids at home in remote learning. Teachers, on the other hand, feared they’d get COVID-19 if they had to teach in classrooms.

“It’s been challenging and sometimes demoralizing,” says DiMauro, a former social studies teacher from Worthington.

But he’s also seen a newfound understanding by parents of how teachers try to help each child. “One of the silver linings in this experience is that it’s allowing teachers to be more connected with parents and for parents to be more engaged in their child’s learning,” he says. When the OEA polled teachers in the spring and summer, it found the level of support from parents was high.

Jazmin Malone, whose daughter Lillah is a first-grader at Indianola Informal K-8, has seen how patient and calm her daughter’s teacher is during remote schooling as she reminds children to mute or unmute themselves, helps them find a page in a workbook or has them read out loud.

“It’s so much harder virtually,” says Malone, an emergency room nurse. “The teacher can’t control what’s going on at the other end of the camera, and it’s given me an appreciation of how much teachers prepare and how hard they work during class.”

The mother of three also is more connected with her daughter’s teacher and emails more frequently than in the past.

Angela Davoll, the band director at Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, says parents have communicated with her much more during the pandemic, particularly about their children’s struggles and needs. Notes of appreciation, too, have been more numerous.

“I want to take a minute to tell you how much I appreciate you,” wrote one parent.

“Thank you so much for all that you do and for your constant, inspiring approach,” wrote another.

“If I could hug you, I would,” wrote a third.

DiMauro hopes better parent-teacher relationships will be a legacy of the pandemic.

“Teachers can’t be successful in helping their students succeed if they don’t have good parental support,” he says. “And parents need caring and committed teachers. I hope they’ve each gained a better understanding of what their roles are, how they can support each other and the need for collaboration and communication.”

This story is from the Spring 2021 issue of Columbus Parent