Online learning. Whew! Our son and daughter-in-law both teach, so when schools fled to the internet in the interests of health and safety, we were at their house by 8 a.m. every school day to hold “grandparent school” for the first- and fourth-graders.

The SeeSaw app gave us daily lessons with video instructions and links to sites and videos to use for science, math, reading, literature and social/cultural studies. Duolingo served for German.

The first Zoom meeting — an online live team meeting for students and teachers — was at 8:30 a.m. for the fourth-grader; the teacher reviewed the day’s assignments. There were daily 12:30 p.m. Zoom meetings to work on math or science, 11 a.m. Zoom meetings to practice group reading, a half dozen independent work assignments, and art and PE twice a week.

I’m happy to report that I’m proficient at 7-year-old math and German. But we had an advantage. My wife taught in this school; I’ve substituted there.

So we end up with a professional perspective as the year draws to a close. In the middle of online learning, submitting independent work guided by apps and videos, just how important does the teacher continue to be to the student?

Well, here’s anecdotal evidence. The teacher may be even more important to the child during online education.

Duncan, the first-grader, checked out in person with his teacher the last morning of school. This is the beloved Miss Sarah. Duncan told me this will mean that she will “ACTUALLY BE THERE. FOR TWO HOURS! WITH THE WHOLE CLASS!!!!”

The additional !!! are his, not mine.

Duncan spoke very slowly and articulated every word so I would understand the importance of this occasion. I believe he was secretly planning a hug despite the virus. Then again, scienterrific research has proved that wildly excited 6-year-olds in the presence of a beloved teacher do a poor job practicing social distancing.

If Miss Sarah were running for the job of queen and 6-year-olds were voting — instant monarchy! The good news is that all the subjects in her favored land would experience the following: A benevolent monarch. Snack breaks at 9 a.m. Activity breaks every 45 minutes to “shake out the wiggles.” Hands-on science lessons that sometimes involve pictures of baby animals (“CUUTEEE!”). Recess time after lunch. The occasional admonition that, “sharing and caring is the way to go.” And on active, high-stress days, a half-hour nap around 2 p.m.

Take that, democracy!

When I first started teaching in 1975 I thought I understood how important teaching was. Then my own kids went to school and I thought I really understood its importance, watching other teachers stand in my kid’s lives. But now I don’t think I really understood how important it was until I saw teaching through the eyes of a grandparent.

When you see that third generation, less than 3 feet tall, skip down the hall with backpacks bouncing on their backs, even agnostics resort to prayer: “Please let this teacher be skilled, dedicated, loving, firm and fair. Please let them laugh along with the kids. Please let them share their astonishment during science. Please let them be swept away by the words while reading a favorite book aloud. (Though not so swept away that they don’t notice the behavior of the kid in the third row and give them a loving, brief, intense shot of the stink eye to refocus them).

During online learning, I also prayed that Miss Sarah would be able to reach right through that screen and grab those kids by the imagination. Teaching online is much, much more difficult than teaching in person. She delivered.

So the truth is this. I may know her as a colleague, but that morning when I walked Duncan to school, I was skipping, too. His skipping was enthusiastic, mine was about gratitude. It is 8 a.m., we are on our way, and we’re both pretty darn excited to see Miss Sarah!


Charles King lives in Farmington.