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Pam J. Hecht copes with the cycle of virtual school by imagining a cinematic event

At-home screen stars unite (or hide in the bathroom)

“Screen Troubles,” playing in a home near you or in the vicinity of your own couch (the one you’re collapsed on).

For those of us whose kids (or students) are stuck in virtual school, the challenges are real. I think we can all agree on the most taxing issue: the “touch up my appearance” option on Zoom needs work. 

In trying to cope with these dire times, the last thing a person needs to see is a puffy squinty-eyed morning face projected on a screen. This is an important self-esteem issue that the country should be addressing. Also, kids have enough to worry about without having to see scary things online.

What I don’t understand is why the computer people haven’t made this better. It’s bad enough that so many classes and meetings have to be held on screens in the first place. We should at least be able to conduct them looking like movie stars. 

Frazzled parents forced to make cameo screen appearances may look like they’re about to throw a device out the window. Teachers who keep smiling as the cameras roll could win Academy Awards. 

A particular difficulty in educating little digital tricksters could be featured in a thriller titled “The Perils of Annotation,” which involves sinister lines, dots and other shapes hijacking a screen. Or perhaps you’ve seen the film, “Learning Online: A Three-Ring Circus,” an irreverent comedy featuring disappearing lessons and children popping in and out of view, turning upside down and conjuring up happy ponies flying across the screen. The star of this terrifying plot is an unwary instructor (which may have been me) either forgetting to tweak a security setting or thinking that giving children a taste of online freedom could lead to a good outcome. Sadly, this situation is still better than facing a screen half-filled with zombie-like stares.

But even if the only thing a child learns one day is how to cause online mayhem, it’s best for all parties to stay positive. For example, screaming, “I hate screens” at a high decibel around the young folk is not a good idea and I’m sorry I did that the other day. I may in fact have damaged a few young ear drums. Otherwise, it’s OK to talk about our sadness and frustrations, particularly since these wildly intuitive scamps likely know about it already and need to vent theirs too. 

Here’s a bright side: after acquiring an available device by hostile takeover and logging in for school, a parent’s ensuing mad dash to find all the necessary assignments and materials can provide an excellent physical workout. Sneaking into a bathroom, equipped with smelling salts and a stash of chocolate is also good for the health, especially if you can get in a full minute or two before a kid cries for help or gets a whiff of liberation and bolts. Other children can learn to be self-sufficient if we make ourselves scarce, perhaps agreeing on a time to check in.

But the most important thing to remember is that we’re all doing the best we can, and a school day without tears or tantrums is alone cause for celebration. Bonus points (and even more reason to report the blessed event on a reputable news outlet like Facebook) if the kids stay calm and collected, too. 

Pam J. Hecht is a writer, instructor and mother of two (but not necessarily in that order). Reach her at or