Somewhere during my six years of schooling to become an educator and my 16 years of experience in the classroom, I never quite learned the protocol for what to do when your child walks into the space where you are teaching… without any clothes on. That is because no educator has ever been prepared to teach during a pandemic, especially at home with a child with significant special needs.
My husband and I are high school teachers. In this new reality, we are trying to simultaneously teach hundreds of children and our own. Our oldest is in a third-grade self-contained classroom, and our twin boys started kindergarten this year. In theory, my husband and I should be able to navigate our three kids through their day’s learning. We are teachers. We both have Masters in Education. We have spent the last 15 years meeting the educational needs of hundreds of children, yet, at home, we are pretty useless.
We are coaxing our daughter out from behind a chair while her patient physical therapist waits on the other side of the computer. We resort to pure bribery to get one of the twins to sit for 10 minutes in front of his class Zoom. (“If you tell me the color of the bear, I will get you an Oreo.”) We try to reconcile the children are safe and happy, and learning will come. We are just doing the best we can.
Somewhere during my six years of schooling to become an educator and my 16 years of experience in the classroom, I never quite learned the protocol for what to do when your child walks into the space where you are teaching… without any clothes on.
On a good day, we can get through most of our lessons without our children coming up to poke at the screen. After a few minutes of, “ Look at how adorable my child is,” we really need them to color somewhere else so we can continue working with our students. While I’m sure my ninth graders would rather listen to my daughter tell them the Disney character they most resemble (spoiler: it’s always Maleficent) than find another symbol in Of Mice and Men, I fight onwards to get through my prepared lesson.
My husband directs scenes for his theater class in breakout rooms. We once again get creative and do the best we can. And when all else fails, we push the mute button so my entire staff of over 200 people doesn’t know my daughter is talking to them as the followers of her imaginary Youtube channel.
Then, we find out we are returning to the classroom. My husband and I will be in front of children five days a week, while our own children follow a hybrid schedule. A makeshift kindergarten classroom is set up. Our daughter’s special desk is moved to counteract her dysregulation. We make a color-coded calendar to help the babysitter navigate online learning. We try to create consistency where there is none.
We are forced to continually reconcile what we want and what we need. It is an exhausting cycle.
All the while, I am lost in my own circular thoughts: I want to be home with my children. I want to go back to my classroom. I want my children to be in school. I want them to be home and safe. We are forced to continually reconcile what we want and what we need. It is an exhausting cycle and not very sustainable. Then, once again, we shift. We are quarantining, we are remote teaching, we are all Zooming on five different computers from the kitchen table. We don’t know what tomorrow will look like.
I know we are not alone in this
We are not alone in navigating the stress and guilt of this pandemic. Parents are no longer parents. They have become reading specialists, school counselors, librarians, and principals. No one has quite yet learned how to handle the new forms of math (so many have given up there).
We use humor to hide our vulnerability because it is too difficult to admit we are overwhelmed with a job we were not trained to do.
They are being asked to extend themselves into new roles, and the pressure is building for everyone. We trade hilarious memes, viral videos, and our parenting fails of the day (my son cut his own hair instead of the construction paper). We use humor to hide our vulnerability because it is too difficult to admit we are overwhelmed with a job we were not trained to do.
I also hope I can help
So, here is my perspective as a mother on both sides, as someone who has been trained to be an effective educator and an effective parent to a special needs child. The foundations are the same.
Remember Maslow before Bloom
Before a child can develop their thinking skills and engage in “higher-order thinking,” their basic needs must be met. They must know they are physically and emotionally safe before they can demonstrate what they have learned.
When we extend that sense of belonging to a child, we will not only realize how resilient they are but also they will take greater risks in the classroom, even if it is at the kitchen table.
Lead with kindness
Google Classroom assignments will be missed, Zoom links with fail, and miscommunication will happen. We are educating our children during a pandemic. Remember to spread a little kindness to the teachers, parents, neighbors, coaches, and most importantly, yourself will help. So, to all of you, educating without a break, we know you are doing the best you can. Put your mask on, and give each other a social distance high five. We will get through this.