The Ups, Downs, Ins, and Outs of Pandemic Schooling
May 14, 2020
On March 13th, 2020, our school was closed last minute so teachers could discuss and make plans for distance learning in case it became necessary due to COVID-19. Here we are two months later, in-classroom school is canceled for the 2019-2020 school year and we are in the throes of virtual pandemic schooling. Never in a million years did I ever imagine we would find ourselves in a situation such as this. So what to do we do in a world full of questions with no previous precedent to look to for aid.
Define Pandemic Schooling
I am of the opinion that we are navigating an entirely new space. We are NOT Homeschooling. Homeschooling is a choice. It requires focused energy and planning on our own individual goals for the education of our children. In homeschooling, the parents choose and control the curriculum. They are in the driver’s seat making the critical decisions for their family.
Similarly, we are NOT Online Schooling. Sending your children to an online academy is also a choice. Certified teachers fully trained in the art of online platforms are in control of the instruction at online academies. Parents, also educated on online platforms are facilitating activities and lessons, as previously arranged and agreed upon with their teachers. Students spend the first weeks of school learning and exploring the online platform with careful direction from their teachers and aid from their parents. The system has been thought through, planned out, and practiced.
Pandemic schooling is a strange hybrid meant to give our children some semblance of a normal routine, while continuing to “grow their brains”. We have online resources, we have teacher input, and we have parental involvement. We are tasked with making it all work.
God Bless every teacher who did not quit the day the Governor announced in classroom school was canceled for the remainder of the year. Classroom teachers choose that environment because that is where they thrive; it is there comfort zone. Being thrown into a virtual environment with little prep and no previous experience or training is a less than ideal scenario. Most classroom teachers feed off the energy in the room. They read faces and emotions. They tailor their lessons to what is happening in front of them. Now their students are scattered around with only a computer screen to connect them.
We are living a “new normal” that is full of strange new routines and a whole new set of rules and regulations. There are families with both parents working remotely from home. Other families are out of work, dealing with unemployment, and wondering how long before they can return to work. A third set of families have one or both parents working outside the home in areas that are considered essential. The thread that joins all three sets together is our children being home 24/7 with nowhere to go. Not only are they home, but we are faced with the task of facilitating their schooling with the help of our schools, teachers, and administrators. The heavy lifting of daily school tasks falls squarely on the shoulders of parents and children. We find ourselves in a strange new world.
Stories from My Home
My children are four, eight, and thirteen. They are in preschool, second, and seventh grade. Our business is closed and my husband is on unemployment. Anxiety is high and sleeping patterns are off. My migraines are flaring, forcing me to unusual amounts of time in bed. I receive e-mails from three different school districts. My girls are at one school, while my son attends one for his preschool and another for his IEP services. My Inbox is overflowing. I focus my energy on the older girls. I taught preschool for 5 years and feel confident in my ability to encourage learning at that level as a part of everyday life.
My second grader is open to online learning, but it requires parental assistance. She is willing most days and our goal is to spend 30-60 minutes a day on school activities. My seventh grader is willing and open to her daily classroom calls on Discord, Kahoot, and Zoom. She enjoys the connection to her community. Classwork is a whole different story. The online environment is not for her. She needs teachers and students. As a creative, she feeds off the energy around her. She needs an interactive school environment, which leaves us in in an almost constant state of conflict over distance learning.
Observations from Afar
As I talk to friends and scroll different social media platforms, I see an incredible amount of differing opinions. There are concerns about children falling behind and our current schooling platform being inadequate. I see overwhelmed parents trying to juggle way too many balls at once. Some parents are critical of the resources they are receiving to school their children; they long for more information, stricter guidelines, grades, reports, requirements. Resources vary from district to district, school to school, and teacher to teacher. There are families finding a rhythm and feeling comfortable with their new normal. Other families are drowning wondering if they should keep going or throw in the towel. I see people trying to use humor to cope. Finally, there are super critical finger pointers stating parents are whining because they have to actually spend time with their children, accusing them of using school as a daycare.
My first question is behind what? Is the concern that our children will fall behind based on standardized testing and standards of learning? Education is bigger than marks on a test. It is bigger than facts, concepts, dates, and equations. Schools are meant to facilitate learning and community. They put children together in groups and they have to work together. In school children learn to respect authority, follow rules, cooperate, and not always get your own way. I admit some schools do this better than others, but I truly believe the importance of school falls more in learning how to manage one’s self in a community environment over memorizing math facts.
Time to Check Our Expectations
We are in radically uncertain times. No one can answer with certainty what tomorrow will look like, let alone next week or next month. It is unfair to be critical of teachers for not doing enough or critical of parents for feeling overwhelmed. I realize most criticism comes from fear. Fear often leads us to find fault in others to give ourselves a false sense of security and superiority. In the current environment is there really a wrong way to do things? I think not. Teachers will do the best that they can to support parents and students. Parents will do the same for their children. Students will do their best to participate. Everyone’s mental health matters and should be put at the center of our plans. Being overly critical of how someone else is navigating these uncertain times serves no purpose.
What if we drop our expectations for everyone, including our own family? Eliminate the need for perfection – perfect plans, perfect systems, and perfect fulfillment – and instead be in the moment and adjust for the current environment. If you are in the moment, there is real potential for learning and growth. It may look different from day to day and family to family, but the potential is there. Drop the expectation of “normal” and instead be present.
Present for Our Needs in the Moment
As a recovering perfectionist letting go of goals, expectations, and the need to be productive takes practice. While pandemic schooling, I work towards what is needed to keep myself and my children happy and healthy. Some days we check every box on the list and make every meeting. Other days we check in with Google classroom and spend the day moving our bodies and reading books. I take the concepts from the 7th grade curriculum and create assignments that allow my daughter to engage her creative spirit. She’s learning and I no longer spend the entire day arguing with her to complete her work. We are finding balance. Sometimes balance looks like putting school to the side for the day. My focus is on the present moment and what we need today.
To all my fellow pandemic schooling parents, hang in there. I wonder how we will remember this period in history a decade from now. It is my hope that we look back and say “We did it!” It was hard and required a new set of rules, but we made our way through. A decade from now, it is my hope our children look back and feel that they were healthy, safe, and loved during a difficult, scary time in history. I am confident that however pandemic schooling looks in your home at the end of it all your children will move on and be successful. Ups and downs, Ins and Outs, let us be present and we will make it to the end of our first (and with any luck ONLY) year of pandemic schooling.