Parents and Teachers UNITE!
Virtual School: 2020 has ushered in unprecedented learning challenges. It was as if the whole world changed in one day back in March, throwing everything we knew on its head. Dining room tables furnished with tablets and Chromebooks were transformed into stay-at-home classrooms. In an instant, parents and caregivers became distance learning teachers to their children. There was no way to prepare for this.
Then came fall. Teachers were told they would now be teaching very differently. Most of us were thrown into the frying pan with little to no training. Career teachers suddenly felt like they were starting over. All those classroom procedures and lessons they spent perfecting over decades were now useless.
I am a teacher. As for myself, I was moved from a physical classroom to a 100% virtual classroom. As difficult of a transition it has been, I spend most days feeling thankful that my district opted for a virtual model over a hybrid model.
The feedback from these teachers is that two schools means exactly that: You work two jobs for the price (and with the time) of one. If a hybrid teacher isn’t thinking about lesson planning for two platforms, then they are preparing a physical environment. In that environment, they are expected to continuously clean while police the wearing of masks. How do you build a classroom community under these conditions? How much ‘learning’ can possibly happen around this?
Teachers have been asked to put their own health – and their family’s health – at risk while many among us pretend like things are going back to normal. In actuality, the science tells us we are now in more of a crisis situation than we were back in March when schools were first closed. How does one make sense of it all?
Teachers are trying desperately to maintain self-care while working around the clock. A teacher friend jokingly dubbed ‘working at home’ as ‘living at work.’ Many are simultaneously caring for their families while looking for childcare solutions. And now they have also been tasked with being the cheerleaders for their students and even for their students’ families.
During a recent school board meeting, one eloquently spoken teacher told her board, “Every teacher speaks of trying to keep their head above the water. I’ve frankly given up on the idea that my head can stay above water. And, Instead I am praying that my oxygen tank holds out.”
This isn’t a sustainable situation for anyone; live, hybrid or virtual. Watch the video here: Amy Foley – 10-14-20 School Board Meeting.
The ‘New Normal’
How do parents and teachers make sense of all this? Of course, any rational human being knows “school back to normal” is what is best for our children. Kids should be able to socialize with their friends during the school day, play on playgrounds and eat in cafeterias. Kids should not be punished for the misinformed choices the adults have been making. But they are. As a society, it is our duty to protect the most vulnerable among us.
But, doing this would require political will. It would also require prioritizing education. Sure, we say we do, but do we put our money where our mouths are? Are states funding schools in a way that will ensure safety for their staff and for the children?
In actuality, (my state being a prime example) school budgets are being CUT by politicians during a global pandemic. Districts are not able to afford the PPE and the cleaning supplies necessary to navigate the mess we have been left to wade through by those in charge. And having the appropriate space and air ventilation in a 100+ year old school… you catch my drift.
Do the Right Thing
Those of us trying to do the right thing have been left feeling disheartened and powerless. Parents and teachers find themselves squabbling with one another. Many teachers are spending their days justifying every little decision they make for their ‘classrooms’ to other adults. Wouldn’t that time be better spent learning how to teach better within our new normal? We are put in a position to fight with one another when neither side is to blame for what has been happening around us.
I’ve added the closing, “remember to breathe” in my work email signature. Why? About 15 years ago a friend used that closing in her email signature. At the time, she was a massage therapist who often spoke of the healing nature things as simple as “remembering to breathe” can be.
I think back on her advice and try to remember to do those little things. I’ve adopted her email closing as a reminder to those I am communicating with and also as a reminder to myself.
What the Heck is Self-Care?
Self-care has become the new buzzword, but what does it mean? How do we take care of one another while caring for ourselves? I have been digging deep to find answers. Here are some of the suggestions I have found:
Maintaining a daily routine is important. But don’t feel like you have to entertain your children every minute of every day! Your children are Montessori children, they have been empowered to make learning choices and to take initiative for themselves. Expect them to help around the house too. They are far capable of more than we often think.
Give yourself a timeout. This is important in those moments you feel your lungs tightening up and your breathing shorten. Adults need timeouts too. Step out of the room, or go to your room and shut your door. Take a short walk around the block. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself this is temporary. Give yourself a small break and most importantly, forgive yourself for making mistakes. Nobody is perfect!
Set healthy boundaries. When the school day is over, try to do just that. This is true whether you are a teacher, a parent or a student. A friend who has worked at home for a long time will take a long walk (whenever possible) at the end of her work day to help her mentally transition to home. Walks aren’t always possible. Find some sort of ‘ritual’ (dance together to a song, step outside and touch the grass or snow, do some journaling and reflecting, etc.) that works for your family’s schedule to mark the end of the school day.
Remember to do fun things together. Go outside and exercise; draw or paint together; play a game; find a recipe and cook; write a story together; watch an educational documentary! But, most importantly, read together. Talk about what you’ve read. There are lots of indirect skills being taught and reinforced through all of these activities.
Take care of YOU. Take a bubble bath; read a book; reflect on your day in a journal; do some yoga stretches; practice meditating for 5 minutes; do whatever it is that you pick only for you. Women are taught to be selfless and will often feel guilty if they take time for themselves. It is like the teacher said in front of the school board: In times of emergencies, you need to put your own mask on before you can attend to those around you. Guilt is a manmade emotion. There is nothing selfish about taking care of you.
Montessori at Home
Shout out to the Montessori families: Dr. Maria Montessori believed there are three essential components for exceptional learning – the child, the environment and the Montessori guide. For children learning in home-based environments, another component is added – the at-home adult.
We partner with families to ensure that all of these elements are strong and interconnected for the best experience at home. If you are interested in reading more, a dear friend and fellow Montessorian describes this well on her website: shorelandmontessori.org
Is There a Silver Lining in All of This?
I believe no matter how difficult the experience, if we look hard enough, we can find a lesson to learn. I am happy to report I have found ways to create a classroom community virtually where I once thought it to be impossible. Kids are laughing online, working together and learning as best they can given their set of circumstances.
What is the most substantial thing I have learned as a teacher? Children are resilient, far more resilient than we are. Many seem to be taking this difficult time in stride, wearing their masks and caring for the most vulnerable among us. Seeing this gives me hope for our future. But, it is imperative for us to put them as our number one priority and to truly protect them.
Parents and Teachers UNITE!
How do we take care of one another while caring for our children (remember the old adage, it takes a village)? Parents and teachers are not enemies with one another. Teachers aren’t saying other professionals don’t matter. We applaud the efforts of healthcare professionals and other essential workers. All parties were thrown into this situation with no warning and no play book.
Try to remember, teachers are learning on the job daily. We are doing the best we can to help you and your family.
Most importantly, let children know this is NOT the new norm. Rather, it is only a temporary fix. It might not feel like it now, but balance will be restored in our Universe one day.
Keep fighting the good fight!
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