On the morning of Monday, March 16, Shonda Rimes (an American television producer, writer, and author), posted this on Twitter: “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.” Rimes, just like most parents around the country, was in the midst of a quarantine situation because of coronavirus and was learning what it was like to try to teach her children.
Now, we all fully understand that teaching your own children under quarantine with pieced-together materials from school and various websites is not the same as teaching 20 students in a classroom setting with the material that you have prepared. In some ways it’s easier...fewer students, familiar environment, limited need to do your own lesson planning, flexible schedule. And in some ways it’s much harder...lack of structure, inconsistency with materials, teaching your own child, social distancing, juggling other responsibilities. Either way, Rimes summed up in her simple Tweet what we already knew: teaching is hard.
Hard or not, we don’t really have a choice right now. Students around the country have been out of school for anywhere between a few weeks and a few days, and while we don’t know much for certain, we do know they will be home for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, here are some pieces to keep in mind as we all navigate this:
You are an educator. We know that something that is really challenging for many parents during this time is the feeling of not being prepared to be the teacher or instructor or facilitator, thinking, “I’m not a teacher; I can’t do this.” But the reality is that parents are students’ first teachers. From the moment they are born, kids look to their parents for guidance and modeling. It’s from parents that kids generally learn their first words and how to speak. It’s from parents that kids form the basis of their value and ethics systems. It’s from parents that kids first start to see how to interact with each other and with the world. So, for those of you who are worried about being a teacher, just know that you already are, and you’ve been doing a great job.
Students are always learning. We have seen a lot of questions from parents about different apps or curriculum, wondering how to help kids of different ages learn. The fact is that we generally have a very narrow understanding of what “learning” is, but the truth is that “learning” doesn’t have to consist of pre-recorded classes online, worksheets, and specific education apps on an iPad. Learning is also finding bugs in the backyard or seeing how many blocks the tower can hold before it tumbles. Learning is going for a hike in the mountains or spending hours getting lost in a book. Learning is helping to cook dinner or taking turns with siblings while playing a game. As educators, we understand the value of a thoughtful curriculum and hitting the benchmarks associated with the standards. And we recognize the value in hands-on, real-life learning that engages our kids every day. Learning can happen everywhere; we just have to let it.
There is always tomorrow. Being in a classroom with kids is hard. Being home with your kids is hard. Navigating the world (especially today) is hard. Sometimes a lesson or an activity or a conversation goes incredibly well...and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes our students or our kids or people react the way we think or learn what we’re trying to teach...and sometimes there is a total miss. Sometimes we end a day feeling like we accomplished something...and sometimes we have to celebrate the simple fact that no major damage happened. And no matter how today goes, we all just have to remember that there is always tomorrow. Each day gives us a fresh start and an opportunity to try something new and to do a mini-reset. So no matter how hard one day goes, think about the potential of tomorrow.
Try to say yes. While sometimes it might seem that everything is important all of the time, now is a great time to consider when to pick your battles. Obviously, we need to be doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our children, both physically and emotionally, but, beyond that, when can you say, “Yes” to your kids when usually you would say, “No”? Do you have a stash of bubbles or fresh play-dough the kids have been asking to use? Do you have a child who has always wanted to learn to bake bread or sew, but you’ve never had the time? Is there a board game the kids have been begging you to play with them? Do they constantly ask if they can collect all of the cushions from the house to make a fort? When questions like these (and so many others) arise, often our first thought is to say, “No.” We don’t want the mess. We don’t have the energy. It’s not what we normally do. But the best learning often happens when we break away from the norm and let students follow their interests. So consider why you are inclined to say, “No.” If it’s a safety issue, go with your gut, but if it’s at all possible, see where a “Yes” might take you.
As it becomes increasingly clear that our students aren’t going back to school anytime soon, we have to shift our thinking to the long game. How can we work together to foster growth in our students in various ways? How can we support each other to stay strong during this time? And, most importantly, how can we continue to make our kids feel safe and supported while they grapple with big feelings of missing their friends, not knowing what is going to happen, and just being confused and lost?
These are big questions and are all far more important than page 17 of a math workbook. Our kids will all learn how to read and understand mathematical concepts. They will graduate high school and gain admission from college. They will learn what they need to learn in order to be successful for life. What’s important to consider right now is how can we use learning to create a safe space for our kids and our families so that they continue to thrive? How can we balance our obligations to our kids and our obligations to ourselves? How can we turn this challenging time into an opportunity?
Yes, teaching is hard...but you’ve got this!