One Year Later
“My hope is that our new normal, today, exposes what was wrong with our old normal, yesterday and sets us up for a better normal, tomorrow,” Dwayne Reed, educator.
Thirteen months ago, our children were sent home for a few extra days, or so we thought. My wife recalls sitting in her office and getting an email that there would be a staff meeting after school regarding a forthcoming announcement from the governor. Neither parents, educators or students had any idea that this was the beginning of a very long and challenging journey that made us realize how necessary it was to all pitch in and work together to meet the needs of our students.
The first few days for educators seemed like a whirlwind. If you have ever been asked the question, “If you were told you had five minutes to grab what you could and leave what would you grab,” that is similar to how educators felt. The race was on to not only try to gather materials to aid in student learning, but also materials needed to teach students from home. This experience required parents, teachers, and students to think creatively and adapt the way we taught, and the way students showed their learning.
While speaking to several parents, students, and teachers, the two words that seemed to keep coming up, were support and schedules. Melinda Siscoe and Ashton Wingler, current teachers, both said that the most important thing for their students has been a supportive home. While having a strong work ethic across the board was important for students, it became evident that support from those sharing their home was vital to their success. While all students, regardless of age, need structure, it became overwhelmingly clear that younger students needed to be provided with specific and clear expectations from their teachers and schedules created by their parents in order meet those expectations. Parents and teachers have been forced more than ever to work together to meet the needs of their children. As Washington State Superintendent Judith Billings said, “Children are the priority. Change is the reality. Collaboration is the strategy.”
Over the past year for the first time in recent history families have been given the challenge of determining how to assist in their child’s education full time while juggling jobs and trying to keep their families healthy during a worldwide pandemic. I have had the opportunity to have conversations with several friends as we have worked together and shared tips and strategies over the last year. One of the things that has been amazing for us all as families is the gift of time. While it has caused a lot of us to become, “more homebodies now than before,” Siscoe; we also will never forget the laughs and tears that we have been able to share because of the extra time we have spent together. One of Perry Leonard’s favorite experiences over the last year has been, “meeting for lunch in the park.” He also shared that even though he is used to getting a copy of his child’s completed work each week, seeing him actually do the workday in and day out has been fascinating. Our children, ages 4, 7 and 9, all said that they really enjoyed getting to do their work with us. Our older children said they really enjoyed getting to help their little sister. They liked showing her what they were learning and helping her with her learning. While we have enjoyed the time together there have also been some struggles.
In the beginning, for each of the families I spoke to the routine was the biggest struggle. Understanding that the school day did not have to be the typical 7.5-hour day was key. Establishing and maintaining a routine made it so that the days could be enjoyable. Teamwork was the most important for this to work. For Perry, “balancing running a business and making sure schoolwork was done was hard. Sometimes he would have to come to work with me. If I did not own my own business, I would have had to quit my job.” While a group of teachers joined together and one of their mothers was gracious enough to host what they called “Mawmaw Academy” so that their children could continue to learn while they were teaching other students and their children were completing the hybrid schedule. In our own home we were faced with adjusting for our children and I also was able to see my wife adjust to the 100% virtual and then the hybrid schedule as a teacher as well. While the schedule was 100% virtual, she was tasked with taking care of our children while zooming with her students, sometimes with a little one on her lap, because my job as a first responder never became remote.
During the hybrid learning my wife would work her normal day at school, come home and spend a few hours of family time and then after we got our children to bed she would spend a couple of hours on the computer checking student’s work and providing feedback to students who were not in person those days. Her goal was to always, “keep clear and consistent communication. I want my students to know that I am still here, and they can learn even on the days they do not get to see me in class.” Our middle child, Kirsten, who is a current first grader shared her feelings on virtual learning. She said, “It’s hard to focus because you want to play. You have all of your toys and your siblings so you just want to play but you can’t because you have other stuff to get done.” She went on to share that, “I liked the schedule this year. We had a really good schedule so I knew what I had to do and then I knew when I could play.” While all three of our children are very social and look forward to having time with their friends our oldest seemed to struggle the most with the time away from friends. He would often ask, “when can I go back and see my friends? I really miss being able to hang out and just be normal.” His questions lead me to ask myself, what is normal?
Over the last thirteen months we have all been forced to evaluate what really matters to us. We have all dealt with the pandemic in a variety of ways and been reminded that teamwork is a key to success. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the WHO Director General, said in the beginning of the pandemic, “Be safe, be smart, be kind.” I think that is something that we have all learned and something that we never need to forget. Will we ever return to what we once knew as normal, I don’t know but the bigger question is do we really need to return to what we knew as normal? We have all learned that together we can and together we will overcome the challenges that are presented to us all. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”