It’s a bit of a paradox to be busy, yet have time. Yes, I have things I need to do, but I have finally decided that this is one of them. I am the mother of three wonderful children. My oldest son is 7 – almost 8. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, IED, and generalized anxiety. My youngest son is 2 – almost 3. He has moderate eczema and severe separation anxiety. My daughter is 17 months old today (4/27/2020). She has a congenital heart defect. I am a full-time teacher and have been an educator for over 15 years. I have two part-time virtual/electronic jobs. I am working as a teacher full-time from home and my oldest son is also home learning virtually for the remainder of the school year. I thank God every day that my youngest two still have a daycare that is open for “essential” workers, because I honestly don’t know how I would handle life if they were suddenly home with me, too. I know I would handle it, I just don’t know how.
I open with this exposition not to garner sympathy or pity, but to provide perspective for what follows.
I have read enough. I have read enough blogs, articles, posts, and memes about what is happening with virtual teaching and virtual learning across this country right now. I am astounded (and, in many cases, embarrassed) at what seems to be a significant lack of common sense shown by parties on both sides of this situation’s aisle. Public education in this country is challenging at the best of times. Right now, it’s almost darned-near impossible.
My Teacher Side
I’ll start with us. The educators. The “royal WE.” I’ve been in this business long enough that I’ve learned you will never make everybody happy. As Albus Dumbledore says to Hagrid in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “…if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be [waiting] for a very long time.” Trying to make everyone happy all of the time is a non-achievable goal. But what I can do is use my common sense. If differentiated instruction is necessary in a traditional classroom (it is), it is needed even more so now, as our students move to individual, proverbial, “classrooms.” In a traditional classroom, we have some control over the environment. Not as much as we would like, usually, but we do have some measure of control. Now, our students are in “classrooms” over which we have zero control. Not a lot, not some…zero. Common sense says we are going to have to provide modifications and accommodations in more volume and style than ever before. We will have to differentiate by process, product, and content. We do not have the element of control for a student who isn’t able to (or chooses not to) complete work at home. Whereas before, we may have set time aside during class for that student to complete the work, or used proximity to ensure that student completed work, or used a grouping or partner strategy to be sure that student completed work, now, we have none of that at our disposal. Our “toolbox,” as it were, is locked. Our “bag of tricks,” has a knot too tight to open. Teachers, administrators, and even districts who fail to recognize this reality are either woefully ignorant, or purposefully obtuse. Neither is an acceptable trait for educators. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, there is a learning curve. But, yes, much like the first year of anyone’s teaching career, we will get through it and come out with mad skills on the other side.
It is, in my view, shameful for a teacher to put up a worksheet and mandate every student complete it by a set date or score a zero. It is shameful for an administration to mandate or support that. It is shameful for a district to do so, as well. Educators should be encouraged to be creative during this time. We should be supported for thinking outside the box. We should be lauded for finding ways to present material in different ways and accommodate the often very difficult realities our students face. We should be commended for offering flexibility in work load, due dates, assignment modes, and submission options. I am embarrassed for our profession when these things are absent during a time like this.
Yes, we feel like we are working harder than ever. But, we shouldn’t forget the things we don’t have to do now. We don’t have to deal with classroom management or discipline. We don’t have to do before school/after school/lunch duty. We don’t have to do parent conferences or conference nights. We don’t have to lament the copier breaking down. We don’t have to hold it for lunch or our prep to use the restroom. Those may seem insignificant when faced with the current challenges, but if you really think about it, we have gotten a pretty good trade. Not equal, not perfect, but there are silver linings on the clouds. Until we, as educators, all begin using common sense for this unique instructional situation, we will continue to be both vilified and praised by families and the media alike.
My Parent Side
As I mentioned previously, I have a 7-year-old son who is virtual learning for the remainder of the school year. He is in second grade. He is also very bright, along with having a myriad of challenges that require accommodations (which he has documented on his 504). I, like many parents, am still working full time. My boss still expects me to put in my full day’s work and fulfill my responsibilities to the absolute best of my ability – as he should. I happen to be working at home, and some parents are still working at their business establishment, but the struggle is the same: I am expected to execute a minimum of two roles productively and proficiently: full-time teacher to my students and full-time supervisor/engager/parent to my child. Most parents have additional stressors to handle, too. For example, our family is moving in less than three weeks. We have packing and meetings and other related issues to handle.
I tried for two weeks to do everything perfectly all the time. Can you guess how that turned out? Spoiler alert: Not well. But, instead of doing the same things the same way and expecting different results – or, just choosing to live in misery, I changed my approach and my expectations. Frustration is the result of unmet expectations. The perfectionist in me struggles to accept reasonable expectations as anything other than laziness and failure. However, after many years of self-help and professional counseling, I have learned the truth of the statement, “You can only do what you can do, and you can’t do what you can’t do.”
Parents who are frustrated with their inability to be the perfect everything all the time have to learn to accept the reality that this expectation is not reasonable. What is reasonable, though, you may wonder? Here is a key piece of information that may sound familiar to ideas you read in the “My Teacher Side” section: Reasonable means different things for different people. My son (and my students) complains about things being unfair. Just last night he was angry that he had to go to bed but my husband and I got to stay up later than he did. One thing I find valuable is the teaching of the difference between fair and equal. Equal means everyone gets the same thing. Fair means everyone gets what they need. There is a relatively well-known example of a person in a crowded room collapsing from a heart attack. A doctor is present and is entreated to help the dying person, but the doctor refuses because it wouldn’t be “fair” to everyone else that he couldn’t treat. This, of course, strikes everyone as absurd, because of course he should help the person and no one else because no one else is having a heart attack or needing medical help. This demonstrates the difference between fair and equal. Giving the person treatment is fair because they need it. Giving the person, but no one else, treatment is unequal.
The widespread misunderstanding of this difference is the root of many problems families are facing at this time. A teacher posts an assignment that, for some students, is manageable and completed in a reasonable amount of time with little argument. But, that same assignment may be very unmanageable for other students. There are an infinite number of reasons why it might be unmanageable, but all of them are irrelevant. Individuals deserve fairness, whether they are students or adults. But, when a situation arises where accommodations or modifications are necessary to provide that fairness, it is the individual’s responsibility to self-advocate for those. As I often tell my son and my students, I cannot read minds. Teachers may be super heroes in many peoples’ eyes, but I guarantee you that reading minds is not one of our super powers. If a situation is unmanageable – if an assignment is unmanageable, it is the family’s responsibility to let the teacher know. It is the family’s responsibility to ask for accommodations that will make the situation fair – that will allow everyone to get what they need.
I read posts and articles about parents fighting with their children over school work, students crying in frustration over work loads, and parents raging about the unreasonableness of the teacher(s) in the current situation. However, rarely do I read that these parents – these families – have really discussed with the teacher what is necessary to create fairness for that family’s unique situation. And when that does happen, if a teacher isn’t using common sense (see above), I even more rarely read about a family then approaching the administration to try and obtain those accommodations or modifications. I have seen so many times in the recent weeks, articles and posts with the phrase, “…should know…” How “should” we know? We are not living in your home. We do not know what you need to be successful or efficient. As I have already discussed, we are not mind readers. We need communication just as much as you do. Tell us what you need. Ask us what the possibilities are. Advocate for yourselves and your students. Teach your student to use their voice when they have a need. Teach your student the difference between fair and equal.
The Overlapping Me
I often find my educational and parental views to be off-center. No doubt, this post will be far from the trending view of educators by families and families by educators. But, as both a parent and a teacher, I have had to accept this: There is no assignment or concept that is more important than my family’s health and well-being. There is no assignment or concept that is more important than anyone’s health and well-being. When that moment of frustration looms on the horizon, I remind myself to change my expectations. I remind myself that none of us can do more than we can do. Expecting anyone to do more than they can is unfair.