Being a Mom and a Teacher in the Middle of a Pandemic

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My daughter hasn’t stopped chatting my ear off about how she wants to get glitter folders for school this year. For my soon-to-be 2nd grader, the back-to-school season is nearly as exciting as the holidays. My son, an incoming fourth grader, who only begrudgingly admits he still likes school, is getting antsy to go back. Both were equally deflated when they found out that our school year will start entirely on-line this year. I had to mask my own disappointment and try to sugar coat the news of the virtual start with platitudes like “It’s going to be fine!” and “you’ll get to see your friends online every day!” I know they know I don’t really feel excited about this school year either, though.

I’m a mom- and a teacher- in the middle of this pandemic. The thought of having to repeat virtual teaching and parenting at the same time this school year makes me anxious and sad.  

Back to school time has always been fun for me. Sure, it means the languid summer days of hot coffee sipped at a leisurely pace and bedtimes that are as flexible as the waist bands of my yoga pants are coming to an end, but it also means a new, exciting beginning for my professional life. I look forward to seeing my co-workers again, but mostly, I love getting to meet my new “crop” of students. The new school year means life can get back to its frenzied yet predictable routines. It brings in normalcy.

Not this year though. Every single piece of this school year puzzle has been turned over, strewn across the floor of the month of August, and rearranged into a picture that is NOT the picture that was on the on the box.  Nothing is as it is supposed to be.

The lens I view this school year through is essentially a bi-focal. I have two children who are too young to navigate full-time on-line learning without redirection, reassurance, and structure. I’m also a teacher who is being tasked with teaching 140 students from my makeshift living room classroom. I’m working on an old laptop that sits atop a borrowed plastic table. Before our schools shut down in March, I hadn’t ever used Google Classroom or converted pdf documents into editable worksheets. I didn’t know that Google extensions even existed, let alone how to incorporate them fluidly into meaningful instruction. I, along with every other teacher in the country, was flung into a new world of education with NO previous training or practice. I tried my best to tread the waters of this new reality, with my own children at my side.

Distance Learning
My son, Karl, making faces into my camera behind me, while I was teaching.

While teaching “live” every school day in the spring, I was simultaneously helping my first and third graders navigate using a laptop, logging into live classes on time, checking Google calendars, keeping up with their web-based programs for math and reading, emailing teachers, and begging, pleading, and bargaining with them to stay engaged.  My students heard me yell, almost daily, at my son to “get out of the kitchen!” and “stop making faces in my camera”! They’d see me frantically jump up from my computer to chase my psycho-barking dogs away from the mailman. My daughter would pop-in during my live classes just to say “hi” to my students when because she desperately craved social interaction. I felt helpless as my mathematically brilliant son broke down crying because he didn’t understand a tough math concept and I couldn’t walk him through it because I was busy helping my students.

 

Work From Home
My dog barking by my makeshift living room classroom.

 

 I spent many nights,after constructing a digital lesson from scratch for the next day, helping my children with their unfinished schoolwork, and answering frantic parent emails, just sitting on my couch and crying.  It felt like I was Bill Murray in the scene from Groundhog Day when he hears the alarm clock play “I’ve Got You Babe” for the fourth day in a row, until he’s finally so sick of hearing it that he smashes the alarm clock repeatedly, only to have the same exact thing happen again, day after day. My laptop was the alarm clock, but I couldn’t smash it, because my students needed me.

What I’m trying to convey here is that a lot of teachers are parents, too. We experienced the same frustration and uncertainties for our children’s education, too.  We experienced that while simultaneously trying to make sure your children were still getting an education. Oftentimes, teachers felt like The Cat in the Hat balancing on top of a ball while struggling to hold everything together.

More parents are back to work now and worried about how they will balance work while their children are at home for school. Your child’s teacher is worried for you and your child, too. We’re worried about how we will balance teaching your children while also helping our own children with school. We want to do it all and do it well. This is not what teachers signed up for and it’s not what parents signed up for. Trust me when I say, your child’s teachers sympathize with your plight. We wish we could be back in the classroom, teaching your kids like we would normally teach them. We wish our own children were back in their classes, learning the way they would normally be learning. We wish for that even more than we wish for copy machines that never break down.

I’m truly humbled to know that I’m not alone.  Every parent reading this is essentially in the same storm- no one’s puzzle looks like it did in the past. This school year, please consider your child’s teacher as a human being, a parent, and a community member, not just as your child’s teacher. We consider our students’ parents in the same ways.  Together with grace and humility, we can help all our children to learn and succeed.

Virtual Learning
My daughter, Hanalei, attending class in the only spot she’d sit still- on top of our dog in their bed.

 

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Jennifer Donaldson, a Palm Beach County native, was born and raised in West Palm Beach and attended UCF in Orlando, studying biomedical science with a minor in science education. While at UCF, Jennifer met my husband, Bruce, when he applied to be my roommate through a roommate pairing website. They dated, got married, and for the last 14 years they've been "more than roommates" making their permanent home in Wellington. She is mom to two of the most inquisitive, talkative, and spectacular kids ever- a son Karl, 9, and a daughter Hanalei, 7. She also considers her two rescue dogs, Vladimir and Minerva, to be her "fur babies,” and she's a huge advocate for animal rescues, with a soft spot in her heart for pit-bulls who get a bad rap but who have the biggest hearts (and heads) of any dog breed! She has been a public school teacher with Palm Beach county for 12 years, teaching all grades from third through eighth, and all subjects, though she has spent the most time teaching math and science. She loves teaching because it gives her the unique opportunity to truly make a difference in kids' lives. As a teacher, she' been awarded "teacher of the year" at her school on four separate occasions, as well as having been nominated for the Dwyer Teacher of the Year Award twice. Her family and Jennifer are music fanatics, with her husband being the lead singer of the local band, Lochness Monster, and they have spent many years and too much money at Walt Disney World! When she's not teaching, grading, mommin', and housekeeping, she loves to run and read. Sometimes, in her copious amounts of free time, she even dabbles in painting. She has a passion for writing and is currently writing a few children's books as well as a young adult novel. She is so thrilled to be a part of a mom blogging team! Some of her older blog posts can be found at http://dotsredslippers125.blogspot.com/ and my Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.b.donaldson/.