Zoom meetings start promptly at 8 a.m.
Breakout sessions follow at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
A lunch recess at noon is capped off by team building and community time at 1 p.m.
Is this the schedule of a high-powered executive? A marketing guru or a tech sales rep?
Nope. Instead, this is the typical school schedule of today’s youth in the midst of a global pandemic.
Who thought when we all hunkered down in March that we would find ourselves right back here again in the fall? Right back to juggling Zoom meetings for ourselves and our kids. Back to being short-order cafeteria cooks with breakfasts, snacks, lunches, more snacks and dinners to prep. Back to refereeing four-square competitions, sibling rivalries and the ever-present war over device usage and screen time minutes.
As an educator, I want you to know that I understand the challenge placed upon the shoulders of working moms everywhere. Teachers empathize with the burden of carrying the pressures of your own job while having to tackle so many parts of our job, too. We appreciate all that you are doing to keep the peace, the pace and the pencils to the grindstone of academic success.
In the hope of easing some anxiety about the upcoming school year, I’d like to share five things that we teachers want parents to know about going back to school in a pandemic:
This school year will be tough. Teachers understand that the year ahead is going to be stressful. There are days when the battle to get your kids logged-on, plugged-in, actively engaged and working independently will be an epic failure. Days when there won’t be enough bandwidth for your Zoom meeting, their Zoom meeting, and the patience to navigate both simultaneously.
1. We’ve been there.
Not in your living room, of course, but in our own classrooms. Packed wall-to-wall with a variety of personalities, needs, dramas and triumphs. We’ve learned to breathe deeply through the chaos, and you should, too. Pick your battles carefully, and focus on the bigger goals at hand: getting your kids to learn all that they can, one day at a time. Email us when things feel wonky; text us when your Wi-Fi fails, the Zoom link won’t connect or your child is in a moment of catastrophic meltdown. Communication with one another is key—it will enable us to work together to find solutions, in real time, to save your sanity and help your child.
2. Create a study space.
It is crucial to set up a space in your home dedicated to learning, even if your child is attending school in a hybrid capacity. Designate a space in your house or apartment that lets your children know that they are “in school” now. Be sure to have scratch paper for math problem solving, sharpened pencils, a highlighter and access to an outlet to keep their devices charged. The more necessary supplies they have at their fingertips, the less likely they will be to interrupt your Zoom meetings for help to find a missing eraser. Use their at-home learning as a catalyst for the independence and self-resilience we seek to instill at school each day.
3. Breakfast is a must.
Whether at home or heading into school, breakfast is essential before the school day starts. I dedicated a section of my upcoming book, The Overly Honest Teacher: Parenting Advice from the Classroom, to this topic because I strongly believe beginning any day of learning with breakfast is crucial. Educators can easily tell a student who starts their day with sustenance in their belly versus those who come in running on empty. Believe me when I tell you, your child will be far more focused and ready to learn if they’ve had a bit of protein to get their brain juices flowing. We know mornings are hectic, but please find time to fuel your kids for the day ahead. Use distance learning as a chance to hit the reset button on morning routines and carve out time for a bite to eat before hitting the books.
4. Emphasize autonomy.
When your child heads back to school, they need to be prepared to exercise independence. Six feet of separation is no joke, and it will require them to handle certain circumstances for themselves. For young kids, practice opening and closing zippered snack pouches and wearing a mask for long intervals of time. Encourage them to eat lunch quietly to minimize the spread of particles. Review the importance of hand sanitization, and come up with a unique no-contact way of greeting their friends and showing signs of support. Teachers will be focusing on all of these things as students return to their classrooms. But bolstering their confidence ahead of time will make all the difference in helping them feel empowered to tackle this very different school year head-on.
5. Check on your child’s feelings.
While teachers will be working to fill in gaps from the spring and accelerate kids’ comprehension in the fall, it is imperative that you give them time to focus on their emotional health. Don’t worry, we’ll be building in community time and SEL (social-emotional learning) in our daily class routines too. But, we really want to encourage you to use this time of uncertainty and upheaval to connect and communicate with your children. Talk about your feelings and give them space to share theirs, too, even if it’s just a few minutes as you tuck them into bed after a busy workday. Help your children build coping skills to overcome obstacles, see the silver lining and harness their talents to succeed when life gets tough.
Right now, educators are navigating new technology, websites and methodologies to do our jobs, even from afar. So, as you head into another season of the unfamiliar, know that the teachers in your life are walking those same tricky routes with you.
We want you to know that we are all in this together, and together, we will prevail.
Meredith Essalat is a school principal in San Francisco and author of The Overly Honest Teacher, which will be published on October 13, 2020. With a career in academia that has spanned more than 17 years, Essalat started off in collegiate student activities before moving into both elementary and secondary academic communities. She spent nine years in middle school education as both teacher and Dean of Middle School Curriculum. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for valuable lessons learned both inside and outside the classroom. Visit OverlyHonestTeacher.com to read her latest advice.