Can I offer guidance that will help people make the right choices? Absolutely not. But as a parent and former teacher, I can offer my perspective on both sides of this quandary.
Almost every functioning-adult parent I know is having the same discussion these days. What the hell do we do about school? Is it opening? Will it close? Should I send them or keep them home?
Should we go with the “1/16th-in-person, 3 days-a-week, Zoom-every-second-Tuesday-morning, classroom-learning-if-the-moon-is-waxing-crescent” plan?
Or should we submit to the perpetual Groundhog Day that our lives have become, and accept that the kids will virtually learn on our couches until they’re 40?
Just like everyone else, I’m on the fence. I want to be able to send them back, but — oh man, I understand what that could mean for the at-risk population.
Listen, I don’t have the answers you seek. So if you’re reading and begging me, “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY, tell me what to do with my children!?!?” you might want to stop reading now.
But, I have been a teacher and I’m a parent to three kids (who are now around me every waking hour of the day), and I can tell you how I’m processing all of this. Maybe it will help you come to terms with uncertainty, too.
For a number of years I was a teacher in Brooklyn teaching special ed to sixth- through eighth-grade students. It was one of the more underserved areas of New York City, and it was equal parts hilariously bonkers and heartbreakingly discouraging.
My perspective as a former teacher has to come from the mental space I was in when I was in the classroom:
- no children
- little responsibility
- teaching as the side hustle for my summer lifeguarding job
I know without a doubt that had a pandemic occurred, I would have pled passionately for the kids to stay home. “Think of the grandparents!” I’d cry. “Opening is irresponsible!!” my Myspace page would have proclaimed. I’d have fought tooth and nail for the vulnerable people in our society.
But it would have been self-serving and a load of BS from me. I would’ve latched onto any reasonable-sounding excuse not to battle Brooklyn traffic to, instead, stay home listening to Bob Barker encouraging me to spay and neuter my pets as I taught online.
I’d be free of dealing with the constant classroom fights, the hassle of dealing with fluctuating Board of Ed standards and spot checks, and my nostrils wouldn’t be accosted by the stifling fog of preteen stink.
Now, I am in no way speaking for all teachers. This is 100 percent what I know my stance would have been. I just didn’t have that “make every day magic” attitude towards my students. I had the “I hope I’m not stabbed again today” attitude.
Nowadays, the teachers I’m friends with from that school and many others are as dedicated now as I wasn’t then. I’ve spoken to active veteran-teacher friends who are working in some of the largest and most well-funded school systems in the United States and I can tell you, they are more frustrated with the uncertainty than we parents are!
Imagine your boss, no matter your profession, comes to you and says the following:
“You need to do a workshop for 40 people. Sometimes those people will be in front of you. Sometimes not. Make sure everyone is prepared either way.
If they are in front of you, the tables they collectively sit at are 5 feet in length. Somehow have them all sit at least 6 feet apart. If anyone in front of you needs to go to the bathroom, halt everything to make sure they follow safety procedures. Repeat when they return. Come to think of it, police them for COVID-19 policy the whole time. All of them.
You’ll have a state-mandated fire drill in the middle of the day. But don’t worry, it’s only for floors 1 and 3 so we can distance from each other. Tell the kids on 2 and 4 to sit tight and ignore the mini field day the others get.
If you’re online, we don’t have IT to help you set up or manage these virtual experiences, so… good luck with that. If anyone in the workshop is falling behind, identify them remotely and catch them up.
Oh, and you’re doing this presentation 8 hours a day every day for the next 10 months. We think. Maybe not. But probably? Maybe.”
This is essentially a breakdown of the expectations teachers have been handed and the info they’re given on reopening plans. All of this has been thrown at them without even addressing the possibility of them getting sick from one of the biological-weapons-in-a-Shimmer-and-Shine-backpack they teach every day.
As a parent on the other side of this I desperately want my kids to be in school. Not just because of the constant bickering, the interruptions during work, and the fact that my son is getting better than me at Mario Kart, but because they are WAY better learners in school.
Yes, my kids get their work done, and we’re on top of them to make sure it happens. But with one of mine, every step is a struggle. Every action is questioned. For every minute of work that needs to be done, there are 40 minutes of argument against it. When it’s finally complete, it’s half-assed and done without any sense of scholarly enthusiasm.
My kids simply will not take instruction from me. They need the classroom setting and I need a sliver of solitude.
But I also know that they’re little germ gremlins spreading pestilence to their teachers and classmates. I know sending them back is potentially risking lives of people I don’t know and might never meet — even if we were allowed outside.
Plus, just think about the new forms of social ostracization that could be employed with preteens now. Before, in seventh grade, it was bad enough if you didn’t have the right sneakers.
Now, imagine accidentally coughing in front of the mean clique? You might as well transfer immediately because you’re forever the COVID Kid.
I know this does nothing to alleviate any anxiety that we collectively have. We all wish there was that one messiah that would come in and tell us all how to proceed — someone to join the discussion and give us the clear answer.
But the reality is, there’s no good answer here. There’s only, “This is the best we have so far.”
It’s not reassuring, but, at least for me, it’s reassuring to know that from the top down, we’re all pretty clueless together.
Patrick Quinn is originally from Long Beach, New York, but has lived in Hawaii, Arizona, and California. He currently resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three kids. He’s a writer, creative marketing manager, and one of the co-founders of Life of Dad. Patrick is also one of the creators of a Nickelodeon International television series called “The Spyders.” He’s easily bribed with tacos.