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An Ode To Teachers During Quarantine (and Beyond)

I’m going to be honest, I’ve always tried to be a sort of “inconspicuous” parent in my kids’ classes. It’s been my worst fear to be one of those moms who complains (except in extenuating circumstances) about everything or will argue with a teacher, thinking I somehow know what has gone on in their classroom better than they do. I’ve never wanted to be a burden. On the other hand, I can also be far from the ideal parent in so many ways. I can’t stay on top of paperwork or keep my kids organized to save my life, I have one of the most explicit podcasts on the charts and my real-life inappropriate humor and language doesn’t stray far from our show’s questionable content even during parent-teacher conferences, and more often than not, I find myself saying, “crap, that was today?!” when it comes to occasions like spirit day, “special snack,” and, well, homework, project and reading-log due dates. In other words, while I do try to be an “easy” parent, it is also not lost on me that in my own way I am in fact “a lot” to deal with. It is now also becoming evident that through the course of my three kids’ educational careers, I may have become complacent and somewhat taken for granted the fact that my kids have just had really awesome teachers. I think I am fully realizing for the first time (or at least getting a monumental reminder), as I think many of us are, that teachers truly are the glue that keeps so much together for all of us, not just right now, but all of the time. It’s the wake-up call I didn’t know I needed. “Teachers are heroes” is not just an overused cliche or words on a sign that adorns school hallways. It’s a fully-packed truth. Especially now, teachers are the force whose gravitational pull is keeping so many of us from fully spinning out of control.

Every morning since quarantine began, there are two texts I can count on. One is my sister, with whom I’ve texted every single morning since cell phones were even a thing and who is my rock through good and bad, and the other is from a former co-worker (I used to be a high school English teacher way back in the day) and one of my favorite humans on the earth. “How are you today? What’s the workout plan?” As I’m downing my first cup of coffee and trying to get my bearings figuring out what is on the non-agenda for today’s Groundhog Day, Kathy, who is a high school special education teacher, has woken up at 4 a.m. so she can work for two hours on lesson plans and figure out productive and creative virtual-learning experiences for her students before her two elementary school-aged children wake up. The other 22 hours will be spent balancing her own kids’ schoolwork, her husband’s job from home, messaging students, parents, administrators, and also checking in on her people and somehow getting some sleep. While I’m already planning my second daily small yet highly emotional breakdown at 10 am, Kathy is trying to figure out how to somehow fit in a 30 minute virtual workout with me just so she can maintain some semblance of normalcy. And she’s making sure I do it, too. Because her innate instinct is to be a guide who leads others to a feeling of safety amidst chaos, because that’s naturally what teachers do.

While feeling like I’m currently stuck on the weirdest deserted island, surrounded by millions of other disconnected deserted islands all desperately waiting for a ship to appear and finally save us from loneliness, isolation, and fear, I am so blessed to constantly be offered temporary life rafts from all directions. A text from my middle school son’s teacher: “please let me know if Mia or Ean need any extra help. I’m so happy to do it.” An email from my high-school daughter’s math teacher: “hey, Mia is missing two assignments and that’s really not like her. Just checking to make sure she’s doing ok.” A message from my eight-year-old’s teacher, “I’m going to be driving through all my students’ neighborhoods today, blowing social distance kisses and waving just so we can see each other’s faces.” While I’m fully unraveling at the seams, each of these gestures offers a stitch to help put me back together and help me get through another day. I know that acts like these are happening all over the country, and throughout the world for that matter. “Emergency worker” might not usually be a term synonymous with educators, but near mental breakdowns, confusion, and extreme anxiousness are massively pervading parenting right now. Having a constant support system of educators in place to quell the magnitude of our unease is by all means a gift and relief beyond measure. Front-line, essential, heroes, leaders, superstars….the list is long and each term is relevant and true.

My incredible hope is that when we do travel off our deserted islands and back onto the mainland, that we go back with a way greater sense of appreciation, support, and admiration for teachers than we had before; that we return those liferafts to them by being there in ways that they’ll now need us. That we remember there will be residual effects: exhaustion and post-traumatic stress from the fact that these teachers had to kick it into hyperspeed mode and were thrust into a dimension never before experienced in the history of academia. I hope that we stay vigilant that there’s still a whole other transition they’ll have to make as we re-enter even another new, unchartered territory somewhere between the realm of what was and what will be as we ease back into a non-virtual learning environment and find out just how much these kids lost from this and how to most effectively and efficiently proceed. 

I don’t want to go back to being a complacent parent who simply feels I’m helping by not getting in the way. These amazing humans need our patience, love and understanding now, and they’ll need it just as much if not more when that other, new set of uncertain circumstances arises. I want to continue to shout my admiration and respect from the rooftops. I want to constantly ask, “what do you need?” and “how can I show my support for you?” I want to shower them with praise and give them all the accolades and gratitude they deserve, in every and all forms. Yes, I will probably still forget reading logs and I’ll still be that “a lot” inappropriate personality, but no matter what, I want to be a better version of myself as a classroom parent. I want to step up and never forget that teachers are in fact a beautiful, grounding force that is around us every single day, even when our feet are more firmly planted on the ground and it doesn’t feel like we’re spinning out into oblivion. Maybe one of the silver linings of all of this is that teachers will finally have the rock-star, revered status they truly deserve. That’s a cause for which I will definitely be on the front lines.

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Thank you so much for writing this. As a high school English teacher and a parent of a 7 year old, I've been working almost non-stop, but despite that fact, I feel like I'm not doing enough for either my 120 11th graders or my daughter at home. The last month and a half has definitely been challenging (but I have to admit-- I could live in leggings forever), and one of the things that has been keeping me going has been taking a walk every day at lunch and listening to your podcast. Your honesty, irreverence, and sense of humor has been a wonderful distraction from all of the chaos of daily life!

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