I remember the jumble of nerves I felt when my firstborn started school. We laid out the perfect outfit to go with her brand-new backpack days before, and even though bussing was provided (and yes, I did, somehow, manage to put my tiny baby on that huge bus), we also met her at the school so we could help to find her new teacher on the sprawling, chaotic blacktop. Over the years, and with a lot more practice, first-day nerves have turned to excitement as we became comfortable with our school community and connected to the teachers who cared for our four kids.
Now, days from the start of a new school year, and with COVID-19 still an ever-present threat, I am feeling those big feelings again. In some ways, it feels like I’m back at the very beginning, with a Kindergarten kid, anxious about how the year will unfold and whether it will be a good one for my kids. This year, we've all had to make some very difficult choices about school, weighing risks and variables and circumstances unique to each family. And while we have chosen in-person learning for our kids, I can also understand why other families are opting out.
We all want our children to be safe. For me to be able to send my kids to school, I have to believe our teachers want that, too. Fortunately, I have enough experience with four kids and many, many school years to reassure me that most teachers are extremely dedicated and will do whatever they can to make that happen.
When we first went into emergency at-home learning mode this spring, we watched our kids’ teachers scramble to stay connected to their students. Some were quick to jump in and adapt, while others didn’t find it as easy. About two weeks in, our youngest daughter’s teacher called us at home to let us know she was doing her best to learn how to use unfamiliar technology and to tell us how much she missed seeing her students. I could hear the exhaustion in her voice, and I knew what she needed from us was reassurance that we understood and supported her.
As the school year came to a close, and the tech hiccups were worked out, I could see both the students and the teachers forming a mutual resiliency via Zoom. Most of the time, I was banished from the room so my kids could feel like they were “in class." But on the last day, I cried as I stood around the corner from my youngest daughter's computer and listened to that same teacher move seamlessly through each tiny square to share a personalized tribute for each of her students. I wasn’t the only one crying by the time she was finished.
Teachers, support staff, administrators and decision-makers are all scrambling to build a new school year with slowly trickling information and big, daunting unknowns. For teachers who are also parents and caregivers, with kids who could be sent home with the sniffles at any time, the logistics must feel even more overwhelming. I’m not letting myself forget that, as I stand by waiting for answers to our many questions.
Patience—and being OK with ambiguity in the meantime—is just something we're all going to have to practise for the next few weeks and months. Sure, schools, administrators, and governments don’t always get everything 100 per cent right when it comes to what is best for all students. But I'm putting my faith in the teachers who will be on the frontlines with our kids. As parents, we need to be gracious and kind as they figure out what works, and what doesn’t, in a school year unlike any we’ve ever seen in our lifetime.
I’m holding on to the many instances teachers and staff at my kids’ schools have shown up for our family, time and time again, over the years—I have no reason to believe they won’t do the same now. Even though they are receiving class assignments and access to their classrooms only days before they are expected to begin teaching, many teachers are working hard to build safe spaces and advocate for their students, all while battling their own nerves.
None of us can predict how the school year ahead will unfold, or how our children will adapt to the new protocols and rules. But when our family talks about going back, we stay focused on the most important detail: your teachers will keep you safe.
After all, it’s not just parents and teachers who feel nervous about school; our kids are feeling it, too. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent navigating the school years, whether during a pandemic or not, it’s that when we believe in our teachers, our kids do, too.