By Theresa Vargas / The Washington Post
The one undoubtable positive to come of the coronavirus: a new appreciation of teachers
It is not yet lunchtime, and I have already explained climate change to a 7-year-old, made a homemade book with a 5-year-old and turned my kitchen table into a glittery mess.
I can do this, I think.
My God, how long will I have to do this? I also think.
If I had to home-school my children under different circumstances, it might be fun, energizing even. But quarantine-forced home schooling is not some planned adventure. It is the parenting equivalent of that “Naked and Afraid” show, in which people are suddenly dropped into the wild, exposed from their necks to their toes, and expected to survive using only their wits and creativity.
One major difference (besides pants), though, is that at least the participants on that show enter the unknown with a definitive exit date. They know they only have to live that way for 21 days. Right now, parents across the country are trying to work from home while also teaching their children math, science, reading, writing, geography, art and whatever else they were already studying in school, not knowing if they will have to do that for weeks or months.
The result: Many of us can’t wait for this reality show to end.
The other result: Many of us have thought more about our children’s teachers in the last three days than we have in the last three months.
On Wednesday, Ivanka Trump posted on Twitter, “I thought that my respect for our Nation’s teachers couldn’t get any higher … but after this past week it’s definitely at peak level!”
She isn’t the only one feeling that way.
So much remains unknown about how the coronavirus is going to affect our health, our economy and our way of life in this country. But amid all that uncertainty, one undoubtable positive that will emerge with many of us from our homes when it finally feels safe again for crowds to gather and for schools to open is this: a new appreciation of educators.
I’m not talking about the kind of appreciation that comes from remembering a favorite teacher. The acknowledgment that some extraordinary, standout people work in that profession has always existed.
The appreciation that is spreading right now faster than the coronavirus that caused schools to close — and will hopefully remain once that virus is no longer a threat — is the kind that comes from peeling glue off your fingers. It’s the kind that comes from feeling your heart jump at finding stashed away Popsicle sticks in a drawer because you now have a lesson plan.
It is the kind that took us all experiencing firsthand how much patience, multitasking and energy it takes to teach at all. (And most of us are only handling our own kids, not 20-plus).
“I am completely in awe of what they do,” Julia Young, a mother of three in Arlington, Virginia, said of her children’s elementary school teachers at the end of her first day of home schooling.
One of her children is eligible to receive special education, but Young doesn’t have any training in that area. She, like many parents-suddenly-turned-educators, doesn’t have any early education training at all.
The first day of home school, Young said, started with the family sorting through school supplies, trying to get on a website the teachers at her children’s school recommended and searching “through a tremendous and overwhelming number of websites” for home schooling resources.
It ended, she said, with her family “mostly giving up, taking a walk in the woods, and then succumbing to screens.”
Her family was not alone in that surrender. Far from it.
Other parents I spoke to confessed frustration, exhaustion and a thankfulness that “Frozen 2” is now on Disney Plus.
A picture that appeared this week on the Instagram page of District MotherHued, a D.C.-area organization that brings together moms of color, showed a 3-year-old boy sitting at a toy work station. In the comments, some people asked where they could buy that setup.
Others looked at that boy, focusing on a workbook, holding a crayon in his hand, and thought about how their own home schooling experience did not look like that.
“Meanwhile, it’s only day 1 and I can’t even get mine to sit still for 5 minutes,” one person wrote.
“Meanwhile my almost 3-year-old is in here running circles around me,” another person wrote, “and his word of the week is ‘no’ (I thought i knew what i was doing).”
Kia Woods, whose son Gabriel is the boy in that photo, said her husband is a first responder who is on the front lines of trying to prevent Covid-19 from spreading. That means his days are long and he is often gone. When she learned that Prince William County was closing its schools, she said she knew she had to prepare because “my resources would be limited and no one was going to help me.”
She researched home-school activities for preschoolers, ordered a curriculum book and created a workspace away from her son’s toys to minimize distractions.
“Before I knew it, I was a de facto preschool teacher,” she said.
Make that a de facto preschool teacher with another full-time job. She also works for a gun violence prevention organization and said her team has been empathetic and considerate of her situation.
“I don’t have the option of not being present for my son but I am equally as passionate about my career and the work that I produce, so it’s all a balancing act,” she said. “The juggle is real.”
Each family’s situation is, of course, different. Some employers aren’t understanding. Some parents don’t get to work from home, or if they do, they don’t have electronic tablets they can spare for math lessons or shelves filled with books they can dust off for an at-home reading class.
To help families in need of books, the Alexandria, Virginia-based organization Alice’s Kids decided this week to make an exception to how it normally receives requests for help. It is now allowing parents to make direct requests for books they need, and the organization will then mail that reading material to them.
In my home, we are fortunate. My husband and I both have jobs that allow us to work mostly from home, and we have agreed to split the teaching so that we each have time to get work done during the day (and then again after our children’s bedtime).
So far, we have managed each day to get through all the main subjects and keep our two sons engaged. On Monday, they giggled as they made edible slime for “science class.” On Tuesday, they took a “field trip” to a nearby pond and then enthusiastically worked on research projects about what they saw.
And on Wednesday, I woke up exhausted, thinking a lot about their teachers.
I pondered if my 5-year-old’s kindergarten teacher would prefer I spell out words for him when he asks for help or instruct him to spell them the way they sound to him.
I questioned whether my 7-year-old’s second-grade teacher would approve of the math problems we were giving him each day (and that he seemed to be enjoying) because our way of instructing him to solve them is different than what he has spent years learning.
Mostly, though, I wondered when those incredibly patient, hard-working teachers might finally take my children back.
Theresa Vargas is a local columnist for The Washington Post. Before coming to The Post, she worked at Newsday in New York.