On returning to teaching in the midst of a pandemic

I took a crying walk today. I used to take those a lot, back in March and April when my body didn’t have another release for all of the fight-or-flight stress and tension I built every day watching pandemic numbers rise and our world shut down.

I’d walk around our neighborhood and usually somewhere around the ½-mile mark, just start crying.

It was release in its purest form, and I always returned from my walks a little calmer, a little emptier, a little more ready to continue to face the unknown.

Eventually I got my pandemic legs under me, learning to roll with the ground swell of cases and trends, of openings and closings, of risk assessments and necessities. The crying walks tapered off.

Until today. Today I walked down to my mailbox and dropped in a letter addressed to our school district officially un-enrolling my two kids from the public school system. Then I went for a crying walk.

You see, I love public school. I used to teach middle school language arts in public school. My family is rife with public school teachers. My friends are teachers. My heart belongs with the educators of the world. I believe in the beauty of community education.

And today I had to leave that world, temporarily at least. I had to take that final step toward becoming a homeschooling family.

Because the fact of the matter is, I won’t send my kids back to school knowing what the school experience this year will be like.

Our town is doing a fantastic job of making safe, science-based decisions, and yet social distancing and mask wearing alone combine to destroy the collaborative, warm, communal, safe feeling that every school strives to create from the first minute of the first day of every year.

Add in the likely continued rolling shut downs of campuses throughout the fall as case numbers ebb and flow. Add in flu season. Add in kids’ lack of impulse control and learned disdain of safety precautions from family members who subscribe to the “this isn’t that big of a deal” ideology. Add in the consequences of being unlucky enough to catch something being life-long health problems at best, death at worst. The calculus doesn’t add up for our family.

And I can’t commit them to a year of distance learning, a year of being chained to their computer for five or six hours a day, every day. A year of dreading schoolwork instead of looking forward to it. A year of cajoling and redirecting and threatening and bribing and begging them to just.get.through.their.work.

But I can commit myself to them. I can recognize our privilege. I can acknowledge that my kids don’t need school for food or physical security. I can take advantage of the fact that I don’t have a traditional 9-5 job that requires my time and attention all day. I can remember that I am a trained teacher, and that digging out my old teaching materials might actually spark the freedom and joy that we were missing with the other two options.

Maybe the best way I can support my beloved public school teachers this year is by giving them two fewer bodies to puzzle into a physical space. Two fewer minds to field endless emails from. Two fewer sets of papers to grade. Maybe the best way I can support the kids in my town who need school for whatever reason is by taking away two more possible infection vectors they might encounter.  

I love public school, and I cried today as I walked away from it. When my son left his school for the last time on that Friday back in March, I didn’t realize he was leaving his elementary school for good.  I didn’t realize my daughter wouldn’t return to her campus ever again. Pandemic milestones shouldn’t be a thing. We should pause the world while we hunker down, picking up again where we left off when we emerge from the rubble.

On my walk today I thought about returning to teaching in the midst of a pandemic. I thought about lesson plans and projects, standards and skills. And I realized that even though I haven’t been employed as a teacher in a long time, I never actually took off my teacher cap.

Parenting is teaching, all day, every day, year round. And as parents, my husband and I have identified the skills our kids must have mastery of before they leave our arms for the next adventure.

We want them to have a healthy sense of self. Confidence.

We want them to be aware of how their actions affect others as they move through the world. Empathy.

We want them to be willing and able to work hard.  Work Ethic.

We want them to be adaptable. Flexibility.

We want them to listen to and observe the world around them and then question and analyze that information. Critical Thinking.

As my tears dried, I realized this pivot into homeschooling is just another way for us to demonstrate these family priorities, another way for our kids to practice them.

We can do hard things. We can consider how our actions might affect and help others. We change the way we learn and not crumble over it. We can consider options and analyze solutions and pick the path forward that isn’t perfect but is the line of best fit for the scatter points of all our pros and cons.

And we can believe that our decisions are valid, even when they’re unpopular.

I came home from my crying walk with dry eyes, as usual. A little calmer, a little emptier, a little more ready for what’s next.

Photo credit: Deleece Cook, Unsplash

5 thoughts on “On returning to teaching in the midst of a pandemic

  1. Alex C. says:

    This is a wonderful affirmation of everything we want school to be for our kids, and you will be the most amazing teacher they have ever had! Can’t wait.


  2. Sherry Arp says:

    Beautiful. I nodded and agreed with so much you wrote. I have been hit so hard with so many Pandemic Milestone lately, I just didn’t know what to call them. So many lasts, that I didn’t get the chance to savor, because I didn’t realize it was a last. You are going to have a wonderful year learning and exploring with your kids. I hope to read more about it!


  3. Irina C says:

    Dear Kelly!
    I know it’s will be very hard in every possible way…
    I, also, know that you will be the best at it, in every possible way.


  4. Zaidie M. says:

    Whole family is ready to help you. We are all teachers and mentors. Us us as much as possible and our kids will be more advance than if they would in public school.


  5. dolphinwrite says:

    Each person has to decide for themselves. Having had several jobs previous, and having taught sports and summer camps right before, I saw how easy teaching could be, and as a teacher, I probably taught more like a home school teacher than most of my contemporaries, seeing opportunities in the curriculum, supplemental lessons, creative projects, and class talks, letting the kids guide the questions during some sessions. Encouraging them to be responsible, work hard, but also think for themselves. **As one, who from the beginning, looked to get kids/teens thinking for themselves with responsibility, after more than two decades, I know that’s no longer possible, and so I let go. Not easy. I still talk to friends about better ways of teaching, encouraging home schooling parents, and even talk to kids from time to time about the opportunities they have at home and online. You have to decide what you’re about. Then, be at peace with your decision.


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