Millions of families across the country are struggling with the same decision.
Is it worth it to send my child back to school?
As our home state of West Virginia is allowing the decisions to be made at the county level, school districts are scrambling to provide options to families while ordering masks and face shields in preparation. About 280,000 children are educated in public schools in WV, a number that could change this coming school year as parents look to homeschooling as an answer.
The decisions don’t just affect those 280,000 West Virginian children and their families though. Each year more than 20,000 teachers enter our public school buildings, and this year, more than ever before, we are asking those teachers to become frontline workers, to risk their health and the health of their own families to educate our children. As they are asked to provide in-person and distance learning simultaneously while maintaining unrealistic safety guidelines, I expect many to leave the field. Who could blame them? When those in the medical field or law enforcement pursued their careers, they knew they’d be put in harm’s way nearly everyday. But teachers signed on to love and educate children, not to pack snacks in the backpacks of neglected kids or to pack the wounds of their students after a school shooting. We are asking too much of our teachers.
But then again, life is asking too much of nearly all of us right now. We moms and dads are working from home while wrangling toddlers and facilitating the education of our school-age children. We’re Zooming and cooking and cleaning the kitchen over and over and over. We are tired, and we just want life to return to normal. Most of us didn’t picture parenthood looking like this. We love our kids, but, goodness, it’s been a long summer, right?
In many ways, I feel like the last six years of my life have prepared me for a time such as this. When I began treatment for Lyme disease, I thought I’d get better and life would get back to normal. But it didn’t. I couldn’t return to work. I couldn’t make plans because I never knew from hour-to-hour how I’d feel.
I was a planner without the ability to plan.
For so long I’d used busyness to cope, and suddenly I had to be still. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years. Yet everyone else’s life kept moving on. My husband went to work and my kids to school. I was alone.
The experience changed me.
The “not knowing” and the isolation that is driving everyone crazy right now became my normal long ago. Truly, this pandemic didn’t alter my world much, except my kids were suddenly home with me.
During the school closure in the spring, the response of my two daughters could not have been more different.
Nine-year-old Izzi was curious and enthusiastic about learning. Her teacher is a saint who handled the abrupt switch to virtual teaching marvelously, and she gave me autonomy in modifying assignments to meet Izzi’s needs. For example, when she assigned work about life cycles, Iz and I raised tadpoles and dissected a frog. When she assigned the parts of a plant, we researched square foot gardening, incorporating math, science, reading, and handwriting into our project. We had a blast in the spring and, with the one-on-one instruction, Izzi’s reading, which has always been a struggle, drastically improved. By mid-May I had begun considering homeschooling her.
As a public school teacher for nearly two decades, homeschooling had never occurred to me. I was indoctrinated to believe that homeschooling was subpar to public education and that most homeschooled children lack the social skills necessary to be productive citizens. Honestly, without really analyzing it, I classified homeschool families as eccentric.
I began praying for guidance. I read over a dozen books on homeschooling and learned that my understanding of it had been nearly nonexistent and my generalizations were inaccurate. I never knew there were so many styles of homeschooling. The more I learned, the more right it felt for Izzi.
And then there was Gracie, the then 14-year-old freshman who detested every minute spent around our dining room table completing her online assignments. In some classes, she was overwhelmed, trying to solve algebra problems that no one in our home had done in three decades. In other classes, her teachers went awol and no work was assigned. Classes like Art I were therapeutic for her. Spanish II was a challenge, but her teacher was accessible virtually and we survived.
What Gracie did in the spring was NOT homeschooling or even close to it. All assignments and curriculum were provided by her teachers and school. After our state superintendent announced that no assignments during the closure could hurt a student’s grade, most teenagers shut down. Gracie had straight A’s when schools closed, so she knew that nothing she could do or not do would bring her grade down, and nothing could boost her GPA higher than the 4.125 it already was.
Still, I was emphatic that we should all be in a state of constant learning, not for a GPA, but for the sake of becoming better humans. I refused to let her quit, holding her cell phone hostage daily until the work was completed.
It was not fun. At all. And I’m not sure she learned a single thing those two months.
Just the thought of homeschooling this precocious teenager, who desperately wants to return to school to be with her friends, is exhausting. Even with a teaching degree, am I qualified to teach this child biology and geometry? How much will staying home damage her emotional well-being? Could we survive another five months together?
But then again, what’s the alternative?
My children live in a “fragile family.” Last year I battled cancer, undergoing five surgeries. Chemo has made my body immuno-compromised and my right lung is damaged from radiation. I am one of those high risk people the media and so many on social networking seem to write-off. “Only the elderly and those with preexisting conditions die” is a line that brings us no reassurance here. We have taken every precaution. My daughters and I rarely leave the house, but when we do, we wear masks, practice social distancing, and use hand sanitizer frequently. We are all committed to keeping me safe.
After all, I didn’t beat cancer only to die of a virus.
But what is the right choice for my kids? I can’t keep them in a bubble for the rest of their lives.
At the end of this pandemic, I believe we will all be changed.
We will be better, gentler human beings. More appreciative and aware. More present.
But in the meantime, we have to decide what to do with our children’s education.
After debating all summer, I thought I knew the right answer for my kids. Because Izzi learned so beautifully with me in the spring, I knew homeschool was the best choice for her and for me. I miss teaching, so this was the perfect solution for both of us.
For Gracie, the answer was messy. I was leaning toward sending her back to school, especially if the students were kept in small groups. I doubted my patience and abilities, even though I knew I had been a good high school teacher before I got Lyme. Gracie missed her friends and the social world, and, frankly, I just wanted her to be happy again. I was tired of the constant battle with her. So I’d rationalized taking the risk to me for her social well-being.
Then Izzi got sick.
And everything changed. My perspective shifted.
Is it worth it??
The question I’d asked all summer became real and the answers clear.
Part 1 of 2. Read Part 2 HERE!
(Art by Gracie during lockdown. It was an assignment from her English teacher on the 20 things she most missed, which G combined with her weekly art project. I think it speaks volumes about what our teenagers are feeling.)