This is part of an occasional series including perspectives on distance learning, including the tough choice of a teacher leave of absence.
Peggy Brewster is an educator and mother of two who recently decided to take a teacher leave of absence. She lives in Sunnyvale, California with her husband, 5 year old son, 11 month old daughter, and their dog and cat. Following a drive to have a more meaningful and impactful career, she began teaching 8 years ago as a middle school Language Arts teacher. After having her first child, she returned to teaching part time at the Elementary level.
The sudden shift to distance learning in the spring while caring for young kids and maintaining normalcy during the COVID shelter-in-place was a true juggle. As the uncertainty of this pandemic school year looms, Peggy has made the difficult decision to take a teacher leave of absence to keep her family unexposed and safe at home. Connect with Peggy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TL;DR. This is inconvenient and imperfect for us teachers too. Let’s realize we’re all trying our best and support each other.
Fellow parents, as we are just days away from the first day of school, I’d like to remind us to show compassion to your children’s teachers. We are all trying to do our best in this tragic situation. Teachers want to be able to stay/come home safely and keep ourselves and our families alive and sane. Just like everyone else.
I had the unfortunate decision of A)trying to teach synchronously (live) at home while having the baby and Kinder (who will also be distance learning) at home with me and in my care, B)putting baby in daycare, which would expose her and our family to the virus so I could teach and support the 5 year old at home, or C)taking the year off. I chose the only safe option (that I acknowledge I am privileged to have as a choice): I’ll be taking a leave of absence to take care of my kids and make sure we all stay safe during this global pandemic.
Suddenly leaving the students and learning to distance teach in the Spring while simultaneously juggling the kids and the household was TRAUMATIC. I barely kept it together. I’d spend my weekends and nights planning, recording, and editing video lessons and putting together Google slides. My days were busy with my infant daughter and 5 year old son, sourcing groceries, and what seemed to be never-ending cooking and cleaning. I’d have to tag in and out with my husband for childcare so I could host Zoom meetings.
It was the saddest end of the school year. Gosh, our class was the SWEETEST. That last chunk of school after spring break is usually magical. We get to facilitate and witness our 2nd graders mature and become more confident as they become 3rd graders.
It is a big transition. Last year, we didn’t have that experience. I felt so disconnected from my students by the time the last day of school came around. I tear up just thinking about it now. That was a terribly anticlimactic and depressing way to end the school year. And I was EXHAUSTED.
Our district boasts “more robust” distance learning in just a couple weeks, but as of today, that robustness is on us teachers. There has been no training on how to meet a new class virtually, establish norms, rapport, and trust via Zoom. There has been no techniques taught on how to engage the entire class, check for understanding, redirect students, encourage shy students to participate, or support students that need more individual attention.
In fact, we are still negotiating working conditions and expectations during this time. I learned about what my work day might look like by watching the board meetings, just like you. We haven’t agreed on what’s expected of us, so even if we want to work ahead to prepare for the year, we can’t really.
If you feel the urge to publicly scrutinize your children’s teachers/schools/district for the way they are handling education in this COVID era, the lessons they’re assigning, or the decisions they are making, please afford us some grace. Stand up for educators if you see negativity on your feed. If you want change, make it known.
Write the teacher, contact the principal, email the board. It’s going to be inconvenient and imperfect. We’ll need to do the best with what we’re given. We are all trying to provide the best education we can in a public setting while keeping us all as safe as possible.
Help us get to know your child. While it may be easy to keep to yourself if you are not interacting with the teacher at drop off and pick up, please do help us understand your child by writing emails, responding to beginning-of-year questionnaires, ClassDojo messages (or whatever platform of communication).
Write to us through your child’s Google Classroom account if you like. Parent participation is so valuable every year and this year it will be even more imperative to connect with you. You know that index card on which I asked you to write what motivates your child during Back to School Night? I keep those close at hand on my teacher desk and refer to them throughout the year.
As this unprecedented school year approaches, please have empathy for teachers as we enter this historic chapter in our careers. We are reinventing our profession. We are also human. Let’s make it a great school year and keep our families safe.
Are you considering a teacher leave of absence? Let us know in the comments.