written by Malinda Webb
If you asked me in February what I would be doing at the end of July, my answer would not have included, “Writing a blog about the challenging decisions regarding the return to school during a worldwide pandemic.” I’m fairly confident that none of us expected to be here. Yet, here we are, faced with what seems like a limitless collection of choices and decisions to make, and the “Mom-Guilt” associated with any of these options.
This will be my 11th year teaching elementary school. For most of my career, I have worked with third and fourth grade students. The best and most rewarding part of teaching is building relationships with my students: hugging them when they are sad, high fives when they are excited, developing “inside jokes” that only our class laughs at, and crying at the end of the school year when they say, “Have a great summer, Mrs. Webb. I’ll miss you.” My greatest fear about the coming year is that I may not get to develop these friendships. How can I comfort an 8 year old when I must stay 6 feet away? How can I celebrate, guide, and support from behind a mask and a face shield? There will be so many things that I wish I could do for my students.
Additionally, there will be a constant, nagging fear of the unknown. It’s already started. What happens if I am exposed? What if my family gets sick? How would I care for a baby and a toddler while I’m sick, too? What if I don’t have childcare for my own children? As a mom, I am worried about preschool and the babysitter’s house. I’m worried about bringing the virus home. I don’t have the option to stay home, but I feel guilty because of the potential risks that I am placing on my family. My four year old misses his friends from school and needs this year to be prepared for kindergarten. He NEEDS to be away from me and learn to be confident that I will return every day. He needs to practice his social skills with peers. Always though, I am questioning if the risk is worth it.
In our school district, as with many in this area, parents of school-age children have to make a choice. They have to decide if they will send their child to school for face-to-face instruction, enroll in virtual school, or homeschool. We have all seen the memes. The same disgusted face for each option. The truth is none of the choices are perfect; they all have their challenges. Face-to-face school will NOT be back to normal. It will NOT bring the socialization that our kiddos desperately need. Teachers are having a tough time even coming up with ways to teach that are safe and within the protocol. On the other hand, virtual school is tough on students, their families, and teachers. It is generally fraught with technical issues, along with frustrated parents who don’t always have the time to support their young students. How can most parents balance the demands of a full-time job and being a virtual teaching assistant? Homeschooling is a totally different challenge because it requires the parent to become the teacher by providing instruction and guidance. This, of course, requires much more time and dedication. So what are we supposed to do?!
We need to work with our kids. Please teach your children to wash their hands properly. Please practice mask-wearing with your school-aged children starting now and slowly build up to longer increments of time. Personally, I have found that the more I wear my mask, the more comfortable I am with it. Make sure the mask fits properly; they are much more comfortable if they fit snuggly. Lastly, remember that your children reflect your attitude. Try your best to be positive and flexible, and give your child’s teacher some grace, especially if that teacher is you.
We need to say that our own choice, whichever that may be, is okay. It is okay to send your child to school. It is okay to keep them at home. It is okay to feel guilty, scared, relieved, hopeful, or whatever you are feeling. It is okay to be confused. We, as Moms, need to support each other, especially if our decisions are different. Every family is unique and has unique needs, and that’s okay!
Though this is a very challenging time for many of us, this is a temporary challenge. Lean on each other, consider being a wine fairy to a Mom (or Dad) in need, and we will get through this together.
Malinda Webb has been an elementary school educator for over 11 years in Northeast Ohio. She received her Master’s Degree in Education Administration from Kent State University in 2015 and her Bachelor’s Degree of Early Childhood Education in 2008 from Kent State University. She currently lives and teaches in Northeast Ohio with her husband, two young kids, and big dog, Sloopy.