With five kids — four of whom go to school ranging from 10th grade to kindergarten during the 2019-2020 school year — to say this year was an adventure would be an understatement.
What started out as another year of lunch money, school drop offs and pick ups, field trips, homework and new friends, ended up a distance learning mess.
Now, I want to clarify: The distance learning mess I am talking about is the one created within my own home, for which I will take the majority of the blame for.
Thinking back to the moment I heard about distance learning and the overwhelming feeling I got just thinking about taking on the role of the primary education enforcer of four school-age children makes me almost nauseated. Taking on the role of a teacher, a school resource officer, the gym teacher, librarian, and all of the other courses I needed to brush up on skills in to best support all of my distance learners was something I definitely wasn’t prepared for.
Day one, two and three of distance learning took me approximately 10 hours each to complete. Between going through kindergarten and second grade plans and slides, trying to do every little project to its fullest with the littles (Savannah in second grade and Linkon, kindergarten), as well as assisting with a bit of seventh grade math — you do use algebra in life by the way, but only when you are helping your kids to do their math — and even attempting to comprehend enough second-year Spanish to help my 10th grader, the experience was absolutely atrocious.
I went to bed in tears many nights trying to figure out how I was going to balance my workload, my household duties, my mom and wife duties, along with the new distance learning duties thrown at me. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.
By week two, maybe three, I decided the fights weren’t worth it, the tears on both sides of the table weren’t helping anyone, and staring at a computer screen for hours on end with elementary age students wasn’t something that worked for us. It was then that life changed.
I began to realize that it was the conversations and live chat with their friends every day that the littles enjoyed, so we did that every chance we got, but some of the other stuff we totally dropped and improvised.
Instead of having the littles listen to books be read to them on the computer screen and do the projects associated with them, I spent more time reading to them myself and talking about the stories we read and the lessons they taught within them. We went outdoors together and counted bugs, creating our own math problems: If there are four worms and a bird swoops down and eats two of them, how many are left?
I decided that the struggle of trying to be perfect and comply 100 percent to the expectations of distance learning wasn’t working for us, and when I did everything changed.
Allowing the littles the opportunity to sleep in, to have snack time when they wanted, to play outside instead of doing their math sheet for the day, and even allowing some Minecraft or zombie shooting during the middle of the school day worked for us, so that’s what we did.
For the big kids, (Brennan in 10th grade and Mikayla, seventh) it was a bit more complicated, and the school day needed to be more structured. I relied on them to be responsible, to know their due dates and to complete their work on time and of good quality.
Well, more times than I can count, the ball got dropped and we ended up with a bit of a mess. A few missing assignments and some poor effort caused less than perfect grades, and the need for communication with teachers.
I tell you what, I may or may not have done more seventh and 10th grade homework during distance learning than when I was in school myself. Mind you, I assisted with most of the homework, I didn’t do it all by myself, with the exception of maybe a couple fun assignments I found intriguing (shh, don’t tell their teachers).
In the midst of the mess, or chaos I suppose you could call it, I found fun and we made memories.
With Brennan came Spanish class, and with Spanish class came a project, one which required a bit of cooking. Well, for some reason I thought queso dip and chips could pass as a Spanish dish — a friend from work corrected me — but we went with it, and banana empanadas, anyways.
Now, would I ever make homemade chips, queso dip and banana empandas with my 10th grader without a grade riding on it? Probably not. I can tell you that experience was not only one full of memories neither of us will soon forget, but it’s one we continue on, because occasionally we get a craving for fresh chips and we cook them all over again.
Would I have spent so much time trying to do challenge math questions with my seventh grader and refreshing my knowledge of history just to make sure I could check her answers before she turned them in? Probably not. I also wouldn’t have been able to watch her live chat with teachers and show her interest in class, and her dedication to staying organized and on top of homework.
Now that the school year has ended, and tears over missing out on events, concerts and last day traditions have dried up, I look back and see the mess, the things we could’ve done differently and realize we did well. We made memories, we broke traditions and made new ones, and we worked together to get through the end of the year.
My appreciation for my children’s teachers has grown, the respect I have for those in the positions which require the hard decisions to be made to ensure the safety of my children has increased, and the value of education and having the support system that comes along with public schooling is one I’ve come to miss.
No matter what the next school year brings, we will get through it; we will make memories and learn new things while keeping in mind that education is flexible, it’s important and it’s something we can work on together.
A huge shout-out to everyone that had a hand in making distance learning an option for our children, as well as all of the educators who, like us, were thrown into the unknown and came out the other side stronger than ever.
I look forward to the day it’s safe for our children to return to school and spend time with friends and find the new normal in education, but until then we plan on fully enjoying this summer, because we’ve all earned a nice break!