Schools in New York City have been open to blended learning since September, and teachers are facing understaffing, rising covid-19s, disgruntled parents, and increasing height classes. There has never been a more stressful time to work in this profession – and as a former teacher of nearly 15 years, I can attest that even before covid-19, teaching in New York was beyond the challenge. . But every morning the soft voice of my daughter’s kindergarten teacher echoed through our computer speakers: “Hello, my friends!”
All summer long I tormented myself about my 5 year old daughter missing out on a real kindergarten experience in person. When deciding whether to send her to school or keep her at home, the choice was clear but not easy. My husband has health issues so we have to limit our exposure, and I knew that because he works nights he could be with her during the day. It was the safest and most stable choice. But the sadness of what is happening to students, teachers and parents around the world is heavy. Childhood is such a short time and it feels like our children are deprived of the normalcy we have always taken for granted. I knew Allie wouldn’t have the ability to reveal secrets to friends, to line up by height, to have that space she deserves to grow without her mom and dad nearby.
Even more surprising than the way Ms. G handles remote kindergarten: Allie isn’t the only one learning lessons here. Spending the past few weeks listening to the way my daughter’s kindergarten teacher talks and interacts with her during their live sessions has affected me in a different way than I imagined.
It made me a better mom.
So every morning, after feeding, dressing, cleaning and prepping her (she makes me style her hair into a perfect ponytail and slicked back and takes her time choosing a ‘chic’ outfit), I sit down. on the sofa nearby with a cup of coffee at the start of class. As Allie practices her letters, I practice watching the way Mrs. G talks to her and the rest of her classmates, with her silly tone of voice, plush owls “Echo” and “Baby Echo” “. It reminds me of how much a 5 year old deserves and loves to be treated.
After spending every waking minute with my children during the pandemic, bleeding day after day, we have become partners in survival. I had no idea that I only saw Allie as my daughter, someone whose needs I was responsible for, and that I didn’t see her clearly as her own person, a 5 year old among a dozen others. years. old children. How can I? The stress of this pandemic has been immense. But it was revealing how Allie reacted to someone taking time with her so carefully. Talk to him patiently, use silence as an opportunity for encouragement. “Keep trying, my friend!” Mrs. G will say if Allie gets stuck. Encourage her, even if she makes a mistake, by using a voice that is much more theatrical than mine. Be stupid in a way I wouldn’t: “Kiss your hand and put it on your head to give your brain some love!” Mrs. G will say, and Allie follows.
These little moments of excitement and positivity give my daughter something that I hold back, what she deserves.
I can tell in her body language, the way she stands up straight, the way her petite body settles into her office, that she feels completely engaged and seen. I watch his little fingers holding a pencil and trying to write a perfect E. She seems so small, so innocent in the mess of what’s going on in the world today, and it just moves my heart in a different way.
And even though Ms. G tells the children how “happy” she is every day, I am not naive enough to think that she is not struggling. Yes, I have experience as a stressed-out teacher, teaching in public high school for almost 15 years. But that’s nothing compared to what teachers are feeling right now. Kindergarten is hard enough to manage in person, let alone virtually. I know Ms. G. has to deal with a booming class size and disappointed parents, with long tech-related hours, nights pre-recording her lessons so students she doesn’t see live. can look at them for themselves. And then the actual teaching through a screen – in small and large groups – all day. Doing it all sounds incredibly hard and doing it right? It seems impossible. Yet here we are.
That in itself was another lesson for me. No matter what Mrs. G is going through, she maintains that space for Allie and her classmates. This space where she can be silly and laugh and give a 5 year old the environment he deserves.
My hope for this year was that Allie enjoys school, that she can learn. But there are lessons for all of us if we pay attention to what the teachers are doing. In my case, I found myself able to zoom out and see my child in a new way, to treat her with more care and tenderness, less like my daughter and more like who she is at heart. . I’m still far from perfect, pretty messy actually, and every night I’ve almost reverted to my old ways. I see a child who needs to be fed, needs a bath, needs to be loved. Sometimes her needs put me in full parenting mode and distract me from seeing her for who she is.
But then every morning, we wake up, we comb our hair, we brush our teeth. Mrs. G introduces herself, not just for Allie, but for both of us. “Hello friends!” her silly, singing voice rings out and brings us back somewhere else – or really, where we need to be.
Emily James is a writer in New York.