No More School, Say it Isn’t So

As a parent and a teacher, this is a difficult time to navigate. It is hard for children to understand that they can’t just do whatever they want because school is out. There is learning to do, there are people to keep from getting sick, some people are sick and don’t know it, and we can’t just go through the drive-thru for lunch. 

The average family is experiencing a life they never imaged – job loss, needing to go to food banks to feed the kids, as well as worries about losing the family car and home. On the positive side, people are spending time with their families playing games, doing crafts, going outside and riding bikes, reading, baking, and learning new technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to stay in touch with friends and family. Thanks to Facebook Live and other platforms, churches are reaching more people than ever before. Many people are reading their Bibles everyday or just starting to explore the Bible.

This is a time to slow down and figure out what is important to you. Is it a job that keeps you working 14-hour days, 7 days a week or is it your spouse and kids? Is it a house and car you can’t really afford, so you have to work all those hours or is it living within your means, so you can spend more time with your family? Many of us and reevaluating our lives. 

And then there are teachers. We are happy to be spending time with our families, but many of us are trying to teach our own kids as well as our students. We are worrying if our students have enough food, if the student who was just placed in foster care is adjusting to their new family, if the student who is in an abusive home is being checked on by DCS, as well as are our students reading and practicing their math skills. 

So many schools across the country are like my state and are out for the rest of the year. Not being with my students the past few months as been relaxing, stressful, and surreal. Like many teachers, my heart is breaking. 

A Message to My Students:

I knew it was coming, but I had hope that it wouldn’t. As I sit here a bit numb and stunned, I am having a hard time processing that the school year is over and I won’t see you again. I keep thinking, “Is this really happening?”, “This is just a bad dream, right?”, and “Surely, I didn’t hear correctly.” We have spent the last three years going through middle school together. You aren’t just students to me, you are my kids. 

I told you on the first day of 6th grade that once you are in my class you are my kid. I told you on the first day of 7th grade, once you are in my class you are my kid. And to the few of you who never had me in 6th or 7thgrade, one the first day of 8th grade I told you once you are in my class you are one of my kids. You are my “daughters” and “sons.” I worry about you making poor choices, not having someone tell you that you are loved, that you won’t have enough food, and if you will have someone to listen to your questions and help guide you. 

I am grieving with you that we won’t have a track season, awards day, Honors Society ceremonies, 8th grade dance, yearbook signing, talent show, teacher/student basketball game, and one last day to tell you how proud I am of you and you are loved. This all seems surreal. I keep thinking this will all end, and we will have one more day together. 

One more day to hear, “Hey Mrs. Preston!” One more day to hear about your weekend. One more day to remind you to “live in the penthouse, not in the basement.” One more day to tell you corny jokes that you roll your eyes at. One more day to see your smiling faces. Just one more day with you is what I need. 

Homeschooling Tips

You may be fortunate enough to have your local school providing teacher lead on-line learning, so you aren’t having to homeschool on your own. But, if you are in a district like mine that is just releasing some packets and videos on-line or nothing at all, you may need some help. Here are my suggestions to help conquer homeschooling, and some resources I use in my classroom. 

1. Have a schedule

Children of any age need structure and to know what their day will look like. Our one daughter is in college and the twins are in middle school. We need a schedule for both, to make sure we are optimizing our internet connection. We have a copy of the schedule taped to the children’s bathroom door and one downstairs on the fireplace in the living room. This is the schedule in our house:

College – Online Classes

Monday –     Math@ 10:45-11:40

                        Poetry@ 11:50-12:45

Tuesday –      Math@ 10:45-11:40

Wednesday –   Math@ 10:45-11:40

                             Poetry@ 11:50-12:45

Thursday –     Math@ 10:45-11:40

Friday-           Math@ 10:45-11:40

                        Poetry@ 11:50-12:45

Middle School Schedule

9:00 – 10:00 = Get up; Get Breakfast

10:00 – 10:30 = Math Time (Delta Math Online – from their teachers)

10:45 – 11:15 = ELA 

11:30 – 12:00 = Social Studies 

12:05 – 12:45 = Lunch

1:00 – 1:30 = Science 

2. Have a defined learning space.

To have optimal internet connection and a quiet space, our older daughter is using our bedroom. She places her computer on the cedar chest and then sits on the floor. This is working well for her. She can close the door so she doesn’t disturb anyone or be interrupted. The twins and I have “school” in the living room. They can sit in a comfortable chair, the couch, or the floor.

(Side Note: In my 8th grade classroom, I have tables and chairs. I create a comfortable learning space for my students. Sitting at tables is more comfortable than desks, is more real life, and provides opportunities for collaboration. Students don’t have to sit up straight at a table the whole time. Figure out what works best for your child. Every child learns differently and needs a space that helps them learn.)

3. You don’t have to do school all day.

As you can see from our schedule, we have school in 30 minute increments. That is about the attention span of most students, depending on their age. Again, do what is best for your child. 

4. Give them brain breaks.

Students need time to rest their brains before them move on to the next subject, plus this gives them some processing time. You decide how long you want to give your children. I have 15 minutes between subjects, this gives them time to go to the bathroom, move to a different seat, get a quick snack, or just take a break. 

5. Incorporate Life Skills into Lessons

For example, one day this week we will use our math, reading, and science skills to plant a vegetable garden. The kids will determine how far apart and how deep the plants/seeds should be planted; the cost of the materials; and estimate the cost savings on groceries. For a family of five, my husband and I are hoping the garden will have a major impact on how much we spend on groceries each month. Plus, we will have our own organic vegetables. 

6. Look up your state standards, so you are teaching content your children have learned or will learn in school.

This may seem like an odd tip, but as a teacher it is important. For instance, in the state of Tennessee 6thgraders learn ancient World History, like ancient Greece and Roman; 7th graders learn about Midlevel World History, like the Norman invasion of England, Trans-Saharan trade route, and the Silk Road; and 8th graders learn U.S. History – Jamestown to Reconstruction. If your student would be learning about ancient China and the discovery of gun powered, you don’t want to potentially confuse them with the founding of Jamestown. 

(You can generally Google your state standards, which should send you to your State Department of Education.)

Finding Resources

You might be thinking, “I’m not a teacher and I don’t know where to find materials to teach my child.” I will let you know about a resource that most teachers use to find fun activities that are relevant. This website is where teachers share or sell materials they have created and used with their students. You can search by grade, subject, and cost. I normally just use free resources or pay no more than $5. 

Ted Ed is a great website with a YouTube channel, where you can find great videos on a variety of subjects. If you go through the website, you can find questions to ask after the video, as well as resources to dig deeper. This is a link to the general lesson page; you will need to search for the topic.

Many times, I will just go to YouTube to search for a video on the topic I’m teaching. I will do a search for the topic and add “for kids” to make sure I find appropriate materials. I highly suggest that you watch anything before showing it to your children. Crash Course is a YouTube channel I use in my classroom, but have to preview first for possible inappropriate language or subject matter. (I tend to be stricter on language than most.)

If you are teaching the American Revolution or the Civil War, the American Battlefield Trust has great resources. They have animated maps, 4-minutes in history videos, texts to read, and even Virtual Field Trips to battlefields. 

If you have read this entire post, you may be thinking, “I can do this!” Or “I can’t do this! She makes it seem simple because she is a teacher. I don’t know where to find state standards!” I understand finding standards might be difficult and not what you are interested in doing. 

If anything, I want you to know you can do this! Just take a breath and think about your children’s needs and your abilities. If you aren’t a math teacher, there are resources like Khan Academy for higher math or ask your child what they use for math at school. I tell my kids all the time, “I’m not a math teacher, but I will help you however I can or find someone who can help you.” Think about the people you know. Maybe there is a business owner who has had to close their business or someone who is working from home you could talk to about math. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – we tell our kids this all the time. 

At the very least, read books together and talk about what happened in the story, talk about paying bills and bank accounts, teach them to cook and bake, plant seeds, or clean the house together and talk about how the cleaners get rid of dirt and germs. You can teach all the subjects by teaching life skills. 

Know you are not alone in navigating this world of homeschooling, so give yourself some Grace – just like Jesus gives us Grace. 

Ramblings of a Teacher/Parent on Homeschooling During a Pandemic and Other Concerns

Many of us are struggling to keep learning going at home while schools are closed. Being a History/ELA teacher, I have an advantage over many, but when it comes to Math I’m at a loss. Thank goodness I have a Math teacher to ask questions. My school district isn’t doing teacher led on-line learning, instead they have posted resources for students to do on their own. I understand the struggles of not every student having access to the internet or a device, but as a teacher I know few, if any, of my students are using the resources of the school district.

The parents I know who are trying to keep their children’s brains active with something other than video games, are finding random websites and resources that have nothing to do with state standards. I wish our school district would offer guidance to parents on what topics are studied in which grade. If you have a 7thgrader and you know they studied the Renaissance or you know they will study U.S. History in 8th grade, you can find fun things to do that will support their academic classes. To help guide my students and their parents, I have provided resources that have to do with the content we have or will study. Many teachers have done the same, but random resources aren’t the same as direct teacher instruction. 

I know parents are doing the best they can. During this time of uncertainty, I’m trying to prepare my children for what will come next in their education. For the last three years I have taught 6th grade Social Studies, 7thgrade Social Studies, and now 8th grade U.S. History. So, I am trying to connect what my children have already learned this year in 7th grade, to what they will need to know for 8th grade next year. Overall, homeschooling has been going well. There are days they aren’t happy with me because I’m challenging them to go deep with their thinking, but I know it is what they need. 

I worry about my own kids losing Math skills. While I’m doing what I can, it isn’t the same as them being able to talk with their Math teacher. While I can text a Math teacher to ask questions, many parents don’t have that luxury. I know parents who are forging ahead with homeschooling, and others who will toss in the towel instead of having arguments with their kids. Teaching is hard. Teaching your own kids can be harder. By now you have seen at least one of the many memes on Facebook, Twitter, or another sites, about how parents are now realizing how valuable teachers are and teaching isn’t as easy as they thought.

While I am enjoying the time to rest and recharge, I am worried about my students. Being a teacher is more than a sharing of knowledge on a certain subject, but it is also being a supportive and loving adult in many students’ lives. I have students who are living in single parent homes that are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. I have students who never hear they are loved except at school. I have students who struggle with following rules and being kind to others, because these skills aren’t modeled at home. I have students who are in abusive homes, foster care, have a parent in jail, live with grandparents because mom and dad are drug addicts, as well as other scenarios that will break your heart. Being a teacher is emotionally and physically draining. 

I am glad that our school district is providing student with the meals they would have normally received at school. My school is a distribution site for these meals. On Mondays, students receive 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches. On Wednesday, they receive 3 breakfasts and 3 lunches. This past Monday (4/6), my school served meals to 676 children. We are the busiest site in our county. I have had the privilege to volunteer, with my fellow teachers, a few days to hand out meals. We have no more than 10 people volunteering and we try to stay 6 feet apart. We use gloves and change them often. I get excited and my heart warms when I get to serve one of my students! One of the teachers made a sign of what our principal says every day to our kids, “Remember, we love ya!”