I almost became a teacher—homeschooling my kids now proves I was right not to
In what feels like a lifetime ago—the Before Times, as I now call it—I wanted to be a teacher. After I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, I applied for and was accepted into a post-baccalaureate teaching program at Western Washington University. As part of my practicum, I taught part-time at a middle school on a reservation outside of Bellingham, WA. It took a grand total of three months—of fake lesson planning, post-grad college classes, and time in a real classroom with students who had very real needs that often were not met by an underfunded education system—to realize that teaching was not for me.
But here I am, a mother of two living in Brooklyn, NY, the epicenter of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States, facilitating my 5-year-old’s at-home learning as his de-facto, fill-in teacher. Like a reported 9 out of 10 children who are no longer attending school worldwide, my son is slowly but surely learning how to adjust to Zoom and Google Hangout read-alongs, online gym classes, YouTube tutorials, and viewing his mom as his main educator. Like many parents who are lucky enough to maintain employment during a public health crisis that has resulted in 22 million lost jobs in a month’s time, I’m left balancing e-learning, caring for my 1-year-old, and maintaining our 700-square-footapartment, all while working from home.
And, rest assured, I’m exhausted.
It feels selfish and wrong to complain about homeschooling my child during this pandemic. In so many respects, I am incredibly lucky. At a time when incidents of domestic violence are increasing worldwide as a result of stay-at-home orders issued to diminish the spread of the coronavirus, my sons are safe; their home is a loving, healthy environment. Although I will be tasked with facilitating his e-learning for the remainder of the school year, my son is not one of the 114,000 homeless children in New York Citywho relied on schools to provide them with shelter, food, and clothing. My kids won’t have to worry where their next meal will come from or how they’ll find clean clothes. But when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s public schools would remain closed for the remainder of the school year, I calmly walked into my bathroom, locked the door, and wept for a solid five minutes while my children stared at our family’s Nintendo Switch—one of my only sources of reprieve.
Homeschooling my child has been a test of my patience at a time when it’s being tested in a variety of ways.
My children want to go play at the playground a block away. They can’t. My sons want to run in Prospect Park. They can’t. My 5-year-old has cried, frequently, because he doesn’t like learning at home and misses his friends, his teacher, and his teacher’s service dog, Miss Millie, who the children were allowed to pet on Fridays when Millie’s “work vest” was removed.
But I can’t give my children the chance to do those things. Their sense of normalcy, primarily my older son’s, has vanished. So I grow frustrated as the days go by that I cannot accommodate my child’s needs and wants; I can only urge him to finish that one worksheet on The Giving Tree so that I can take a picture of it, send it to my email, then submit it via Google Classroom so that the NYC Department of Education counts him “present” on school days.
When we were staring the potential of homeschooling in the face, I purchased a wall calendar to help give structure to my son’s “school” days. Mirroring his schedule from his actual public school, I wrote out what he can expect to accomplish Monday through Friday: “gym” in the morning—i.e. a quick YouTube workout—phonics, Spanish, math, etc. I left time on the schedule for lunch and recess, which he usually spends playing (read: getting frustrating with) his younger brother. We bought a printer so I would no longer have to re-create online worksheets by hand. I even purchased additional workbooks. I laughed at the suggestion that I should designate a specific area in our home as his “school spot”—an impossibility in such a tiny apartment that’s already overrun with children’s toys, books, and clothes.
But we usually deviate from that ideal schedule by 10:00 a.m. In the Before Times, school drop-off was at 8:20 a.m., sharp. Now—andespecially if I’m on deadline with other assignments and cannot devote all of my attention to my son’s social studies homework—8:20 a.m is “please stop taking toys away from your brother and please focus on this virtual Spanish assignment” time, because if you think my children don’t wake up at 5:30 a.m., come hell or high quarantine, you’d be wrong.
Recess results in the destruction of my living room, so “pick up toys” time bleeds into what should have been sight word practice. The non-stop sirens in the background, my younger son, and the temptation of the ever-present television all distract my 5-year-old on a regular basis. I recall his teacher saying that he’s a “busy body” who often has trouble focusing and, well, now I know it to be undeniably true.
Every day, I am left with the realization that I cannot teach my son as well as his teacher—a trained professional—could. I quit that post-baccalaureate teaching program because I knew, deep down, that eventually I would fail my future students. Now, I am failing my son.
And while it’s difficult to admit that I cannot be everything he needs at this moment—a mom, a kindergarten teacher, a gym teacher, a Spanish teacher, and an art teacher—I find some comfort in the knowledge that, in the end, I shouldn’t have to be.
I was never going to be a good teacher; I learned that what feels like a lifetime ago. And I’m definitely not a good teacher now. But that’s okay, because as I continue to provide for and keep my family safe—in the middle of a historic, global crisis with no end in sight—I can say, at the very least, that I am a good mother. Not the “I can do it all” mother. Not the “here’s another sensory activity, kids” mother. But an “alright, we’re going to do our best and call it a day” mom, who refuses to stress out herself and her has-difficulty-focusing 5-year-old in order to adhere to a kindergarten curriculum that, right now, should be tailored to fit the needs of students. My son needs his mom more than he needs to finish an art project that’ll probably end up being overdue, and I’m perfectly happy just being Mom.