I am a wife, a mom, and a Christian. I am also a fifth grade teacher. And this particular fall has created a collision between all those roles. No mom or teacher could have guessed that the start of the 2020–2021 school year would look quite like this. And none of us are doing it the exact same way. In my family, for instance, my husband is working from home, and my three children are currently remote learning with the hopes of returning to a school building that I leave home and go to every day, by myself, to teach through Zoom. Complicated, right? Complicated, but not unique—because you’re probably doing something for the first time, too. You might be homeschooling for the first time, helping your children do online learning while you online work for the first time, sending your kids in a mask with the ever-important backup mask in their backpacks for the first time, or some combination of all of it.
With all these “first times,” most everything has been disrupted, and that includes the education of our children. In light of that disruption, here are four things that have helped our family get into at-home learning in our home. I hope they are helpful to you as well.
- Create the time and the work space. Most schools are providing specific schedules for learning. If you don’t have an umbrella school helping you with that, create a schedule that is best for the ages of your children, keeping most of your core curriculum in the morning when kids are at their best.
Create the space for learning, too. As a teacher during Zoom calls, I have seen kids cozied up in closets, sitting at dining tables, or set up in gaming chairs at a desk. The students that are most at ease are not the students with multiple screens and backup devices; instead the kids who are functioning best seem to have an environment in which they are sitting up straight, have good light, and have enough space to not only have their screen in front of them but also have paper in front of them to write on.
- Take the time to see your child. Connectivity. Bandwidth. Asynchronous. Synchronous. Skyward. Zoom. Seesaw. Schoology. Kami. Canvas. Blackboard. Google Classroom. Google Doc. Google Hangouts. Well, Google all the things. There are so many words that have been added to our vocabulary. While you are taking the time to learn all of these new terms and systems with and for your child, make sure you take the opportunity to actually see your child.
Is he excited to see his teachers? Is she scared that she may not be connected for her next class? Is he worried that he missed the assignment because he couldn’t hear the teacher? Is she worried to ask a question since the teacher said she couldn’t hear her last time? Or is your child making it all happen without any help at all? No matter the case, your child needs to be seen. As you see him or her, stop and say the things they need to hear: “I’m proud of you.” “I’m so glad you are my kid!” “I know it’s hard, but I love the way you are trying.” “I love the way you spoke up in your Zoom call today.” “Wow! How did you figure out how to use that? How incredible!”
There may also be times when you need to say the hard thing: “I know it is hard, but you need to try to log on again.” For kids a little older, they may need to hear, “If you still have questions, you will need to email your teacher.” All of these are things their teachers wish they could be saying on some level. But oh, how special that you get to be the one saying it for this short time.
- Make the time to come up for air. Zoom calls are exhausting. Add in all of the difficulties of learning new applications and having poor network connection, and you have some very tired kids in your house. It’s time for a deep breath. Whether that is in the middle of the day or after all the Zoom calls are done, there needs to be a break from screens. At our house, it is going for a jog, walking the dog, hanging out in the treehouse to read a book or playing pickleball in the driveway. No matter the outlet, make time to come up for air and get away from the screens for a while.
- Count the time. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NIV). I stopped keeping track of the number of days that have been impacted by COVID-19 several weeks ago because it was just too heartbreaking for me. But I don’t think that counting actual days was what the psalmist had in mind here. Instead there is another level of heart and depth that is timely for us in this new normal. Earlier in Psalm 90, we see the vivid contrast between God and humanity—God is eternal, and human beings are dust (vv. 2-3). In the days we are currently living, there is an unexpected comfort in His eternity and our fragility. I don’t hold the key to perfect educational models right now any more than I hold the key to ending the pandemic. But thankfully, I know who does hold that key, and I know who can truly number my days. So, I will ask the Lord to teach me to number my days.
Lord, teach me to know that this day is not forever. Teach me to count the time as a gift no matter the frustrations. Teach me to stop comparing my days to someone else’s. And teach me that the greatest education I can give my children is of Your eternity and their own fragility.
Jana Kelley is back in the classroom as a full-time educator. After spending twelve years as a stay-at-home mom, Jana seized the opportunity to teach at the beloved school that all three of her children attended. Jana lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, with her husband, Michael and their three children, Joshua, Andi, and Christian. They love to travel and be outside together.