Social Distancing & Teaching From Home
I’m not sure what’s happening with the world right now, but we’re only three and a half months into 2020 and it’s been something else. I sat down and really thought about all that’s taken place since we rang in this new year, this new decade, and realized it’s been a whole hell of a lot.
Australia was still burning from fires that began in September of 2019. The last of the fires weren’t contained until mid-February, but before that happened, China confirmed the Novel Coronavirus. The Taal volcano erupted and spewed a plume of ash 9.3 miles wide over Luzon, the largest and most populated island in the Philippines, and Megxit took place. Harry and Meghan dropped the His/Her Highness from their names and decided to give up their jobs as senior members of the royal family. The impeachment trial for President Trump began on January 22. Four days later, Kobe Bryant and his daughter lost their lives in a helicopter crash, and by the tenth of February, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Harvey Weinstein was found guilty and sentenced to twenty-three years for criminal sexual act and rape. Then came the week of March 8 which brought to us Daylight Savings Time, a full moon and Friday the 13th. The Academy and Grammy Award shows were tossed in there, and then there was a whole lot of snow and a leap year, too, not to mention the 5.7 magnitude earthquake Salt Lake City experienced just a few hours ago. Today is March 18, and much of the world has shut down. There’s no toilet paper or antibacterial wipes, and we’ve all been introduced to “social distancing”. Crazy. Scary. Unbelievable. This is only a partial list. The year 2020 sure has packed a lot into these past seventy-eight days.
I’m a novelist and I run my own editing company. I used to be super busy, out of the house all of the time, doing things with a lot of other people, but I work from home and have for many years, so the idea of social distancing isn’t a new one for me. What’s going on now, this low-level isolation that’s starting to take place, is much more extreme than what I’m used to, though, and very different for my kids.
I heard on Thursday of last week that my daughter’s college campus and my son’s high school were, like many schools all over the world, shutting down. At the time, both were saying they’d remain closed until March 30th, which was a two-week time frame. Things have changed over the weekend, and it looks like the social distancing thing will last a lot longer than that. Many businesses have figured out how to keep their employees at home while they work, and students are learning at home via online classes and assigned homework. Families are at home, spending more time together than they’re used to spending. I’ve been on Facebook, and even though we’re only on day three of the nationwide school closures, things are looking a little bleak.
I say this with a touch of humor. Not everyone is cut out to work or to do school from home. For most people, the routine of getting up, getting showered and dressed, eating breakfast and heading out the door at a certain time is deeply ingrained into their every day. It’s reliable. There is no second-guessing about the way things should proceed. Whether they’re in school or in a work environment, there are classes or meetings to attend. Lunch is usually at the same time. The afternoons are mapped out. That magical hour of escape from the daily grind rarely changes, and everything goes pretty much as planned. Not every day is perfect, but there’s a schedule, and that is comforting in its own way. When you work or do school from home, maintaining that schedule can sometimes be a little challenging.
As I mentioned, I work from home, but I was also a homeschool mom for fourteen years. Before my oldest, Maya, was born, the decision to teach at home had already been made, and by the time she was eighteen months old, I had a reading program and other curriculum picked out. There were several reasons I wanted to be a homeschool mom, but I can assure you, social distancing wasn’t one of them. As a matter of fact, our social calendar was packed to the gills. Scott, my youngest, was only about six months old when we began our homeschooling adventure. We were gifted with an amazing library system and participated in many activities such as storytime, reading programs and holiday parties. There were dance lessons, swim teams, gymnastics, yoga, bowling leagues, art and music lessons, playdates, trips to museums and the zoo … Unless we were in school, we weren’t home. The kids and I were social butterflies.
We also had a carefully structured schedule. I planned out our school day. I made sure we followed the rules for whichever state we were in at the time. (We moved a lot while the kids were growing up, which made homeschooling a very logical decision for our family.) We started at the same time each morning. We had a lunch break. We worked until the same time each afternoon. I had a curriculum for each child planned, and I made sure we finished it. They each went through standardized testing, and those tests were graded and recorded—no, not by me—and transcripts and portfolios were kept.
Throughout the years, we kept an open line of communication. “Is this still working for us?” “Is homeschooling still our best option?” “What other extra-curricular things need to be added? Taken away?” “Are you still happy?” “Am I still teaching as well as I could be?” We had a chance to evaluate the situation, and the kids knew they could change things up if they wanted to. Maya continually chose to be homeschooled and did so until her high school graduation. She studied for and took all the college entrance exams that were required, finished her senior year with a high GPA and had her plans for college in place by the time she graduated. Scotty took a different path. He wanted to try some things that I couldn’t provide him in a home environment, like NJROTC and advanced computer courses. He went to public school at the beginning of his freshman year, and that was the absolute best decision for him.
I’ll be honest … I’m a little envious of the parents who are helping their kids learn at home right now. My kids are almost twenty-one and seventeen. They’ve been on their own with homework for a long time. I’m asked to proofread—it would be ridiculous for them not to use the fact that I work as an editor to their advantage—but they don’t need my help. Even though they attend school, both of them do a lot of work online on a normal basis. They’re good. They’ve got this handled. I kind of wish they were younger, just so I could jump back into the homeschooling thing again, if only for a little while. I miss it terribly.
I’ve seen many memes in the past few days. This whole schooling at home isn’t easy … especially for parents who didn’t choose it. Things are in such a state of upheaval right now. It’s hard enough switching to a home office without adding a classroom at home on top of it. The memes are funny. I’ve smiled and laughed many times at things I’ve read posted by parents who are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the shift in their everyday lives. I’m not being mean, I swear. I feel you. I get it. It was totally different for me and my kids. I chose homeschooling. I had the time to plan, to organize. We stayed in the house to do book work, but we had the option to go and do whatever else we wanted to. We had that busy, hectic, wonderful social life. We could be in a group larger than ten people. Hell, we could touch our faces and didn’t have to worry about a global pandemic.
You might not know me, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve got this. You don’t have to plan your kids’ curriculum, you just have to help them with work their teachers have already assigned. Algebra sucks, but that’s what YouTube is for, right? Keep poking them. They’ll get their work done eventually. Trust me. As long as bandwidth holds out, you can totally do this. You can even do it in your pajamas.
This social distancing might go on for a while. Things are going to be canceled. Sports, prom, graduation ceremonies, travel plans … We may not be doing things together, but we’re in this together. Please stay safe. Celebrate the time you get to spend with your family. Hug each other. Eat good snacks together. There’s a lot more of 2020 left. I don’t know what’s in store for us, but we’ve got this. And please, keep posting those memes. Hand washing and humor will get us through.