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Dear Parents, From Your Child's Teacher

by Meg Knapik

Dear Parents,

Well, we are five weeks into remote learning. Those of us in Illinois recently got official word from the governor that we will not be returning to school this spring, which is the reality for so many states. Although we knew it was a possibility, the finality of this decision has been heartbreaking to hear. Our glimmer of hope has been extinguished, and now we know remote learning, which we all hoped would be temporary for a few weeks, is more permanent.

So has it become easier? Has remote teaching become easier for us educators? Has remote learning become easier for our students, your children? Has this arrangement become easier for you, as parents? Well...perhaps in some regards, but overall, no. This is still really, really hard.

As educators, many of us are working from home while also parenting our children, and the balancing act (or lack of balancing) is becoming exhausting. I know you feel us since many of you are working parents, too. While the immediate shock to our systems may have passed, we are now in the phase where we must come to terms with the fact that we are in this for the long haul, "a marathon and not a sprint" as some people say.

You, as parents, always want what is best for your children, and we, as educators, desperately want to provide what is best for our students. But how can we do that when we know what is best is face-to-face interaction, conversation, collaboration, and care? How can we do what is best when we cannot be with our students to respond to their individual needs in the moment, in person?

We want to make everyone happy. But the reality is each family has its own story of what is happening in their homes, and so everyone's vision of what they hope remote learning will look like is different. Some parents want more academic work; some parents want less. Some parents want more screen time on Zoom; some parents want less. We want you to be happy with how we are handling remote learning, parents, but do you know what we want even more? We want our students to be happy.

Like you, we are doing the best we can each day to adapt to our current reality. Of course we are providing some academic content since there is concern about the lost instructional time, but we are seeing with every passing day just how much the social-emotional well-being of our students matters. Yes, we always prioritize building relationships with our students, but never have these relationships with our students been more critical. To be honest, the vast majority of teachers do not care about the academics if we know our students are struggling with being happy, struggling with feeling safe, and struggling with life overall right now. This is an anxiety-inducing time for everyone, children included, and we cannot ignore that. It is because we want what is best for our students that we cannot ignore that. As a result, we may ease back on some of the academic rigor, or we may reassure you that some of the activities we share are optional. This is not because we do not care about educating your children; rather it is because we care so deeply about educating your children that we know their social-emotional health and well being must come first.

If you are a parent who wants more learning activities, we cannot emphasize enough that play is learning. The International Baccalaureate's Inquiry Through Play provides valuable research and insights as to why and how play is essential for learning with concrete ideas for how parents can support children in their play. For parents with more independent children, this is also the perfect time for your child to dive into a passion project.

If you are a parent who is feeling their child is overwhelmed, and heck, perhaps you are overwhelmed yourself, just take a step back. The most important thing is to first make sure your child is feeling your love during this time of uncertainty. Denaye Barahona, who is a clinical social worker and has a PhD in Child Development, hosts the Simple Families podcast. The podcast episodes provide helpful parenting advice which are now catered to our current reality with COVID-19. She reaffirms that the most critical thing right now is for parents to be present for their children; you are enough.

So dear parents, we know this is hard. We wish just as much as you do that we could be learning in person with your child at school. But since we cannot be, please know that we are all doing the best we can remotely. Take comfort in knowing that we are people who care deeply about your child, just like you, and we are constantly striving to do what is best for your child, just like you. Be kind to yourselves, and be kind to us. Share your respectful feedback—we do want to hear it—and always remember that we are on the same team supporting your child.

In the meantime, please give your child a big hug. You are your child's first and greatest teacher, and this is a unique moment in time when you get to embrace this amidst the chaos of our current reality.

Stay safe, and be well.

Your Child's Teacher

Thank you Math Specialist, Meg Knapik for allowing this beautiful piece to be included in the GEMS World Academy Chicago blog. You can find the original as well as the rest of Ms. Knapik's prolific writing on her blog, Learning, Leading and Growing: The Musings of a Life-Long Learner.  

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