Teachable Moments: Living, Educating, and Parenting During COVID-19

April 25, 2020

Dear Parents,

I am a parent and have been a teacher for 20 years. I see so many parents on social media that are so stressed about the pressures of remote learning. I am writing this to say,

STOP!

YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO THIS TO YOURSELF!

Teachers barely understand how to teach during a pandemic.

We have not been trained for this.

One day we were just told that we just had to teach remotely. There were no classes when we got our teacher certification on how to teach remotely during a pandemic with zero warning or preparation.

Nothing even close.

I have been struggling with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager and didn’t even have a label for it. Now that I am 46, I have accumulated a lot of strategies to deal with these feelings. So I feel like in a way, I am more prepared than many to live in a pandemic.

So, I am not stressed about my own children’s learning. This letter is about how and why I feel this way. I know everyone has a different situation. For example, my kids are 10 and 13 and have no difficulties with learning. What works for me will definitely not work the same for parents with younger children or children with attention difficulties. I am hoping my ideas, however, will give you your own ideas of ways you can let go and find some ease.

We have a schedule, but it is loose.

7:00 I get up, drink coffee, meditate and spend time by myself.

8:00 I wake up the kids. My son makes breakfast for himself and his sister. I sit with them while they are eating. They each light a candle with a match and we say these two gathas (Buddhist prayers).

As I consider the day before me
I offer a wish for all beings
May we find ease in the midst of all that is changing
Letting go, letting go, letting go

Earth, water, air and fire combine to make this meal
Numberless beings have died and labored that we may eat
May we be nourished, that we may nourish life

After that, we make a plan of sorts for the day. Mostly, I tell them what they need to do during work time. I also ask them what they feel like they need to do. We have 30 minutes of work time after breakfast. During work time they do tasks like this:

Clean and organize one shelf in your room.
Sweep the deck.
Organize the art cart.
Fold and put away laundry.
Clean the bathroom.
Make your bed.

They also know they need to practice piano and read for one hour each day. During breakfast, we talk about what would be a good time to practice piano when I will not be on zoom calls.

11:30–12:30 recess — They go out and play with each other in the yard. I have to confess they play with each other more in one day than I think they did in a month before the pandemic. I love this so, so much.

But it is not perfect.

They fight.

Just yesterday, I gave them a lecture about how they had to take turns doing each others’ ideas. I said that it was important not only to say yes, but to really try to have fun and if they still can’t have fun, to try to fake it and pretend that they were having fun. I said sometimes if you fake it, you can trick your brain and end up actually having fun.

12:30 My daughter makes lunch for the two of them.

4ish We go for a walk together

Usually, before or after our walk, my daughter and I do a workout video together.

6ish Dinner- My husband likes to cook and I don’t mind cleaning up so that works.

At dinner, we say our meal time gatha again. Then we have a gratitude practice where we all share what we are grateful for.

7:00 After dinner we watch a movie. We do this every single night. Before the pandemic, it was extremely rare for us to all watch a movie together. We would all try to compromise and find a movie that everyone wanted to watch. Usually, there would be fights and sometimes, I would get irritated and just give up. Now, we take turns picking a movie. The rule is that you are not allowed to complain about other people’s movie choice. It is so fun!

My son picks movies about guinea pigs in the FBI and dogs with super powers. My husband sometimes picks movies like The Lord of the Rings, which I, honestly, hate due to their casts which have 348 male characters of all shapes, sizes and ages and two female characters that are whispy, delicate, flowers. I won’t lie. I usually love my daughter’s choices- “Enchanted” and “A League of Their Own.” I tend to pick slower movies that take place in other countries (sometimes with subtitles) and documentaries.

The wonderful thing about it is that when you are watching a movie that you don’t love, you know that it will be your turn soon. We have learned to all respect, if not like, each other’s choices because we know how good it feels when it is our turn to choose.

I delegate.

I spend most of my day on zoom calls helping my own students and their families.

I have emailed my son’s teacher and told her that I am overwhelmed with my own job and that I am letting my son be pretty independent. I told her to let me know if he is not doing his work. I have only looked at his iPad a couple of times during distance learning. I do not go over what he needs to do. I, honestly, do not care if he misses some assignments.

The other day my daughter was very frustrated because she got some Math problems wrong. I told her the grade did not matter all that mattered was that she understood what she did wrong. I did not try to figure it out (which probably would have taken me an hour. Her Math has gotten quite advanced.) I told her to ask her teacher if they could google chat and go over it. I had to push her a bit to do this, but she did and it worked.

Also, if an assignment is too hard or confusing, don’t kill yourself over it. Just tell the teacher, “This is too hard.” Done. If the teacher really wants it to be done, he or she can call you and explain it. That is our job as teachers, to have clear instructions and work that kids can actually do.

I am teaching them about what is right in front of us.

In the teaching world there is something called a “teachable moment.” It is when someone brings something up that inspires a whole lesson or conversation that is typically more powerful than anything a teacher can plan.

Right now your child’s teacher is teaching from standards that were not made for a pandemic. My guess is they probably seem irrelevant to even the people who wrote them. Do we really care about the life cycle of a mealworm right now? Do not get stressed out about your child doing each task perfectly.

Teach them other things. You do not have to have an elaborate lesson plan to teach. You just need to start conversations and answer questions. You don’t need to know all the answers. You can look them up together. You can teach them about reliable sources and what the difference is between a fact and an opinion.

Teach them about the balance of power in this country and state rights. Teach them how it is the governor’s job to decide when it is safe to open things back up not the president’s. For that matter, teach them what a governor is and what a state is.

There is so much to learn about public health. They will remember that the same virus which causes no symptoms in one person can kill the next person. They will never forget the importance of washing their hands. They are learning more than we can begin to realize.

Tell them about the Congress and who your representative is. Tell them about how a congress that fights over everything came together during this time to help people and businesses stay afloat. Show them the check you receive from the government.

I ordered a ton of native plants yesterday. Science is not really my thing, but I want to study the science of my backyard with my kids. I want to learn the names of birds and watch butterflies. I want to create a yard that will help take care of the Earth and I want my kids to witness it.

I have a space of my own to recharge.

I am most hesitant to share this one, because I am afraid people will judge my marriage. But fuck that shit. I can decide what is good for myself and my marriage.

My husband and I have kind of sectioned off areas of our house to be our own. He works in our guest room and our family room. I work in our bedroom.

He likes to stay up late and sleep in. He used to fall asleep in front of the tv and then come to bed very late. I asked him to just start sleeping downstairs just until the lockdown is over. Now, I can get up and have my own space to meditate or look at my phone or whatever it is I want to do in the morning without worrying about disturbing him.

The longer we have been married the more I realize that marriage is not about following some predetermined list of what being in love means.

It is also not about being everything for that person or them being everything for you. For example, a few times during this pandemic, I have been upset about something and I have talked to my husband about it and it has been really helpful.

There have also been a few times when it has not been at all helpful. Maybe he did not know what to say or was not in the right space to hear my problems. In the past, I would have tried to force him to be helpful. But now, I just tell myself that I need to find someone or something else. I work out, meditate, call the Employee Assistance Hotline or call a friend.

Do not put undue pressure on your marriage. Your husband or wife is not meant to be your counselor, your co-worker, your best friend, your spiritual guide…. If something in your relationship is not working right now, try to find a way to let go of the expectation. Look for other sources to meet your needs.

I give my kids permission to feel their feelings, but keep my own boundaries.

Lately my mantra has been, “It’s okay to feel this.” It’s okay to be mad at your brother. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be happy even during a pandemic.

I also try to be okay with my own emotions and label them in front of my kids. I have read that it is so important for kids to see their parents feeling their feelings. It helps them understand that all kinds of feelings are just a normal part of life.

Yesterday, however, during our walk, my son started to fixate on how he did not want to get a shot when they found a vaccine. This went on for a very, very long time. I finally said, “It’s okay to be scared, but I don’t want to hear about it anymore.” Was there something better to say? Maybe. But my point here is that, yes, it is important to give our kids permission to feel their feelings, but no, we do not need to let them vomit those feelings all over our bodies for hours on end.

I take medication.

I have formed a lot of good habits over the years that have helped me live a better life. I exercise. I get fresh air. I meditate. I eat and sleep well. However, the single most life-changing thing I ever did was when I started taking anxiety medication. I have been on anxiety medication for most of my adult life. And basically, until this moment I am having right now writing this piece, it has been a secret and a source of shame for me.

Again, fuck that shit.

When I first went on medication I felt like I had some space in my brain to breathe for the very first time. It did not solve everything for me. It did not drug me into a peaceful abyss. It just made me able to function.

Everyone is having extreme emotions right now, but if you are feeling bad ALL THE TIME. Talk to your doctor. You do not need to live like this.

Well, I think that is all the advice I have to give, but I hope you found something in here that can bring some ease to your days. In Minnesota, we just found out on Thursday that kids would not be going back to school this year. We are grieving. We are overwhelmed. We are scared of not being enough. But, we are not alone.

Love,

Angie Cheslock Martin
M.A. in Teaching
20 years of teaching experience
mother of two kids

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