This past week, our school counselor shared an image that resonated with me.
After doing some digging I finally was able to attribute the original to Damian Barr, an English writer, who had tweeted the sentiment in April, and written a poem to the same effect.
The poem itself is not directly related to teaching. It’s message is directed at building an awareness of the serious mental health issues that have the potential to arise from this global crisis. The sentiment and lessons that can be learned from it are important for us to remember as educators right now as well. No student, family, or teacher is experiencing the current situation in exactly the same way. While we have a responsibility to continue delivering curriculum, we also have a responsibility to look out for the social and emotional well being of our students, their families, and our colleagues.
Some Kids Like Boats…Others Don’t
As the poem says, for some students quarantine is optimal. They are perfectly happy to read a book all day on their own, or work through the math lesson at their own pace. They might be enjoying the break from the overwhelming social stimulus of school everyday. For some students, this is a time to thrive academically and emotionally. In the coming weeks as schools begin to think about how to open up, they will mourn the loss of their “me” time, and will take time to adjust.
For others, the loss of socialization and immediate feedback has left them with an empty hole in their life. There is only so much connection that can be felt over a Zoom call. Only so much affirmation from friends that can happen over WhatsApp and Hangouts. For these students, It has been a long, slow few months, and they can not wait to be back in the classroom with all the personal interaction and social drama that that entails.
All The Boats Have Different Captains (Or No Captains At All)
“My child finishes their school work before noon each day, he needs more!”
“We are overwhelmed by the amount of work that is expected to be completed. There is no way we can finish it, even when we sit with our child all day!”
“My husband and I both work, we can not be supervising and helping our child all day with his homework.”
“I sit with my child each morning to work through the math. It is a struggle, but I am able to support them.”
These are just a few of the things I have heard from parents over the last few weeks, and it shows that each family is experiencing online learning in a different way. The experience of a family with one child, and a parent who does not work is immensely different from that of a family with three children, where both parents are either required to be working from home, or are still going to work. This difference in home situation has added yet another level of differentiation that is needed for students to be able to grow and feel successful.
Over the weeks of eLearning, teachers in our school have come across children left home alone all day to complete their work themselves, parents who helicopter over their child all day, and parents who have outright said, “I pay a lot for this school, it is your job to keep my child engaged and on track, I won’t help them.” While the disparity of support that some children receive at home can be frustrating, we also need to be aware that each parent is coping in the best way they can, and rather than letting that frustration show, we need to be patient and supportive in helping them support their child.
Some Boats Are Nicer Than Others
As Barr said in his tweet, some of us are in super yachts, and some don’t even have enough oars. While most families that attend international schools are financially secure, this is not the case outside of international schools. Some students around the world are now stuck in a home where their basic needs can not be met. Even just accessing online learning can be a challenge for many. My friends back in Canada are talking about surveying students to find out who has reliable internet and will be able to access online learning. My sister-in-law who teaches in a special program for old order Mennonites prints out and mails course work to their homes each week so that they can continue with their studies.
Even if you are stuck on a super yacht, it still might not be a healthy environment. Experts have warned that domestic violence rates will increase due to the pandemic. Wikipedia has a page outlining the impacts of COVID-19 on domestic violence in 27 different countries. In some countries the rate has fallen, but officials fear this is because in lock-down, abusers are able to exert even more control over their victims. Evidence of child abuse is often identified by teachers who notice the tell-tale signs of abuse and raise red flags. With the reduced contact with teachers, these signs are harder to pick up.
Our Colleagues All Experience This Differently Too
It can be easy to get frustrated with a colleague when you are not meeting with them face to face. In person, conversations are clearer, timelines are quicker, and the warmth of a smile can make all the difference in getting along with your co-workers. Just as all our students have different experiences at home, so do our colleagues.
One colleague may live alone, and be struggling with isolation and loneliness. Another might be a parent, and is having to balance their own child’s schooling on top of their teaching responsibilities. The anxiety of a global pandemic will be more severe for someone who has pre-existing health concerns in their family. A new definition of their role and new skills that have had to be learned on the fly can also impact different people in different ways.
We are all in different boats.
Empathy and Compassion
Throughout the pandemic, it is so important that we don’t lose sight of the people we are working with, even though we can’t “see” them. Everyone has a story, a background, a big suitcase of baggage, that they are bringing to the situation, and we need to be aware.
We need to be gentle with students who might be having a hard time. We need to be empathetic to parents who are struggling with their new roles and responsibilities in their child’s life. We need to be kind to our colleagues, and remember that they may not be experiencing these times in exactly the same way that we are.
So check in with your students, and engage your class in more than just academics. Reach out to parents who might need help. Zoom with your colleagues on Friday afternoons to laugh and share stories. Most importantly, look after yourself, and remember that we might not all be in the same boat, but we can all see the storm raging, and if we see a boat sinking, we can be there to help.