We Need To Talk About The Kids…
Updated: Jun 4, 2022
The title of this post is a statement that I have made more times than I care to count over the past two years. I have said these words to my own husband regarding our own children, of course; but I have also emphatically pleaded to have this conversation about your children as well. I have begged to talk about the future of ALL of our children regarding the toll that COVID has taken on both their education and their mental health. It‘s high time that I addressed the issue here as well.
When I started this little blog I never intended for it to be all about purchasing and rehabbing a home in a foreign country. I wanted it to be a place of inspiration where I addressed my own dreams and encouraged others to do the same. The reality is that taking a hard look at your life and deciding what dreams are worth fighting for is anything but rainbows and sunshine. In fact, it’s often the kind of gut-wrenching work that gets ugly and messy quickly. That said, I promised myself that I would be real and vulnerable and not sugar-coat my posts. With this in mind, it feels long overdue to address the educational conundrum that we currently find ourselves muddling through. Hence, the title: We Need to Talk About The Kids.
I have spoken these words countless times with friends, family, fellow teachers, parents of my students, principals, school administrators, counselors, pastors, and even my children's pediatrician. Basically, if there was so much as a remote chance that someone might listen, I expressed my apprehensions about the state of public education and the potential harm that was being done unto our children. (I know, I know… not the best way to make friends and influence people). I just couldn’t shake the idea that all of the segregation, isolation, and fear-mongering that we were forcing upon our kids was doing way more mental harm than good. Much to my dismay, time and time again, my concerns always seemed to be met with hesitation and inaction.
Don‘t get me wrong; I spoke with plenty of amazing, kind-hearted people who shared the same fears and troubles about the way kids were being treated throughout the course of the pandemic. Many of them were hard-working, dedicated professionals within the field of education who longed for a change for their children and students just as much as I did. When I tell you that I worked with an amazing staff of educators, I sincerely mean that. Unfortunately, it felt like no one was willing to actually DO anything to help bring about a change. If you’ve forgotten (or perhaps blocked from your mind) all of the trauma that the Coronavirus brought along with it, then you may be questioning why on earth I would be so upset. Well, dear reader, allow me to share with you just a brief glimpse of what working within and/or attending public schools looked like during the 2020 school year.
In my district, I taught what was called a “hybrid model” of learning. This meant that throughout the course of the school year, I saw half of my students on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Meanwhile, I was also responsible to provide online instruction on the days my students weren’t physically in-class while simultaneously teaching the other half of the class in-person. Fridays were for “Google Meets” and “virtual learning.”
This would have all been find and dandy if someone could have just cloned me, but alas I was still just one person trying to meet all of these requirements and somehow still find time to tend to my own family as well. Please pardon my sarcasm and instead hear my heart: I realize that so, SO many teachers across the nation were forced to teach the exact same way. In some cases they were expected to give even more than what my district required. I realize that my struggles that school year were not unique; and that’s a large part of what makes me so saddened by the whole situation. No teacher should ever have to work under such conditions. It was double if not triple the amount of work for the same amount of pay.
While the workload was tremendous, it wasn’t even close to being the worst part of my year. What still affects me to this day is all of the arbitrary “rules” that I was required to enforce. Rules like wearing masks while trying to teach in English to Spanish-speaking students; not allowing students to sit together or share any supplies within my classroom; limiting my time with a group of students to fifteen minutes or less; requiring children to put up dividers in order to eat a snack or take a drink of water; sending students home for weeks at a time because they “maybe, possibly, could have potentially” been exposed to someone with the virus; the list went on and on! I felt strongly that these new expectations were not in the best interest of our children.
I wish I could paint a better picture with my words to accurately portray what those days looked like within our little school. I am still trying to process the fact that I spent nearly an entire year walking my second graders outside to “recess” only to tell them that they could look at the playground equipment but they were not allowed to play on it. Wait. What?! WHY?! I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to how allowing them to play for 15 minutes each day on outdoor playground equipment would have increased their risk of contracting COVID-19 (trust me when I say we were ALL washing our hands when we came back inside). These sweet, innocent kids were expected to entertain themselves each day on a small square of concrete with nothing more than a bag of jump ropes and balls. Furthermore, they weren’t allowed to play with their friends from other classrooms also for fear of spreading the virus. In fact, despite the end of COVID tracing protocol, my eleven year old daughter is STILL, to this day, not allowed to play with anyone outside of her immediate classroom during recess.
As awful as all of this is, one recurring incident takes precedence in my mind: Every day for two months straight I had the same seven year old little girl hold onto my leg and cry because she just wanted to swing and use the playground equipment. I can still hear her little voice pleading with me “Please, Mrs. B, can’t you just let me go on the swings, just this ONE time?!” I can’t explain how devastating it was the day that she finally stopped asking. I had slowly watched her spirit break, little by little, each day until she finally gave up.
It’s impossible for me to really know the mental toll caused by all of these unnecessary rules placed upon our children because I am no longer a child. I can, however, tell you about the mental toll that it took on this full-grown adult. It sucked all of the joy out of a job I once loved; it made me question the motives of my administration; it took a self-proclaimed rule-following, “type-A” personality and turned me into a “rebel” within my field; and little by little, day after day, it eventually broke my spirit, too.
I became tired of always feeling like “the squeaky wheel“ because speaking up for our children never resulted in any change. By the end of that school year I was forced to take a long, hard look at what was really being taught in our so-called “family friendly” public schools. How could the school I worked for still be deemed “family friendly” when my husband wasn’t even allowed within the building (while wearing a mask) to drop off a coffee mid-day? How could we still consider ourselves “family friendly” when parents were no longer allowed to have lunch with their children and no family whatsoever was allowed to volunteer within the building? Despite the fact that the school I taught at was a proud “Leader in Me” school, no one seemed to want to listen to the students and the teachers that were actually trying to use their voices to be leaders for change.
Ultimately, When I made the decision to return to teaching in the fall of 2021, I did so with the hope that things would ”return to normal.” The mask mandate had been lifted and I went back to teaching. I did so, however, having made a promise to myself and my family that if the mask requirements were reinstated, then I would quit my job and we would look into other schooling options for the kids.
Sadly, those mask requirements resurfaced and my percentage of low level ESL students (a population that I feel passionately about and dearly loved teaching) had increased significantly from the year before. How was I supposed to teach my students to speak English with our mouths covered? How was I supposed to tell my asthmatic son that he would have to start covering his face and struggle with his breathing again each day? All of this and SO, SO much more led me to make good on that promise that I had made to myself and my family. Despite negative response from many co-workers and friends, I resigned mid-year from a profession that I not only loved, but a profession I once considered my calling.
Unfortunately, my resignation doesn’t solve the educational dilemma for our children, who are still attending public school as I type. The sum of these events has brought our family to the crossroads at which we stand today. This school year is finally coming to a close and we need to make a decision regarding their schooling for next year. Once again, I find myself saying “We need to talk about the kids,” but this time, my husband and I have chosen to be the ones who have the final say in their education.
I mentioned in a previous post that our children are on a waitlist for a private, Christian school in our area. It’s a quality, faith-based school called Elkhart Christian Academy (ECA) that was started many years ago by the Baptist church that we attend. While I do not expect any school to be perfect, having our children attend this school would provide them with the Bible-based education that I desire as well as provide opportunities for real, authentic social interaction and friendships that my daughter has been longing for all year.
Equally important to us is their ability to educate their students independently and Biblically as they see fit. I love that they aren’t following any political agendas in order to receive state funding. Throughout the pandemic, I really admired the way that the administration at ECA strived to put the best interest of their students first and foremost; while still being mindful of the Coronavirus and the world in which we live.
Last week we had a family interview with the school and our whole family felt like it went really well. Initially, my husband and I decided that if the kids were both accepted into the private school then we would consider it a sign that it was “meant to be,” and we would put our plans of spending the winters in Belize on hold. The more I have prayed about it, however, the more I feel like waiting for those acceptance letters is a convenient excuse to not have to make a hard, messy decision myself.
If I’m really honest, I keep wondering if I might be letting my own self-doubt get in the way of experiencing an incredible opportunity to build amazing relationships and make lifelong memories with my kids; All while using the talents the Lord has blessed me with as well as the degree that I worked so hard to attain. Why then is it so difficult for me to make this decision?
When I combine this deep inner pondering with my desire to be a good steward of our finances, the choice to homeschool seems obvious. I have always been grateful for my husband’s hard work and dedication to our family. He is an excellent financial provider and I have no doubt in his ability to pay for private schooling. Still, I find myself questioning whether or not it’s the BEST financial choice for us. That money could easily be put toward our kids’ college funds instead.
Finally, unlike years past, we find ourselves striving less as a family to worry about societal expectations and more about being mindful of our hopes and dreams; as well as the dreams and aspirations of our children. We want our kids to enjoy learning again. We want them to experience other cultures and ways of life. We certainly want to provide them with as much opportunity as possible. And while we want them to appreciate all of the freedoms we have in America, we also want them to understand that other ways of life are worthwhile as well. My husband especially wants to feel like any “agendas“ that are being pushed upon our children are of a Biblical nature rather than political. Last but not least, we really want to place an emphasis on memories over materialism.
When you combine all of these desires with our longing for a flexible schedule that enables us to spend time together in Belize, the answer seems obvious. Yet one major hurdle seems to stand in my way: When I think of all of the dreams I have ever managed to conjure up, not a single one ever included homeschooling. So, what’s a girl to do?
As I said, I‘ve been praying about it A LOT. Yesterday I finally mustered up the courage to type up formal ”un-enrollment” letters for both of my children. The letters requested that our kids be removed from their schools’ rosters for the fall. These letters also gave the schools thirty days notice to mail all of my children's school records to our home. Finally, within each letter… I stated my intent to homeschool them next year. It was a BIG step for me on this journey toward creating a life we love and don’t need a “vacation“ from.
Truthfully though, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to stay the course and follow through; especially if I find out that both of my kids have a spot in that private school next year… talk about making a tough decision even more difficult! It all feels pretty overwhelming at the moment.
And what about you? If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this long post, I would absolutely love to hear about a time that you did something completely out of your comfort zone. What helped you to stick it out and make the most of a challenging situation? Are you grateful that you took a risk? In what ways did you grow and how did it all work out? Maybe you’re contemplating making a big change in your life or taking what feels like a big leap of faith right now…I’d love for you to tell me all about that, too! It’s often been said that the only chances we truly regret in life are the ones that we don’t take. I sure hope that saying proves to be true!