Parents Need Compassion As Much As Lesson Plans: We Can Do This!

Well. The first day of Phase 2 of remote learning—which means required and structured online study—was a learning experience. Who taught me the most, though? My students' parents: better teachers than they realized. Hear me out.

Order and cleanliness are next to godliness.
That's what I hear, anyway.
Here's how it worked at our house, Casa Del Soul: The kindergartner thinks he's the principal, the writing teacher walked out after five minutes, and the art teacher stepped in to cover the classroom—and it turns out the art teacher is kind of a b!$#$.  Meanwhile, the school is a little short staffed, so today's teacher was also working as the actual principal, the principal’s administrative assistant, the cafeteria manager, the front desk receptionist, the specialist (all of them), the custodian, the school accountant, and the copy machine repair guy. By end of day, it appeared that the other teacher at the school was the one most deserving of a raise. Doubling as the groundskeeper, he was outside busting his #$# working on important, prearranged physical plant issues to make sure the crick don't rise and the dog stays in. Because the dog barks almost as much as the kindergartner talks, and that's a lot. A lot. A LOT A LOT. Soon, the school psychologist will be the busiest of them all, but that's only if we don't wise up. And here's how we can wise up:

Chill. Breathe. And don't worry.

Listen:

Monday, the day before Phase 2 began, I sent out a lengthy email to my band families. (Brevity is not my strong suit.) In it, I detailed the first week's assignment, a link to my Google classroom, and links to my social media accounts. It was long, and I think I used the word "required work" twice in the first paragraph. I may have also used ALL CAPS and 50 of these !!!!!!!!!!! to show that THIS IS VERY VERY VERY VERY SERIOUS, PEOPLE. Because I was following the "very serious and required" vibe of one of my principals. (Ok, ok, I did not use any exclamation points or caps.)

You know what the first message I got back was? From a single mom who is working full time managing a doctor's office while We'll-Call-Him-Jeffrey, her nine-year-old kid, is home alone all day. And you know who this kid is? Only the one who seemed to be having the most behavioral issues the last week before this all started. A young kid who I think had just recently moved here from a tough town. A lovely lovely little guy who I love to see every week, but who is struggling. NO! I can't lose that boy. And that boy can't lose music. I was heartbroken. But the mom said she just can't add one more thing to his plate. She's already struggling with everything else, and she just can't fight with him over a tuba, too. Boy, do I get it. I told her so, with much regretful language, and I reminded her that she's a super hero. And I meant it.

Then I talked to a colleague about this. We together acknowledged how much pressure parents are under, and where learning an instrument sits in the pile of things to worry about. And many of us teachers are parents too. We get it. Still sad about Jeffrey, I went out and raked the yard, and I kept thinking. And I thought about this mom, and my heart broke even more until I realized what was going on. I put down the rake and rushed back in to craft the following email to parents.

To: All band parents
From: Mrs. Lindsay
Re: Quick Note from Mrs. Lindsay, Parent to Parent

Hi families, I am thinking about all the pressure we are under as parents, and how hard it is for us to just get through the day, never mind keep our kids educated — especially when that’s not the job we signed up for… and how we will meanwhile manage the jobs we actually DO have — if we are fortunate enough to still have one.  I have kids too, and I know it’s not easy keeping them going at home. 

Just a note to say that all I really hope for from the kids is that they keep on playing their instruments and are having fun with it. No pressure! I’m grading pass/fail because the state mandates that we do - but any effort at all is a pass from me. 

Keep it up and know that I am on your side! I love sharing music with your kids, and I know that a home with music is a more joyful place.

Stay healthy, breathe deep, and keep moving forward.

Mrs. Lindsay

You know what? In all my years of teaching (which is only four), I've never received such a response from parents, never mind such an outpouring of gratitude. Many, many moms wrote back to say thank you, proving to me what parents really need right now.  It's not lesson plans, homeschool advice, schedules, structure, or "normalcy"—though all of these things are important. What parents need is what we all need: grace, kindness, love, and understanding, topped off with a giant helping of realistic expectations. And many, many teachers and principals get this—it's not just me.

After the email above, Jeffrey's mom wrote back to me again. She said she had thought it through. "After speaking with you and just reading your latest email, I've decided to ensure that Jeffrey completes his band work assignments. I've always taught him that we must finish what we begin despite challenges. This shouldn't be any different. Thank for your considerations in the last email--- I think that it was just less overwhelming to see the compassion." With a mom like that, that boy will thrive, in whatever form thriving takes for him.

Compassion. Kindness. Grace. And love. That's what we need. A big thank you to Jeffrey's mom for reminding me of this. That makes her a teacher too.

Deep breaths. We can do this!

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