being me

This Is All We’ve Got

Our youngest daughter has just slammed her door for the fifth time this morning. At least, I think it’s the fifth, I’m not sure by now. Wedged in between her epic door slams have been big statements. “I hate school!” “I don’t want to do this!” “Why do we have to ever learn anything?!” She comes back out every few minutes, tries to sneak her school issued computer into her room so she can go on it. We stop her, ask her gently to try again, she does, and then throws another fit. We have yet to get through her teacher’s 42 second morning message. Perhaps another break is needed? Perhaps let’s try something else?

Our other daughter isn’t far behind. “I hate Spanish!” “I want to go back to school!” “I don’t get this…” but instead of slamming her door, she slams her computer, slinks off the chair, buries her head. Goes into her room to listen to music. Then comes back out and asks to try again. The minute the words pop up, she is trying hard to hold it together, but soon the frustration takes over again. “I can’t do this!” Slam the computer, run into her room. Rinse, repeat.

Our son is happily clicking through as fast as he can, not really reading what he is supposed to do at times, sometimes pausing for just a moment and recognizing what he needs to do. We are trying to slow him down. Trying to have him reread directions, actually watch the videos, slow down, do it right, stop clicking random things. Did you actually do it or did you just submit? How do you unsubmit? Oh you can’t, ok, well then that’s what your teacher will see. He says he is done within 15 minutes. He is not. We try again. One-on-one support to see if that makes a difference.

Our oldest is 5th-grade independent, holed up in her bedroom where she is hopefully doing her school work in between Youtube, zoom hangouts with friends and lots and lots of tutorials on stuff she hopes to do every day. She sends emails to her siblings throughout, “Hi!” they say with lots of emojis. She comes up once in a while. We ask her to check her work, she shows us, doesn’t want our help. Tells us she’s got this in that way that 5th graders do (I love 5th graders) and goes back to her room.

My husband? Trying to help us all as he finishes his last semester college classes virtually, helping us take deep breaths. Helping us start again. Mediating when it is needed and pulling from his infinite source of calm, he helps us all while trying to do his own work.

And me? I am on my 3rd cup of tea, trying to be present for my own students, answering their emails, planning lessons, reaching out, meeting virtually with colleagues while sitting next to whichever child wants my help. Trying to come up with activity ideas that will sneak learning in without them even knowing it. Taking a deep breath when needed and trying again.

So you could say that this whole emergency remote teaching homeschool online learning business we have been in for the past week is going great.

And so we take the breaks.

We offer choice.

We give snacks.

We step away.

We come back.

We try again.

We limit when we need to.

We direct when we can.

We try again, and again, and again, and again.

And we hope that perhaps this next time we try again, the result will be different. And if not, then we will try again.

Because here’s the thing. This is not because of what they are being asked to do. Their incredible teachers have created age-appropriate, fun-filled, choice-based mini activities for them to do. They have broken it down, recorded videos, given them hands-on learning, checked in with them as much as possible. They are standing at the ready, eager to answer questions, offer help, tuned into the needs of each child and telling us to do the best we can.

And it’s not because my kids are hungry. Or don’t have a safe place to stay. Or have a lot of insecurity in their lives. They are luckier than most, more privileged than many. They have what they need yet it is not enough because we cannot provide them with the one thing they so eagerly long for; normalcy. Despite having everything we need, my kids still feel the world as acutely as we, adults, do. They long for the every day, for the back to school normal, and when they fail to find the words to tell us, they show us instead.

When I speak to the caregivers of my own students, I keep sharing that it is difficult at my house as well, that I trust them to do the best they can even if it means not doing the work. That they know their child best and I trust their decisions. That right now, learning might not look like what we would like it to, and that’s okay. We will figure it out, because we always do.

It has to be okay because this is all we’ve got.

So I write this not for pity or for ideas (we’ve got plenty) but rather to share what it looks like here. In a house that should be fine but is decidedly not at times. In a home that has two teachers present, kids who are generally decent at school despite their specific learning difficulties. In a home where we have the tools to make learning accessible and interactive. This is not homeschooling. This is not remote learning. This is not online school. This is recognizing that we will all do the best we can and that sometimes that means we don’t do the school work. Sometimes that means that we take a break and we try again when we can.

As I write this, our youngest daughter just yelled out “I already know this, ugghhhhh!” as loud as she can. I told her to try it any way to show me. She has a lot of work still to try. So we sit down together, I grab another cup of tea, brace myself for the next outburst and find my calm.

Later, we will shut all of our computers off and go read a book. Ask our kids to go play. Take a break, clean their rooms, perhaps go outside if they bundle up. We will keep learning somehow.

And for now, that will be good enough.

16 thoughts on “This Is All We’ve Got”

  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for sharing this! Thank you for your honesty, for good enough, and all we’ve got! What you are writing is so very important!!!!!

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    Janelle Johnson
    Grade 3 Teacher in Minnesota

  2. Hi Pernille, I hope you are feeling better? Thank you for putting into words the reality of online “learning”. It’s not great. I’m not far from you – let me know if I can help in any way at all.

  3. You are doing a service for others. Sorry about all of this very everyone. The powers that be need to understand reality. I always said when I was still teaching full time that it was easier to being the classroom teacher of 24 than the parent of 1. Home was his castle. School was school and over by 3:15. Maybe homework, maybe not. He never seemed to stress on it and he was leading the same kind of life as your kids…..independent and successful. But I repeat HOME was HIS castle and he learned what he was interested in on his own. When I was teaching in the 70s a new strategy came out kind of like a hand-sister to individualized learning. It was called Diagnostic-Prescriptive teaching and learning. We were urged to figure out what our kids know and then go from there. (Kind of Vygotskian I think.) That way we would pre-test and then post-test. And focus on the individual child (5th grade for me back then). I was able to make it work. Parents are doing (and kids, too) what i have called for years “in one ear, out the other” education, if you can call it that. There is teaching, there is presenting, there is learning, there is motivation, there is attention and there is achievement. The entire move to this online schoolwork fast-tracking is going to have ramifications which are hopefully only short term. HONEST reporting like this, Pernille, is VITAL. So many parents who view themselves as “not teachers” are often just not sure and afraid that their child will “fall behind”. Good luck. I just can’t even imagine the households that are more crowded, less prepared or equipped, the homes that don’t have parents who feel they can help. I stand ready to help but am not sure how. As I mentioned before I tutor (not currently on a regular basis) and am interested in working with kids who need help gratis and have been thinking of a way I could coordinate an online resource for this. From what you say this might not be of use, but maybe. Maybe it would take some of the pressure off parents who would like their child to have someone to listen to them and help BUT I know that in this age an online thing like this has many potentially awful problems… who knows. Hopefully we will learn and be prepared for next time with better ideas, options, preparedness.

  4. And you are an expert in the field. I love that you ALWAYS keep it real… I fear education will become an elitist system if we have to continue into next school year. Stay safe!

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  5. Thank you, Pernille for your courage and vulnerability. You show up for us all and share the deepest parts of being human and brave. I am sending love to you and your family!

  6. Thanks for sharing Pernille. I feel the same way on the educator end with a million restarts. I’m like your kids…I wish we were back in school. Take care.

  7. Oh My Goodness, Everyone should read your message. Empathy is the word of the hour…Instead of trying to out do each other as it relates to Remote Learning, Our politicians should all read your message. Kids are people too, they have breaking point. What you said about being well equipped to manage this situation, everyday i think about those parents who do not have space, equipment, know how or even the emotional capacity. I will archive this article forever because when this period is behind us it is still relevant. Thank You.

  8. This article was so great. I found myself crying because it is so relevant and exactly what I’m experiencing everyday. I worry about my kids and I worry about myself and all of our sanity. It was so nice to hear you write it out and remind us that we’re not alone.

  9. This is a great reality check for those of us who don’t have kids or whose kids are grown and gone. Sometimes we need to hear that someone who gets it– who does this for a living, knows the “system” and has knowledge that could be helpful to the learners in her home– still finds it difficult. If this is difficult for you, it most be even more so for those who don’t have our experience and expertise as teachers, and especially for those who continue to work full-time, have multiple children to help, don’t speak English fluently, or never completed their own education. I appreciate your sharing and insight.

    On another note, you have been on my mind. I hope you are feeling better!

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