COVID-19, The Upcoming School Year, And Working Parents: A Bad Mix
What Will School Look Like For Teachers And Parents?
A Back-To-School Plan For Working Families? Is It Possible?
As a teacher and a parent, I've been reading with a fair bit of curiosity about potential returns to school following the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world. I work full-time and am very fortunate to continue doing so from home. Anyone who follows this blog knows that my kids - two girls - are nearly-16 and 11-and-a-half. I recognize my great privilege that my kids are old enough that I don't require child care for them any longer, though it makes me a little sad at times that my girls are no longer so little.
In my case, though, the age of my children makes me very fortunate, as I don't have to look at the very hard realities some parents are facing as September 2020, and therefore the start of the 2020-2021 school year, looms ever closer. I don't have to make the choice between potentially taking a leave of absence from my job or my husband potentially taking that same leave so we can manage our children potentially going to the physical school building on a part-time basis as we learn to live with COVID-19's presence in society.
Some of the potential plans, at least as far as Ontario, Canada, is concerned, include students potentially attending certain days of the week and working from home on other days of the week. Students might potentially be in school half days. We might see students in school one week while a different group of students might come in the next. It's a work in progress, to be sure, and one which most educators are also not informed about because we have not been told what our classrooms or our work schedules will look like yet. We know what we're supposed to be teaching, but we don't know yet whether our classes will largely be online, or some sort of mix between online learning and in-class learning, and to be sure, some subjects lend themselves more effectively to an online platform than others.
The potentially partial in-school scenario is one which has parents understandably concerned. Sure, parents of older children - ones that don't require childcare - are likely not too concerned about leaving their children home on any days where the kids don't have to be in the physical school building, but those with little ones are already stressing out in spite of their best efforts to enjoy what has been a glorious summer thus far in spite of a lack of travelling.
Day care, for starters, is not cheap, for the most part. While in the province of Quebec day care is subsidized, most of Canada does not have that same luxury, and besides, many day cares are operating under significant restrictions right now due to COVID-19 and the health protocols that are now put in place. Some parents who are able to access day care right now because they've been called back to work may only have been called back on a part time basis, yet to keep their child or children's day care spots, they are still paying their original day care rate.
Many families are also not able to survive without that second income. Sure, there's the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, but that's only set to last a certain amount of time. If kids are only returning to school on a partial basis in the fall, and a parent needs to stay home, the financial stress will be significant for many families. In addition, if the return to school only sees students in the physical building on a part-time basis, that means students will be hopefully working on their schoolwork online the rest of the time. As many of us teachers and parents know, this was largely a gong show, to put it politely. Sure, teachers did their best, as did parents, but tech issues on both sides abounded while parents tried to figure out how to set their younger kids up on Google Meets with their classes and tried to motivate their kids to keep working on their studies when sometimes, the parents themselves might have been looking at the work and scratching their heads.
Let's also keep in mind that kids are kids. It's incredibly difficult to be self-directed and self-motivated when you're an adult, let alone when you're 10 or 11 or even younger than that. Parents who were working were putting in a full day, either in their physical workplaces or from home on a computer, and then trying to work with their child to get their schoolwork done. It resulted in a pile of stress for everyone: parents because they were already tired from work and then having to take on the job of pushing their child through their schoolwork at home was just adding to their exhaustion and kids because they missed their friends all day and were completely off schedule because of the school shutdown, which meant that they were off routine. Have you ever tried to cope with a lack of routine longterm? It's not easy, and we're now stretching into month four of it.
Kids don't do well with a lack of routine. They also typically don't handle change well. Trying to get them in a routine with only a partial return to school is going to create an incredible amount of stress for parents everywhere. If the children are of an elementary school age, the stress is even worse, as they will be wondering why they have to sit so far apart from their friends, why they still have to spend at least part of their time on a computer, and why Mom and Dad are always stressed.
We don't know what the 2020-2021 school year start up will look like, and that's probably the scariest part of this entire mess. We do have to operate out of an abundance of caution with COVID-19 still looming large - that only makes sense - but sending school-aged, young children back to the physical school building on only a part time basis when parents' work worlds and day care look questionable is a recipe for incredible stress in everyone's lives.