By Elizabeth Noriega
It’s 8am when I walk into the dining room – my oldest two children are at their computers planning their days. Because they’re awake so early, it feels like a Saturday, but I know it’s some time in the middle of the week. At this point, the days have all begun to blur together. My youngest excitedly runs to me to show that she’s gotten dressed for her day all by herself. This is a big deal for any 5 year old, but I’m particularly proud because she has Down’s Syndrome and tasks like this can sometimes be very challenging. The past four weeks has been a learning curve for all of us, but I’m happy that we’re still able to recognize these little victories. Four weeks ago, I became a teacher for my 3 children overnight – this is my new normal.
It feels like it’s been an eternity since my children began homeschooling. On March 11th, everything related to coronavirus seemed so distant – it was certainly headed our way but we didn’t know how bad it would be. What started as preparatory teacher training, changed to school being cancelled for a week, and later to school being closed until April 24th. As a parent who has no prior teaching experience, one week, even one month, of homeschooling felt manageable. My anxiety began to set in when I learned that schools would be closed until the end of the year – my stomach sank.
I didn’t feel prepared or qualified to be an educator to my children and having my kids at home for the rest of the school year terrified me. What would their realities be when they returned? How much would they need to catch up? How would my 6th grader figure out how to answer challenging math problems? How would my 4th grader learn all of the American history that I hadn’t learned from my Peruvian upbringing? How would my kindergartner be prepared for 1st grade and the rest of her education, with school and her speech and occupational therapies cancelled?
Needless to say, I cried when I heard this news. English is my second language and my kids all have different needs. I knew instantly that I would have to approach teaching them differently, but would have to devote the most attention to my youngest. To accommodate her special education needs, I knew I had to become comfortable existing as a school teacher as well as a speech therapist. She’s a very intelligent little girl – the challenge is maintaining her attention! It’s hard to keep her motivated and engaged, especially when it’s something she doesn’t want to do. While it’s challenging, I can manage because of support from her teachers. They have wonderfully made sure that she has everything she needs to learn while being homeschooled – I don’t know how I would be able to do this without their guidance.
Four weeks in, homeschooling has lost its novelty, and my kids have become restless from staying inside. Thankfully, we’ve developed a routine. My oldest two kids typically wake up first, so I’ve set up a space in the house for them to keep their laptops and start school. My husband is a pastor and does his work in another part of the house; thankfully he is always ready to check my eldest’s math homework. My middle daughter and I learn about American history together. My youngest daughter and I take breaks while practicing phonics to avoid fatigue and help her retain information.
I’ve learned to be patient with myself, ask knowledgeable friends, and look things up online, knowing that I need time to do this well. I’m still learning how to teach my youngest two, but am loving the extra time to spend with all 3 of my children more than anything. A part of me is certainly concerned that they will resent me for needing to be so stern during this moment. But even with this lingering thought, I’m not nervous about homeschooling anymore. I’ve found that I just need to have a creative teaching style.
While Chromebook and Google classroom are still not my friends, I have also realized this is an opportunity for me to teach my kids different skills to improve their independence. In addition to their assigned school work, I’ve been teaching them life skills like cooking, cleaning, and teamwork. As a proud Peruvian mother, I am also using this opportunity to teach my children Spanish. As a mother, it’s rewarding to watch my kids grasp on to these lessons. As parents we weren’t given a manual when our kids were born, but in everything we are able to figure out solutions because we care for our kids.
This experience has taught me a lot about myself, but also highlighted some of my core values. Firstly, teaching my kids has reinforced that I was not born to be a teacher. A great level of patience is required to teach young people, and I am eternally grateful for my children’s teachers. Also, even though I was initially afraid to homeschool my children, I am still glad that the decision was made to close schools. While school and education are important, appropriate precautions are our priority in this global public health moment. Life comes before everything, and I believe that we should do everything in our power to control the spread of this virus.
I think this crisis has changed us all, and I’m not entirely sure if we’ll ever return to the lives we once understood as normal.
From living during this pandemic, as a parent teaching her kids, but also as a person living through it, I am concerned that we may still live in a self-centered society. To me, it is our responsibility as humans to help each other. We need to be responsible for how we act in crises, and remain aware of how this will impact individuals and communities. In this moment – that means we must all work together to take care of ourselves and each other. A complete disregard for what I consider a basic human principle is both harmful and will only prolong this shared, uncomfortable lived experience. It breaks my heart to know that there are families who were not able to bury their loved ones. By responding appropriately to the seriousness of this pandemic we may be able to prevent more death.
I remain grateful for the people who are risking their own livelihoods for my family and loved ones. This pandemic is hitting us all in very challenging ways, but I am only able to stay home because of the hard work of frontline medical workers and other essential workers – thank you so much for continuing to show up! More than anything, I hope that this moment will teach us important lessons on effective health responses and ways to share information for stronger prevention in the future.
As we all continue to recognize and do our parts, I truly believe that together we can make it through this pandemic.