School is out - it wasn't in for a good part of the school year.

graphic-coping-red-2By Nicki St George

June 26th, 2020

BURLINGTON, ON

Nicki St George was one of two parents who wrote regularly during those months that children were out of school and parents learned just what it is that a teacher does – they were now struggling to get it right. St George, who is a teacher, a recovering cancer patient and a mother working on an MEd. She sums up what the pandemic experience has been for her and her two children and a husband who finally had a glimpse into what spending three consecutive months with the kids all day long is like.

I took a hiatus from writing about my COVID life for two reasons. Firstly, the doldrums were setting in and I felt like I had very little new to share. But mainly, it took me a while to absorb and process the horrors occurring in the US, and the world around race relations. I was busy, minding my own business and considering my feelings about school being cancelled for the rest of the year when the news of George Floyd and Christian Cooper broke, and the riots started. I did not feel, as a middle-aged, middle-class, white, suburban mum (no, I am not a KAREN!), that I should take up any space on social media with trivial complaints about watching a 6-year old type a sentence on the keypad or the frustrations of having to homeschool for the remainder of the school year.

Dan and Nicki - masksI still feel uncomfortable about sharing how I personally addressed the issues of anti-racism with my family, mostly because I am embarrassed that I did so little to engage in this work before, but also because talking about the things I have done to address these issues feels like I am patting myself on the back. This self-gratitude, in my opinion, can become a fine line between bragging vs publicly sharing my thoughts and actions with others so as it can provide some perspective. With that said, here are the things that I am doing to help put a stop to systemic racism:

• engaging in conversations about race and how racism exists in Canada (and Burlington) at every opportunity with friends, family (including my children) and colleagues,
• following anti-racism activists on Instagram,
• taking my family to BLM protests (when I feel that social distancing is being observed),
• adding a long list of fiction and non-fiction books by Black authors to my summer reading list so that I am better equipped to have conversations about white privilege and racism,
• addressing comments that show ignorance to the BLM movement,
• donating to charities committed to the anti-racist movement,
• seeking out and supporting retailers who are making a conscious effort to support Black owned businesses,
• not bragging about my efforts on social media.

Bea - first protest signSo, now that I have that off my chest, I can address what my column is supposed to be about – how to be a parent in the time of COVID (I think).

Homeschooling
Doing 1-2 hours of work a day is no substitute for being in school. It was better when I wasn’t working full time, and things definitely started to slip towards the end. Leo started taking ownership for completing his own work, which sounds great, but he was taking short cuts everywhere. On the plus side, he started taking advantage of his English teacher’s drop in Google Meets. He also wore his signature sombrero for every virtual class (which made me smile).

Bea with school workBea started having Google Meets with her class. Her teacher is amazing! I marvel at how she maintains full control of a group of Grade 1 students while using video conferencing. I know a lot of parents who gave up on the homeschooling towards the end. Personally, I found it useful; it gave us a purpose and something to do.

Summer Plans
Summer is normally a tense time in my marriage. As a teacher with summers off, I struggle to fill the days with the kids. Meanwhile, I dare not complain because ‘I’m on holiday.’ But my ideal holiday does not include being camp leader to two whingy kids all summer long. A positive thing that has come out of the pandemic is that Dan has finally had a glimpse into what spending three consecutive months with the kids all day long is like and I think we are on the same page now.

Last year, I had a whole summer bucket list and we did pretty well – library once a week, public pools, museums, and play dates, etc. This year is really going to push my creativity (and resourcefulness) to the limit. And since my summer holiday officially starts tomorrow, I’ve only started giving thought to how this is going to work.

The COVID vibe is weird. Mostly it seems like life has gone back to normal, but hang on, aren’t we still recording 300 odd cases a day in Ontario? The COVID numbers have completely dropped off the news cycle so I think most people are either coming to terms with the possibility that they might catch COVID, or they are just sick of social distancing. I’m still reticent to take my kids into any stores or public places that aren’t essential, but we are venturing out to the drive-in and planning to share a cottage with another family. Three months of isolation with my family has proven to me that we can all survive the togetherness, and gosh darn it, I really like these three people that I’m stuck with (even Bea).

Leo - candlesSeptember
Oh Lordy – this is going to be interesting. If regular citizens are acting cavalier about COVID, the Health Department and Ministry of Education sure aren’t. Parents and teachers are preparing for three possible scenarios which almost feels like kismet since last year teachers were fighting against eLearning and larger classes, and now we will likely see a compromise between these two issues. One thing is for sure, school is going to look very different for everyone. Teachers are going to be working hard over the summer to upskill and prepare for new delivery methods. My school is moving into a Hyflex Lyte model, which sounds fancy, but essentially will just enable us to move seamlessly from in-person to remote learning when the second wave inevitably hits. Plexi-glass, PPE, and sanitizing workstations every 75 minutes are inevitably in my future.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to getting back into the classroom, whatever it may look like. And not just because it is a break from my kids; although, I may be taking them with me on odd days. And if we end up back at home…well, at least I’ve amassed an impressive amount of witty Zoom backgrounds to keep things light!

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