Since March this year, I’ve been living for September: when the schools open again. It’s when my kid can be taught by a professional who’s not wrestling with worksheets while batting back conference calls and making excuses for missed deadlines.
She’ll be around people her own age, who challenge her in ways that have nothing to do with how much she eats, when she sleeps or how much Vampirina she’s watched that day. September is when I can breathe again.
This is not a popular opinion on my social media. Once the US president made his proclamation about schools reopening, my feed became filled with angry epithets. “Think of the children.” “Think of the teachers.”
I promise you, I am.
I was a Class Parent – someone who facilitates communication between parents and teachers – in this coronavirus pandemic year. When we moved to New York, I thought signing up for the job would be a fun way to get to know the other families in our new school.
© Scott Balmer
At the start, the role involved sending around notes from the monthly meeting, but from March to June it evolved into acting as a human shield between an angry mob of panicking parents and the teachers who, until this point, thought their job was to wrangle a roomful of six-year-olds. It turns out parents are an absolute nightmare.
And now that the date of re-entry approaches, boy do I feel for those teachers. After a summer of frustration and trauma, there are going to be some high expectations at the school gates. I have faith that the institution we send our child to will be working on solutions to tackle students’ anxieties. Personally, I want to know what we can do to support the staff who have to deal with us.
“Teachers help us,” says clinical psychologist Dr Tara Quinlivan, who wrote the influential blog post ‘Return to school. A trauma-informed approach’. “They’re really unacknowledged frontline and pastoral care workers.”
Teachers guide our kids, they support them, they comfort them when things are bad. They provide them with the skills to succeed in life. We cannot attack them. But we do. “They are the receivers of our distress and our concerns as parents. But we’re not necessarily receiving their distress and their concerns in the same way,” she says.
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So what can we do? The emotional labour of holding our anxiety and stress – not to mention our kids’ – is heavy work, and not what teachers signed up for. “I think the biggest thing we can do is remember that there is a human face behind all of this,” Quinlivan says.
At the end of the school year, the Class Parents were offered a get-out-of-jail-free card. We were all ragged and broken, having endured the weight of our families’ trauma in facing the uncertainty of a pandemic.
Find a replacement, they said. And you are free. I don’t know a single Class Parent who took it. We care about the teachers too much. All we want is for them to be free to be in the classroom again, without having to carry our emotional baggage. It’s what they signed up for. And we can help give it to them.