Through the Fence

05/11/2020  |  By Emily Knight
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“School” begins at 9 a.m. at our house. Well, OK maybe 10. Honestly, it starts after I’ve had at least two cups of coffee and I’ve managed to filter through all my work emails and respond to those that are urgent. Those two cups of coffee are important, because often  there is an impending battle of wills with my second grader, Everlee, over doing her schoolwork. She enjoys the Zoom videos with her teacher and classmates, although they seem at times chaotic with all the students wanting to socialize instead of listening to instruction. 

The real heroes here are the teachers and their students. Teachers have had to research and learn new techniques to keep their students learning, growing and completing their grade level expectations.

I have to give it to her teacher though; she handles it with an infinite amount of grace and patience, and that handy “mute all” button.

We’ve been in quarantine since mid-March, both my husband and I working from home, and our only child enduring her sharp decline in social life as best she can. Becoming a “virtual teacher” in addition to keeping up with both our businesses has proved more challenging than I ever imagined. Our days are vastly different now, but along with the difficulties, we have grown in appreciation for our daughter and all her many skills and are thankful for her teacher in this trying time.

School work starts with checking Everlee’s daily assignment schedule issued at the beginning of the week. We typically start with the science section, since it is her favorite, and usually gets her in a good mood. We watch a video, take an online test on the video. Next up is Math. Everlee is OVER it.

She’s been focusing on units of measurement and doing her workbook exercises. Necessity is the mother of creativity I have heard, and we have certainly been creative with measuring things we don’t have at home, such as a chalk board, a playground slide and many others. Her teacher understands.

Everlee’s arithmetic is also supplemented by a handy computer game that allows her to fight battles by solving math problems, and conveniently adjusts based on her skill level. We watch videos on prepositions, then spend several minutes trying to figure out how to do the activity online with a new program. I’ve had to email her teacher a few times, because I could not figure out how to do some of the assignments, and she has been great with returning emails and instructions for a program she herself is new to.

More often than not, Everlee and I lack in patience, and have heated discussions about how best to complete an assignment. I have trouble discerning when I should help and instruct, and when I should stand back and let her figure it out on her own. Her teacher would know exactly how to best help her while fostering her growing independence. Usually my phone will ring while we are mid education, and I have to caution Everlee to be quiet while I take a work call, which contributes to her frustration. She completes an assignment on bartering, and lets out a sigh of relief, asking if she is done yet. Her best friend has been calling her on a messaging application, and she is anxious to speak to her. She has to finish all her assignments first. She reads a Bible story, then responds to the comprehension questions.

Everlee has learned how to color a picture on the laptop, illustrating part of the story she has read. It’s sloppy (because drawing with a mouse isn’t easy) and she is dissatisfied with her work, so she erases it all and starts again. She wants her teacher to give her a good grade and seeks the gratification of having her artwork displayed in the next class email. I stack all of her physically completed work, along with the workbook pages, and snap pictures of them with my phone. I then email all the pictures to her teacher, which inevitably attach to the email sideways. We will work on reading later, at least 20 minutes a day, so she maintains her skills.

Everlee misses the social interaction with her peers and educators the most. She talks about her friends frequently, and her entire social life now depends on computer games and social messaging apps (that are carefully monitored!). She now gets more screen time than she has ever had in her entire life. Part of me feels guilty about it, but I am also thankful as it gives her an outlet and gives us time to attend to our work as well. For screen free time, we go outside, play music, enjoy our three comical dogs, play on the trampoline, practice softball or shoot hoops as a family.

Everlee befriended the little girl across the fence that is about her age. The only way she can actually see the little girl is when she is mid jump on the trampoline. They both stay next to the fence to talk, and I have personally witnessed their adventures through the fence, having races, playing “family” and plans for what they are going to do when “the virus” is over. I’m glad she looks toward the future. Everlee has stopped asking to go places and visit friends. She asks to sleep with me more often and has developed a lot of caution when passing people when we go on scooter rides around the neighborhood. We have had a lot of discussions about death lately. She has confessed she worries about what will happen if anyone in her family gets the virus. We try to be honest while selectively filtering the scary stuff.

This new “normal” has given me the rare opportunity of witnessing my daughter’s ingenuity, creativity and ability to learn new subject matter. I’m impressed with how quickly she learns new concepts, while I’m simultaneously frustrated with constantly reminding her to stay focused. I cannot say I blame her, with her father and I both having work requirements we have to attend to as well. We are extremely thankful for her teacher, who has reached out several times offering to talk with Everlee and has also expressed her concern for her being an only child. Everlee is resilient. She understands a lot more than I would have given her credit for. We struggle enough with the online education with one child, and my heart goes out to parents attempting to tackle the education obstacle with more than one kid at home. The stress on them has to be immeasurable.

The real heroes here are the teachers and their students. Teachers have had to research and learn new techniques to keep their students learning, growing and completing their grade level expectations. Students have had to adjust to new learning environments, new schedules, new modalities, in addition to greatly diminished social circles. Perhaps, the positive values we absorb from this drastic change will solidify and carry over long after this viral threat is behind us.

I know for one, I am so thankful for Everlee’s teacher. Our educators deserve so much more than we can possibly ever give them. Teachers are our current angels and miracle workers, helping to weather this storm, and continue their unwavering care for their students’ academic and emotional wellbeing. “Essentially,” we could not make it through this without them.

Emily Knight, BS, ASN, is a freelance writer, owner of Doulas of Charlotte and mother to seven-year-old Everlee.
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