Back to School in 2020

by Melissa Metzger

Back. To. School. As a teacher, these are currently the three words that give me the most anxiety—cue the suspense music! Normally by this time of year, I’m starting to mentally prepare myself for the upcoming school year. I would be searching Pinterest for the perfect border and paper combination for my walls. I would be scouring the back-to-school aisles looking for all the pre-sharpened pencil packs on sale (because all teachers know they are like gold!). However, this year has been a bit different—for apparent reasons—in regard to how I’m preparing to get back into the classroom.

Will I even have students in my classroom? Will they even see the new border and paper duo over which I painstakingly agonized? How will I provide enough pre-sharpened pencils for every student in my class? All very valid questions this back-to-school season. It’s up in the air how school will function this year. All I know with absolute certainty is that school and learning will be happening one way or the other and that just isn’t negotiable. It might be online, it might be in a traditional setting, or it might be somewhere in between. I’d love to pass along some advice, from a teacher’s perspective, so we can all set ourselves up for success in whatever type of school is thrown at us!

Be Positive

 Whatever plan your child’s school puts in place, be positive about it in front of your child. Children are constantly observing and looking to you while they form opinions and their own thoughts. Your child will be much more excited about school and willing to learn if they know you are equally excited about it! Teaching fractions to a third grader is one of my least favorite standards to cover. However, if I approach it in a way that tricks students into thinking it is the most exciting thing they will learn all year, it makes it that much more enjoyable for the both of us. And guess what? They excel every year with this concept because I put forth the extra effort to make it memorable and enjoyable! Apply the same concept with this back-to-school time. Children will be excited and eager to go back to their “school” if they know their parents are completely on board and delighted as well.

Start a Routine

Get your child excited about wearing a face mask and practice keeping it on for an extended period of time (if their age and health permits). Teach them the importance of not touching their face or mask along with proper handwashing techniques for when hybrid or traditional learning schedules are adopted again. Set up a place in the house where their schoolwork can be completed daily—somewhere that your child can take ownership over. Make sure to include all of the supplies they may need while learning remotely, including paper, pencils, whiteboards, markers, chargers, and passwords. Make sure everything is easy for them to access independently so there are less disruptions—for you and for their learning. If you don’t already, try to reserve a protected amount of time during the day for family reading time—you could even read a book together! The number one factor of student success is a strong literacy foundation. All in all, helping your child establish “school like” routines again will help make your child’s transition back to school smoother for everyone involved.

Be Flexible

Your child’s teacher may change things up from time to time as they try to navigate these uncharted territories. Sometimes it may be a hit, and other times it may be a big ol’ flop. Have patience and be gracious. Most importantly, always try to stay positive in front of your child! If you are visibly frustrated, your child will be, too. Your child feeds off of your energy.

If you need to reach out to the teacher, try to keep in mind that they are doing their best in this given situation. Trust that they are using their best professional judgment with the academic decisions they make this year. Many of us haven’t taught online before this past March, let alone a “hybrid” schedule! Teachers are learning new programs, technologies, and strategies at an overwhelming rate, as we try to figure out how to best structure our classes in the fall. Be flexible with us. Protocols and mandates for teachers and schools can change overnight, as we have learned throughout this pandemic. Teachers love when parents are invested in their child’s schooling. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher if there are personal struggles at home. Your child’s teacher may be able to take that into account in their future lessons. They might even be able to offer you some solutions to try at home! Flexibility will be key as we embark on this school year.

Prepare for Struggles

Be prepared for the waters to not always be smooth sailing while distance learning, hybrid learning, or our new “traditional learning”. There will be challenging days, and frustrating days, and days where you and your child might have to take more than an ice cream break to relieve the stress. My best advice would be to remember that communication with your child’s teacher is key as we move forward into the unknowns of this school year. Struggles are going to happen. However, learning is a requirement for our children. Teachers are very understanding and are there to help. If you are having issues logging in, trouble using any new technology such as Google Classroom, Canvas, or Microsoft Teams, contact your child’s teacher as soon as possible. There is bound to be a learning curve for us all, but it’s better to catch and correct the issue early on. Please remember, there are no silly questions. The learning process in this environment is new for everyone involved!

Hold your Child (and Yourself) Accountable

If your child’s school plans to go back digitally in the fall, teachers have been mandated that learning is a requirement. Even though the learning may be done digitally, it is still important to check in with your child daily on their work completion. Simply asking if their work is done, might not be enough guidance for your child. Sit down with your child daily and make an effort to get a better grasp on what they are studying. Make this an opportunity to learn from your child and connect with them over their schoolwork. You are the teacher’s eyes and ears while your child learns from home. Children will follow your lead. If you are consistent with checking their work, they will tend to be consistent with their work completion. Teachers know that parents are busy, but it’s important for your child to see you value their schooling and academics.

Enjoy the Extra Time Together

This pandemic has definitely made us slow down and appreciate the time we do have together. If your child’s school is digital or hybrid in the fall, enjoy the extra moments you may get together. This situation has never happened before and there is so much that is out of our control—as both teachers and parents—but we can control the memories that we make with our families. Spend the extra time to do the enrichment activities your child’s teacher may send, look up a fun science experiment to do at home, or help research the animal your child is fascinated by from your last trip to the zoo. Learning can definitely happen outside the “traditional” classroom setting.

Before I leave you for the day—to go stress about the back-to-school things I can’t control—don’t forget that teachers and school leaders are living through this pandemic as well. We all want what is best for your child. We strive to make the best learning environment every day for our students. Everything you’re going through; we are going through as well! We are adapting and learning daily. But at the end of the day, we want your child to be safe, feel loved, and be their best self. Be gracious with your child’s teacher as we “go back to school” this fall, we’re on the same team, and we are all in this together.

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