Teachers, students, and parents are finding themselves in uncharted territory. Parents have had to change how they care for their families in self-isolation, and teachers and students have had to adjust to new online teaching and learning styles. This is a much more complex balancing act when a parent is also a teacher.
For Kristen Fett, the change has had a huge impact on her students and her family, especially her husband, who is a healthcare worker. Fett is a parent of two young children, ages four and eight, and a first grade teacher at Westwood Elementary in Bloomington, Minnesota, as well as a consultant for Center for Responsive Schools. With the abrupt closure of schools due to COVID-19, Fett has found herself trying to strike a balance between being a full-time parent, whose children are now home during the typical school day, and a full-time teacher, who suddenly needs to teach her students virtually via online resources such as Seesaw, a digital application designed to remotely connect teachers, students, and parents. Though her school’s online classes do not officially start until April 1, she is currently homeschooling her two children as well as holding office hours each weekday to connect with her students’ parents and respond to questions or concerns they may have. Fett is empathetic with other parents who are trying to cope and navigate these drastic changes: “I’m not the only one that’s feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “I know that it’s [difficult] across the board.”
Though it may be hard for children to understand what COVID-19 is and how it is affecting people, Fett felt she had to explain it in a way that her young children could understand. “I knew that I needed to give [my kids] some information so they could understand why all of a sudden their day-to-day routine was being disrupted and upset,” she says. “I tried to explain to them in kid-friendly terms about what school was going to look like for the next several days . . . knowing [it could be] weeks and even months.” She told them that “Mom is going to be your teacher” and has even utilized the Responsive Classroom practice of Academic Choice to allow them the opportunity to choose what they will learn to help keep them engaged and focused. She admits that the transition has been difficult but that her kids have a good sense of humor: “They started joking and calling me ‘Mrs. Mom.’”
Because the transition has been so hard for her family, Fett knew it would be difficult for her students and their parents as well. “After saying goodbye so abruptly to my students,” she explains, “I was missing them incredibly and feeling as though I didn’t have closure [and wasn’t] able to say a proper goodbye. I knew that my first graders and their families were probably feeling the exact same way.” To reconnect with her students, Fett has started livestreaming through Facebook Live as she reads aloud from a familiar chapter book that her students have read in class. She holds these streaming events twice a day: once during the afternoon and once at bedtime. This has also given her an opportunity to connect with her own children at home. They sit by their mother’s side as she reads, and Fett even takes turns reading aloud with her daughter, who is also in first grade. It gives them a chance to spend time together, learn together, and laugh together.
Even though livestreaming was outside of her comfort zone at first, Fett says that these live readings have been a positive experience not only for her own children but also her students. “[My students] can see me and they can hear my voice,” she says. “They can see my kids being silly beside me as they’re all listening to the story.” Parents also appreciate the extra work that Fett is doing for their children during this chaotic time: “I was overwhelmed by the positive emails and private messages from families just saying thank you,” she says. “It was so wonderful.” Fett plans to continue these Facebook Live events for her students, and parents of Fett’s students are even inviting other parents and their kids to the Facebook Live stream as well.
By inviting her students and their families into her home each day, Fett hopes to show that her family is just like any other. “It’s something that so many people can relate to,” she says, “and they can watch the video and know ‘Okay, well, her kids interrupt her when she’s talking too, and her kids say silly things like My mom is ridiculous, or It smells stinky in here. And she’s no different than the rest of us.’” Fett is proud to know that she is providing her students and their parents an opportunity to experience a sense of calm and normalcy when they are otherwise surrounded by rapid change and uncertainty.
As many of us are finding, throughout all of this change and uncertainty there are silver linings to be discovered and new connections to be cherished.