Weathering the Back to School Storm

Yesterday I woke up relieved that it was Friday. We had made it; we survived the first week of virtual learning, and then I realized that it was Thursday, and we still had two more days of this torture.

I, like many other parents of students with IEPs, have watched our children struggle in frustration over a learning environment that simply does not work. Spending four and a half hours in front of a screen with much of the time taken up waiting for the attendance roll to be called, tolerating the technology glitches and frozen screens, and then all of the time spent reminding classmates to mute themselves, or dealing with the blaring TV of a friend who never got that memo has served to magnify the focus and attention issues already present.

And that is just the issues we encountered during art, music, PE, and media this week. These classes are the only opportunity my son has for inclusion, and in this environment, he was even further excluded. His needs weren’t considered, nothing was modified for him, and no lesson plans were sent to me ahead of time so that I could prepare and support him.

Under normal circumstances, I would voice my concerns, request a meeting, and let the powers that be know that change needs to happen, but that feels a little awkward given that we are all, school system employees included, just trying to do our best and weather this back to school storm. So today may not be the day that I fire off the email about how far we need to go with inclusion, but I can let go of the guilt I have for not being able to get him to engage, participate, and like this style of learning.

I have spent vacation hours each day this week serving as my son’s paraprofessional to help him attend online school because I never came up with a better plan. I still have a job that requires me to work in my office so homeschooling them this year didn’t come to fruition.

So I would dress for work and then wrestle my seven-year-old alligator as he attempted to engage with his teacher through the tiny screen. I would call him to return to the room to work, and then say a little prayer that he would. I sat behind him with my body as a shield to keep him engaged because other than brute force, I had no other tactics or incentives to keep him in place. By Friday, he had lost all interest and his avoidance was so strong that I didn’t have the heart to force it any longer. So I sat on Zoom with his teacher while he ran laps around our house swiping handfuls of cheerios as he breezed by the kitchen. And you know what? I was ok with that.

When my kids were younger, the pediatrician told us not to worry about their eating habits. He said to make the nutritious food available, and then leave it up to them to decide what they will and won’t eat. It was freeing advice that allowed me to relax, create an opportunity for success, and then let the child take the lead. And guess what? My kids eat healthy foods now, they are growing and they are just fine.

So I’m going to translate that wisdom here and acknowledge the following:

1. I’m not going to feel guilty that he’s not perfectly perched in front of a device ready to learn several times throughout the day.

2. It’s ok that he won’t answer questions I know he knows

3. I’ve done everything in my power to support his learning.

So with that, I’m going to roll into the Labor Day weekend in celebration rather than defeat.