I wrote the following letter to Madison’s first grade English and Spanish teachers and her principal on May 6 after having reached a tipping point in how much failure I was willing to accept as a mom, employee and wife. I remember crying as I wrote this letter. Breaking under the weight of too many expectations and not enough time in the day to get them all done. Failure after failure. Failures started out small – missing a Zoom call with her class here and there because I was in a meeting. Then one day a teacher called my husband who was in the operating room at the hospital asking if everything was okay with me because assignments weren’t being turned in. That was my tipping point. I was tired and this quite frankly pissed me off.
In follow-up to this open letter, I did speak with her principal and teachers on the phone and we all ended our call with a general understanding that as mom’s there was only so much that we could do. Additional one-on-one Zoom meetings weren’t the answer because I didn’t have time to work more meetings into already full work days. Having people over to our house to tutor Madison one-on-one wasn’t an answer because with my husband being an essential employee – we are always at high risk for being exposed to COVID and I didn’t want to subject anyone else to that. I rested in the fact that I was doing all I could and I had to let go of the things I didn’t value enough to prioritize and move forward.
Open Letter to Madison’s principal and teachers
I hope you’re having a wonderful week and know that we appreciate all you do to support Madison and the entire school community. After significant reflection over the past few weeks I feel compelled to reach out and provide feedback on our current remote learning situation. Prior to reading the following please know that my comments are in no way meant to be personal or imply that we are not receiving adequate support, but rather to transparently share what we’re experiencing and have you help me understand where I need to focus my energies. You all are wonderful and I say the following with the utmost respect for what you do and how this pandemic has impacted the world.
Our family has been self-quarantining since March 12 when Madison was diagnosed with the flu. This was right around the time that COVID-19 was becoming a reality for how we live and schools were subsequently closed the following week. My husband and I stay committed to our children’s continued education amidst this quarantine. We have Madison who is in first grade and her brother, Cole, who is a rising Kindergartner. During the first few weeks of quarantine, we read and focused on learning that coincided with what they experience here at home each day. We purchased pre-K and 1st grade workbooks from Barnes and Noble and subscribed to ABC Mouse to help support us because we both work full time. Examples of work we did include: we created a disaster preparedness plan for our new house talking about natural disasters and fires and how we evacuate our home in the event of an emergency. We talked about how we call 911, knowing our new address, mommy and daddy’s phone numbers, etc. Madison’s been learning to play piano and we sent some really cool art we did with water guns and watercolors to Mr. Yancey. Madison was really sad she missed seeing the chicks hatch this spring and so we had painted lady caterpillars delivered to our home and watched their progress over 20 days from caterpillar to chrysalises to butterflies and journaled their life cycle. We discussed money and time. We did a community service project on Earth Day walking our neighborhood and picking up trash – logging our efforts with Keep Charlotte Beautiful. We’ve been learning fractions by baking in the kitchen. Essentially we were working those big blocks of essential content from communications received from the school into our day-to-day activities including values our family deem important like social responsibility.
My husband is a CRNA and has been going into the hospital working more hours than normal in light of this pandemic and I work on multiple government projects focused on COVID response. Our work was not interrupted during this pandemic but rather increased in response. Last week my husband took a week off of work and was able to catch Madison up on 2 weeks of required school work and ensured she got onto the meetings established for her class. This week my husband is back to work and I’m constantly aware of how my workload directly impacts Madison’s inability to complete required work being sent home by the school and I’m not able to get her up on the class meetings when I’m often on video conference calls at the same time. She missed today’s call with Ms. J’s class for example. Madison is unable to stay focused on writing her sentences, watching her videos, doing the work when I’m working. I’m not able to give her blocks of my undivided attention during the work day especially now as our nation begins multi-phased approaches for re-opening and all the things that two kids at home require like lunch, time outside, etc. School work is just not happening this week during the day, and when my husband and I get off of work we have little energy left to motivate our 6 year old to want to do school work before bed. Not an excuse, but reality for us right now.
I spent a significant amount of time this morning before the kids woke up reflecting on the past few weeks since Madison’s school work became required. I feel like I’m not able to continue with learning as we were earlier in this quarantine because its not following the prescribed assignments laid out in the weekly packets. We are all hyper frustrated just trying to check the box on each day’s assignments. Our language as a family has become very transactional. We are focused more on just checking the box than actually ensuring she’s getting value from the work she’s doing. Yesterday she finished writing her sentences in Spanish for this week and I asked her if she could tell me what the sentences meant and her response was a simple “no.” That’s not valuable. I understand that our current circumstances aren’t ideal and none of us planned for this, but for my family – we don’t do something just for the sake of doing it – we do it because there’s value for someone else or for us. I don’t feel like she’s getting value from some of the prescribed assignments and that’s likely a result of us not being able to take the work a step further ensuring she understands what she’s writing or spend the time to ask her questions about the monuments and help her understand why those people were memorialized in a way that she understands their impact.
I know you want to ensure she’s getting the work that she would have been getting in the classroom, but outside the context of your classrooms many of the assignment’s concepts aren’t landing. This is why what you do in the classroom is so important and irreplaceable. I’ll also add that these kids (just like us) have a mental mapping of expectations based on their environment. Madison knows that at school there are certain rules and expectations that you all ensure she abides by. At home our infrastructure is relaxed to give our kids a break from the rigidity they experience in the classroom. We’ve had a really hard time reconstructing her perception of home as a place of structure and extended periods of learning.
As I look ahead to the final weeks of this school year I’d like to know what the barriers are to Madison getting promoted to 2nd grade so we can focus on those.
As an individual I’m an overachiever and my love language is words of affirmation and I tell you this because as a mom, as an impromptu teacher of two, and as an employee focused on this pandemic every day – I am overwhelmed and stressed out. As a mom I don’t want an unintended outcome of this quarantine being Madison’s failure to advance to 2nd grade because of my failures to juggle it all. As a teacher I want to ensure she’s doing meaningful work and that the value of the assignments lands in a way she understands. As someone working full time I need to not have one more thing to manage in addition to this pandemic. As a self-aware human being I know that I can’t be everything to everyone all the time especially now when I’m being called on to do more, be more in each pillar of my life and I’m done with the guilt associated with my perception of failure at every turn. We yell more. Our tempers are shorter. It’s not fun for anyone. Again, this isn’t anything for you to fix, but rather me trying to give insight into what’s happening here. I welcome any feedback or insights you have and if you think there is a different audience for my message please share and/or tell me who I should send this to.
I appreciate you reading this and look forward to hearing what barriers, if any, prevent Madison from being promoted to 2nd grade as that’s my main impetus for this message. You’re amazing and I’m so thankful for you.
All my best,