During this period of mass school closures around the country and around the world due to COVID-19, Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian is sharing his experience with educating his kids at home and helping social movements to promote public health. Below is Jesse’s “Diary Entry #3.” You can follow these posts at http://www.IAmAnEducator.com. Jesse is conducting a free webinar on Thursday, March 19th at 1pm Pacific Time titled, “Education in the Time of Coronavirus.” In this presentation he will talk about his own experience transitioning from being a classroom teacher to homeschooling his children, share resources to support parents who are looking for activities for their kids, and talk about how we can build a collective struggle to support the most vulnerable students and families who are hardest hit by the closure of schools and the lack of a social safety net in this country. You can register, while space is available, here.
As the coronavirus news continues to worsen, I am determined to build a positive space at home to help my two kids understand what is happening in our world—in an age appropriate way—and contribute what I can to the struggle to uplift the most vulnerable people during this crisis.
The updates on the impact of the coronavirus today have been severe. Reports today reveal that one in five households have already experienced a layoff or reduction in work due to the pandemic. There are more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with over 8,000 deaths reported. Iran has been one of the hardest hit countries, and the outbreak is widespread around Europe. There have been over 6,200 recorded cases and 107 deaths in the U.S., but public health experts have said that the true rate of infection is likely much higher due to a severe shortage of tests. In my own King County is one of the hardest hit areas in the country with 562 confirmed cases and 56 deaths.
In cities from Seattle to New York City, all schools have been closed as well as restaurants, bars, and retail stores. This has had many effects, but one of them is certainly that many parents and caregivers are gaining a special appreciation for teachers as they attempt homeschooling and learn how hard it is to teach!
I know even for myself, there have been moments over the last few days where I have felt it’s easier to teach a class of 30 kids than to have my own two boys at home all day. Part of that, I know, is because of the difficult circumstances we are under.
My household is increasingly feeling the stress as the coronavirus crisis mounts around the world. My 7-year-old boy is especially anxious about not being able to see friends or his first grade class. And I am sure, as much as I have tried to hide it, both of my boys are picking up on my anxiety about the increasing restrictions to public life that are occurring in Seattle and around the country. I checked out the King County Public Health guide for talking to kids about the COVID-19 crisis, which recommended asking your kids how they are doing and allowing them direct discussions about this outbreak.
At breakfast this morning I asked my kids if they were worried. My youngest said, “I’m not too worried. Well I’m not worried for me but I am worried for Grandma.” He meant his 85-year-old great grandma. I told him it’s okay to be worried and that I worried sometimes too. Then I told him that we were going to work very hard to stay safe and healthy and that I was here to help him if he had any questions or needed anything. I realized at that point that today’s homeschool “lessons” were going to be all about helping my kid stay positive in this difficult time.
I started by asking what he does when he feels worried to help him feel better. He told me that he learned from his school counselor that you could take deep breaths. I told him that was an excellent idea and that first period was going to be mindfulness. I went online to and found a mindfulness mediation video for kids and we did it all together. My 7-year-old thought it was kind of silly but at the end I at least felt more calm and grounded than before.
Next we had “art class” and my son drew a picture of someone fighting the coronavirus. Given that the school our kids go to can’t afford to have an art teacher, I was really grateful for this time where they get to express themselves creatively.
Then, for social studies, we moved to an on-line game called Spend Bill Gates’ Money. We started the game off with 90 billion dollars and learned just how hard it is to spend that amount of money. For example, they bought every single NFL team and still had 16,400,000,000 left! The examination of Bill Gates’ wealth quickly led to a discussion of how if he wasn’t hording all that money, people could work together to figure out how to best use it to help everyone–including helping a lot of people who have just lost their jobs be able to feed their families.
Then, for the most important subject of the day—Recess!—we got out the bikes and went outside. My youngest son has never learned how to ride a bike and I thought we should take this opportunity to teach him. At first he was nervous about falling, but I told him I would be right there next to him and if he fell, I’d pick him up and we would keep going. Then, to my amazement, he hoped right on and took off!! Watching my older son cheer on his little brother as he conquered his fear of falling was a true joy.
I also wanted to make sure that my kids stay connected to the people that are such a part of their lives. When we came back in, the kids called their great grandma. She was thrilled to talk to them and it really lifted their spirits to see she was doing so well. They also called their best friends and invented a game: FaceTime hide-and-go-seek. My younger son hid in the house and my older son took the phone around with him so their friends at the other end could help direct where they should look. That kept them busy for a good long time!
One thing I realized from our day is that the new homeschooling moment that many millions of us around the country have found ourselves in doesn’t have to look like kids doing work packets. You can cover a lot of subjects—and kids can get a deep and meaningful education—by simply engaging them about these unprecedented times. If your kids are begging for worksheets and need that structure, by all means provide them for them. But for all the parents who are at home with their kids right now, please don’t pressure yourself to make sure that your kids are keeping pace, day by day, with the regular curriculum they were getting at school. School districts should refrain from requiring the endless filling out of worksheets–because it could put students at risk for missing the deeper education that this moment affords.
As tough a time as it is right now, we can also make this into an opportunity to expand the definition and purpose of education. Now, more than ever, we need education to address the moment we are in as a society and we need education to be relevant to our children’s lives. Taking the time to keep our kids connected to their friends and family is education. Having our kids express their creativity is education. Talking to our kids about good hygiene and how to stop the spread of coronavirus is education. Taking time away from standard school lessons to just relax and engage in film studies on the couch with the kids can be an important way unwind and manage stress. Investigating the distribution of wealth in America and showing kids how inequality is making coronavirus more dangerous to our communities is a deeply valuable education. And what I have discovered, most of all, is that taking the time to discuss our feelings with our kids is the best education we could possibly give to our children.
Teacher, Seattle Public Schools
Editor, Rethinking Schools magazine
Director, Black Education Matters
Editor, Teaching for Black Lives