When I decided to become a teacher, my reasons were doing so were clear. First of all, I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I first saw one on the second day of kindergarten. I love everything about teaching, and teaching loves everything about me.
But as I became a mom, another perk emerged. My job hours aligned with those at my kids’ schools. When they were off, I’d be off too. My students would get me during school hours, while my kids were with their own teachers. And as soon as my kids were out of school, I’d be off too, to spend precious hours just with them.
But with COVID-19, all of that has changed.
I’m not in the habit of having to choose between “my kids,” and my KIDS.
Usually, my students stay at school. While I’m there, I belong to them completely. I tend to their needs—distributing Band-Aids and reassurances alongside instruction and academic feedback. I hear about the tummy aches and the friend troubles and the frustration when assignments aren’t going well. I am their person, and it’s a responsibility I’ve never taken lightly.
And when I’m at home, it’s my kids’ turn. I help them with their homework and prepare snacks and do fun activities. There are giggles and art projects and cuddles. The other part of me, my job, doesn’t come home with me very often. I don’t give out my number to families, and I only answer emails and work on lesson plans when they’re asleep. My kids know I am a teacher, but my teaching has always stayed at school.
Only now, the lines have blurred.
I’m inviting students into my home, via Zoom meetings and office hours and content development. My daughter sits beside me as I coach a student in how to get onto our remote learning platform. My students catch a glimpse of my dog walking by as I teach them about communication.
And for the first time, I’m being asked to choose between my children and my students. And not in the abstract ways, about priorities and balance and making time. As in, I have to choose to help my student right now, or to help my child right now.
I find myself telling my kids that they need to wait for snacks, because Charlie needs help. Or that they have to do their homework on their own because Emily can’t. They need to be quiet because I’m paying attention to my students, and they need to entertain themselves because I’m busy entertaining someone else.
Where once there were clear lines between my people, there are now abstract boundaries. They have to take turns, and it’s not always clear when their turn will be.
I feel like I’ve been caught out. Like my own children have seen that I’ve been cheating on them with other kids. That they see my love for my students, and aren’t sure how to interpret it. They’re left with questions, and sometimes pitiful declarations like, “You only care about your students!” and, “You love them more than you love ME.”
But the thing is, my kids? Well I know they need me. But my students? They need me so much more right now.
My kids sleep in a secure home in a safe neighborhood. They have their own beds. They have someone to come in when they have a nightmare, and soothe them back to sleep.
They have someone to look over their schoolwork. They have a parent who understands the assignments, both because they are written in a language they understand and because they’ve been trained on how to teach these concepts.
They have a refrigerator full of food. They know where their next meal is coming from, and they won’t have to make it themselves. They don’t hear their parents worrying about how the next bill will get paid, or what happens to their job if we don’t reopen soon.
They have a home where arguing is rare, and violence is not present. They have room to play, both figuratively and literally. They have calm, and consistency, and patience.
And some of my students have those things, too, but not all of them do. I have always been their safe place. I am their stability. My classroom is their sanctuary, their respite from the storm.
The quarantine has taken that away from them, but it hasn’t taken me away yet. I am their lifeline to their normal life, and I am the presence that makes them feel okay, even if just for an hour or two a day.
And as much as I love my kids, I can’t take that away from my students.
Because my kids will be alright. This call will end. Snacks will be handed out. School work will be reviewed. There will be pushes on the swing in the front yard, and a family dinner around the table. These few hours where mom isn’t fully present will be hard on them, but we can make up for it in the hours, days, and weeks that follow.
My students may not be as lucky.
So if I’m being asked to choose—which, make no mistake about it, I am—in this moment, I’m going to choose my students. Because I know my kids need me, but right now?
My students need me more.