Earlier this month my second-grade son was “absent” from remote school for two days. He didn’t turn in any work, and his teacher reached out to ask if there was something she could do to support our family in getting those weekly activities completed.

Teacher Heather Tremblay checks in with a student in one of her English classes at Biddeford High School in December. K-12 educators, students and families all have faced significantly more changes and demands as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

As I sat down to email her, I thought about who was responsible for his incomplete work. Maybe the family child care program where my son is enrolled on remote days should have made sure it was turned in, but the early childhood professionals working there haven’t been provided with funding and support to become K-3 teachers, in addition to their jobs as infant, toddler and preschool teachers. Maybe our school district should have more dedicated support on remote days, but K-12 teachers are already planning both in-person and remote assignments every week, in constant communication with families and working harder than they ever have before.

Maybe my husband and I should find a way to make sure all remote assignments are completed, but we are working full-time jobs, caring for our home and children and already devoting many hours a week to assisting with second- and fifth-grade learning. I had trouble emailing back those sentiments, feeling so angry at the expectations being placed on all of us this year. “Something’s got to give,” I thought. “This is not sustainable.”

An email asking about assignments not turned in and what our family might need, even with its kind intent, feels like a message that we are failing to sufficiently support our children’s remote learning. This message is echoed in blogs and news headlines around the country: Students are failing to show up to their online classes. Children are failing to meet learning standards. Learning loss is growing and states and school districts must figure out how to make up for all this loss.

Failure and loss. I am deeply concerned with this fixation on learning loss and the failure of children and families to live up to the ridiculous expectations being placed on them during this pandemic. We need to be thinking about the multiple attributes of loss in children’s lives, most of which are much more significant than academic standards: the loss of loved ones who have passed away this year; the loss of connection with friends and family who they have not been able to see during months of social distancing; the loss of stability and routine, and the loss of calm, steady parents able to meet all their needs. When I think about my own stress and anxiety, with all my privilege as a white woman, parenting with a partner, with a good income and benefits (and even a degree in education), I can’t imagine how other families are making it through this experience.

We need to consider what our children have gained this year. They are surviving a pandemic. Many children have deepened their resilience and social and emotional skills. When it comes to academic standards, we can give students extra time to learn these skills in the coming year and we can do it with a focus on their developmental needs, viewing them as the complex, whole beings that they are. We can approach this summer and the next school year with creativity and innovation, concentrating on the importance of mental health and strong relationships between students, teachers and families. We can focus on delivering content through more hands-on exploration; movement and time outside, and projects and thematic studies that weave concepts together.

It is my hope that in the coming months I see less written about failure and loss, and more written about how leaders and policymakers are putting children, families and teachers at the center, listening to them and trusting them to know what is best for students. As I look at my son’s Seesaw app, I want to delete the 17 incomplete activities staring at us like a blinking sign indicating that we aren’t doing enough and he isn’t learning. We are, and he is.


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