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  • Writer's picturegallagherkara

An Open Letter To My Children's Education Staff

Dear Administrators, School Board, Teachers, And All The Hardworking Staff Involved In My Children's Education,

I wish I could sit down with you in person, without a mask. Without the angst and stress of wondering if we are far enough apart or our thoughts distracted by the memories of when we could walk in a room and not do a mental calculation if there is enough space to ‘distance.’

I wish I could be in the same room with you so you could hear my tone and inflection. This is something I pay careful attention to when I advocate for my children. Because that is what this letter is, advocacy.

But first, I want to say a sincere thank you and sincere compliment of what a good job you are doing. I know how hard you have worked this year. I know how hard it has been to develop a lesson plan that needs to be shared via Zoom and the extra tech and headaches and emails and all the extra, extra, extra that has been part of this whole remote learning gig.

Teachers, aides, administrators, support staff, I see you. I know there have been heavy emotions with this new way of having to do your job. I know when you decided to go into education, there was not one class or course or scenario that prepared you for this. I know you have put in extra hours and time and your own personal resources to try and make this school year the best it can be under these circumstances. I know you have felt the frustrations and anger and sadness and fear that have been looming above us all, like a ghost, haunting us these past months. All these hard emotions that in the past, you have spent time coaching and helping your students through. I know that on some days, behind that smile you give on that screen, you also feel defeated with the state of affairs.

I know this.

Which is why this letter is also hard to write, and not sit down in person and tell you. I want you to hear the empathy and compassion in my voice when I tell you I know you are doing your best and giving every ounce of effort you have available.

But, this is a letter of advocacy for my kids. I am writing to tell you my children need to be in school. They need to be in front of their teachers and classmates and see their principals and aides and therapists and support staff face to face.

This is not about how inadequate I feel as a learning facilitator. Because I do. This isn’t about how my own work and pursuits have been slowed to be available for my children being home full-time. Because it has. This isn't about the logistical gymnastics we have arranged as a family to make this school year possible. I can list the dozens of reasons how the decision to be remote only has impacted me and how our family operates, but this letter is not about me.

My three 5th graders are amazing. I watch them struggle with losing connection in the middle of a lesson and with a big sigh, they get back on, catch up. I watch their shoulders slump mid-morning because they’ve been sitting and staring at their devices, doing their best to be a good student and pay attention. I hear them groan in frustration when one of them loses an hour’s worth of work on a Google slide because he hit the wrong button, but then start over and catch up on work he missed after school is officially out.

I am amazed every day at what they have been able to accomplish under these less than ideal circumstances. But I have also watched their moods and behavior darken on a Thursday afternoon when they articulate to me their eyes are tired, their bodies are tired, their minds are tired. I have watched these bright, creative, 10 year olds dim over the past weeks. There has been a slight lag and perceptible shift in how they have approached their learning. Maybe only visible to my mothering eye, but I have seen this evolution. Less excitement. Less energy. My kids need to be back in school.

I will save my words another day for my eight year old, who has an individual education plan that is filled with therapists and goals and plans and needs that have not been fully met since February of this year. Eight months of sliding back, a little more each month. The slide. The regression. It’s slow and barely visible to the naked eye, like a shifting glacier or tectonic plates moving beneath us, but it’s happening. Not only for the most vulnerable student in our household, but for all my children. I am worried for the crash. The earthquake.

I know there are real and serious problems that go along with in person learning. I know it is a complicated issue that is not black and white. There are a thousand different shades to cover and think about in this situation. I know this.

But I could not go another day without speaking up. I need to add my voice to this difficult situation. I know nothing is normal right now. I know returning to school in person will look very different and comes with risks and consequences. But I’m asking the decision makers to weigh those risks and consequences with the current risks and consequences that my children and so many others are experiencing right now, being isolated and learning through a screen.

I have watched other families make brave decisions to home school or find other ways for their kids to get an education during this crazy time. I wish I had the skills, resources, bandwidth, training and every other necessary thing to teach my triplet 5th graders at home.

But I don’t. I have an eight year old with intense educational needs who does not have access to an in person education right now either. So at this moment, taking them out of public school to educate them at home seems impossible. But, as I said, I am an advocate for my children. So if that becomes the better option, if they continue to slide and regress in the wellness of their whole self: physically, mentally, emotionally, I will do what I have to do to keep them healthy this year.

I wish I could tell you all this in person. Instead, I included a vulnerable selfie I clicked one morning after all the emotions and all the overwhelm caught up with me. I wanted to document it. I wanted to document the anxiety and worry that has been so close during this pandemic. I know this face of stress and concern might look familiar. I know you have probably had your own moments, alone in your car, wondering how in the world you will do what needs to be done.

But I know there are better times ahead when we will all work together to find a better way to be together. To stay healthy. To have a productive dialogue. So I don’t want to forget how we got there. Through struggle, the tears, the hard conversations and being brave and vulnerable and willing to show our weaknesses and emotions so we can lift each other. I don’t want to forget.

Thank you for reading this letter and hearing my concerns and requests to return to in person learning as soon as possible.

Respectfully and With Gratitude For All That Has Been Done,

Kara Gallagher

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