Written by Quiltlove founder, Liz Coyle who lives in Moraga, CA and is the mother of two young boys.

When coronavirus exploded at this time last year, bringing in-person schooling to an abrupt halt, I sprang into action. I hid from the soul-crushing daily news and dove headfirst into exploring exciting topics with our five- and seven-year-old sons. I busied myself by creating weeks upon weeks of educational and genuinely fun activities to do with our boys.

We converted our laundry room into a rainforest with an array of crafted animals: three-toed sloths, blue morpho butterflies, poison dart frogs! We built a solar system to scale, followed along with Bob and Doug’s journey to the ISS, and pitched a tent on our deck to stargaze. We planted a garden, raised chicks, made flags and food from foreign countries. My crowning accomplishment was sewing athletic socks dyed with homegrown beets into some very original “socktopus” stuffed animals at the end of our unit on coral reefs. But as summer dwindled, calls for racial justice escalated, and wildfires raged, I crashed. Hard.

The Original Socktopus

As summer dwindled, calls for racial justice escalated and wildfires raged, I crashed. Hard.

In mid-August, it was clear we were nowhere near the coronavirus finish line. The Back-to-School season that normally marks the return of routine, instead signaled that life was still anything but. I mourned the absence of smiling new friends, tender drop offs and proud pickups.

Our boys were in good spirits, happily plunked in front of their school-issued Chromebooks, but I saw their computer screens as cold and austere. My heart broke each morning as I logged them in.

From our kitchen I would overhear their teachers patiently walking them through core educational building blocks, tackling unglamorous topics like phonics, letter formation and sounding out words. “Beeee… Buuuuh… Bat” was a common refrain and references to penmanship guides echoed throughout our house in surround sound. Their teachers used creative characters and games to capture the kids’ attention. They toggled between repetition and variety, ensuring that they reached every child in the class. They deployed strategies for getting the kids to abide by Zoom rules. As a fly on the wall of their virtual classrooms, my perspective began to shift.

While I felt sanctimonious after spending a day exploring all the interesting facts about octopuses or parlaying a lesson about Lebanon into how to make hummus (it involves fractions!), our sons’ teachers showed up every single day committed to doing the critical work of building a solid educational foundation. With the core reading, writing and arithmetic lessons underway, they introduced science, social studies and history. They built-in silly dance breaks, opportunities for sharing, and small breakout rooms to encourage laughter and interaction among the kids. These were the skills of professionals, committed to the full educational experience as compared to the incomplete and sporadic lessons on exotic creatures and faraway lands that I had cobbled together in my makeshift learning-from-home experience.

In September, when our son’s teacher announced that he was falling behind in literacy and selected him for additional reading instruction, I nearly cried. Not from disappointment, but from gratitude — I felt so fortunate that there was another adult in the room, besides me and my husband, who was keeping an eye on his reading. Our privilege in this situation is not lost on me.

Coronavirus has touched everyone in some way, to include my sons’ teachers. I know they missed loved ones’ marriages, spent holidays in isolation, and carried out elaborate juggling acts to coordinate their own children’s care while meeting the demands of the job. Surely, they faced other challenges that I will never know about. Nor were they immune to the environmental, racial justice and political mayhem that – months earlier – pushed me past my breaking point.

If you have ever tried leading a Zoom meeting, while sharing your screen and simultaneously taking questions from a room with more participants than will fit on your screen – I dare you to try. Now imagine they are all kindergartners.

Our boys’ teachers showed up every single day, stared new technology in the face with a smile, and managed to pull off miracles. If you have ever tried leading a Zoom meeting, while sharing your screen and simultaneously taking questions from a room with more participants than will fit on your screen – I dare you to try. Now imagine they are all kindergartners.

Last month, elementary schools in our town re-opened their doors for in-person instruction (two afternoons a week) for the first time since going virtual one year ago. While this is generally seen as a positive step, welcomed by most members of our community, it further complicates our teachers’ already complex jobs and exposes them to the risk of contracting COVID-19 as they await the vaccine.

With the end of the 2020/2021 school year in sight, I have the highest level of appreciation for our teachers who have both educated our children and given them a sense of stability and normalcy. I have seen them shine through the most challenging circumstances and listened in as they have put in the hard daily work of establishing our children’s educational foundation, all with a positive attitude, flexibility and patience. I may know five cool facts about octopuses, but a teacher I am not.

All Teacher Appreciation quilts organized in March come with four FREE squares.

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