Is School in Session?
About the Guest
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Nan DealNan Deal is the co-founder of Connor's Song, a non-profit organization that she and her husband founded in honor of their son Connor Lee Deal who died at the age of 12 in 2009. In cooperation with the Touch A Life Foundation, Connor's Song run Connor Creative Art Center in Ghana, West Africa, a facility that provides hope and healing through art therapy for almost 100 trafficked children rescued from the fishing industry in Ghana. Nan, a school teacher, and her husband, Ron, live in Little Rock,...more
Parents are making some difficult decisions regarding school this fall. As a teacher, Nan Deal offers suggestions for forming a cooperation between teachers and parents to make sure children are learning.
Is School in Session?
Michelle: If you have kids in your home, you’ve no doubt been asking yourself, “What’s this year of schooling going to look like in light of these COVID restrictions?” Well, elementary school teacher, Nan Deal, is asking these same questions.
Nan: It’s going to be a challenge. It’s not going to look the same at all. Some is live; some is at home; and we have to be prepared for it changing daily or weekly. I think that’s what we all need to do: we all need to grieve it—it’s not going to look the same; it’s not going to be the same. “What is it going to be?”—it’s that new normal when you go through any kind of loss.
Michelle: So whether your kids are in school, whether they’re part-time in school/part-time at home, or even if they’re homeschooled, we’re going to take a look at the new landscape of education for the fall of 2020 on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Do you remember that first day of school?—like of kindergarten? You walked into the classroom; you might have been clutching your mommy’s hand, because it was all so new. It was this new experience, but there was that kindergarten teacher with a big smile on her face. Mine was Miss Boender. She was so excited to have me in her class. I don’t think anybody had been that welcoming to me before. The great thing was my mom got to walk me into the classroom.
That’s really the story of many generations of students through the years. Their parents got to walk them into the classroom; take that honorary picture of the first day of school with your teacher. But that’s really not what’s happening in this year. In fact, I received a text from a really good friend a couple of weeks ago; and it started off with: “Today was my son’s first day of kindergarten. I sobbed for half an hour after he got out of the car; because COVID means that I didn’t get to walk him in and give him a big hug, or even take that picture with his teacher. Somebody else opened our van door; somebody else took my son out. He looked at me very nervously, going, ‘Where am I going, Mommy?’”
The reason why I share that with you today is because I’ve invited Nan Deal to talk with me. Nan is an early elementary school teacher, and she is like many of the teachers that you are handing your child off to. I wanted to just sort of encourage you and reassure you that these teachers love your children; and they want to see your children thrive, and grow, and learn.
As I sat down with Nan, I started things off by asking her why she became a teacher. Here’s my conversation with Nan Deal.
Michelle: So, Nan, why did you choose teaching?
Nan: Wow! My dad built a huge dollhouse in the backyard, and I made it into a school. My grandfather was a teacher/principal; grandmother was a teacher; my mom was a teacher. I really fought it, but from the get-go—[Laughter]
Nan: —I was telling all the kids in the neighborhood what to do in my little schoolhouse, so that’s where it started.
Michelle: Wow! That’s fascinating—how it goes back to—
Michelle: —I mean, generations!
Nan: Right. And then I was a swimmer in high school, and I worked at a pool. I started teaching swimming lessons. It was just like teaching was just a natural gifting; I love it. Now, its early childhood that is my niche.
Nan: I mean, I taught drama. I love to do drama; but when you give me middle schoolers and high schoolers, it’s like, “I am so out of my comfort zone.”
Michelle: So what is it about that early elementary/early childhood age that you like to teach?
Nan: Well, they love you!
Nan: You know, maybe, it’s because I need all those hugs and all that affirmation.
Michelle: “Mrs. Deal! We want to sit by you,” “I want to be with you!”
Nan: Yes; they’re just such sponges. When the light bulb goes on, I get to be there for that moment—whether it’s learning to read or they’re learning a social concept or a skill—cutting open a snack, I’m giving them a life skill; “I can do it by myself!”—tying their shoes—all those kind of things!
Nan: It’s the light bulb moment that goes on; and it’s like, “I had a part in that.” And, also, that first step into school—if you can give them a wonderful experience—maybe they’ll love learning for the rest of their lives. I feel like it’s a mission/a ministry to make learning fun, and make them feel comfortable, and safe, and secure so that they’ll love learning for the rest of their lives.
Michelle: That is such a—I wish you were my first-grade teacher!! [Laughter] That would be great!
Nan: Oh, you’re sweet!
Michelle: So what happened when March came in 2020 and COVID hit?
Michelle: What happened for you as a teacher?
Nan: Right. I felt like my job was taken away. You know, you have those moments, where—we lived in Jonesboro when the Westside shooting happened. I know exactly where I was—standing in my house—when that happened. I know exactly where I was when 9/11 happened.
I know exactly what I was doing that afternoon when they came into my room, giving us a hand-written message so as not to disturb the kids: “Get the packets ready; get them ready to go. You may not see your kids after spring break.” I’m thinking, “Well, we knew this virus was out there, but we’ll see them after spring break.” Then, after that happened, it was like, “Okay, it’s online learning. How do you do that with little children? Their parents are working from home.”
I really felt like my job was taken from me, and I became an IT consultant. That’s not what I’m trained to do; it’s not something I enjoy. Plus, I’m an extrovert; I like being with people! [Laughter]
Michelle: You’re like, “I was at home—quarantined!”
Nan: I was sequestered at home; yes.
To Zoom with five- and six-year-olds was challenging. Now, I had three semesters with them, so I had some rapport with them already. I can’t imagine starting off like that when you don’t know a child; you haven’t established yourself as an authority figure in their life. I have one example, where I had one little boy, who was jumping on the bed/jumping on the bed. I said, “Okay, James; I need you to sit crisscross applesauce.” He went, “Oh; yes, ma’am; and then we went on. But to start out like that—
Nan: —I have no idea what that would look like.
Michelle: So it will probably be hard this fall.
Michelle: I know some schools are back in—
Michelle: —some are not. They can only be at 50 percent capacity.
Nan: Right; combinations; yes.
Nan: I’m fortunate my school is starting live. We will be taping ourselves in the event that we do have to go home. You know, I read a 20-page document last week about our marching orders for how it’s going to look: masks all day; eating in your classroom; parents not being able to come into the school. I do a lot with having parents come in, volunteer. It’s going to be a challenge; it’s not going to look the same at all. Some is live; some is at home. We have to be prepared for it changing daily or weekly.
Michelle: How do you prepare yourself for that changing daily or weekly?
Nan: Wow! I’ve been praying a lot—I really have—that God would give me the grace to just do whatever; because after coming home in the spring, and then just kind of getting through that last semester, you know, I thought it would be over; and we’d be moving on to the new/I mean, the regular.
Nan: I feel like last week, after I got my marching orders and our school came together and had that meeting, I had to grieve what was. I had to grieve the loss of what my school looks like and how I have been trained to teach. And then, I went up to my school—I’m fortunate I can go up there—I went up to my school and I kind of did a lay of the land of my classroom; and I thought, “Okay, I’ve got to flip this on its end.”
I think that’s what we all need to do; we all need to grieve it.
Nan: It’s not going to look the same; it’s not going to be the same. We need to start preparing our hearts for: “What is it going to be?” It’s that new normal when you go through any kind of loss.
Nan: I had to do that this weekend. Sunday, I was just still in such a funk. My husband, Ron, sat across from me and said, “The one thing that hasn’t changed is teaching. You are still a teacher, no matter how it looks. You have been gifted and given a gift to teach. It’s going to look different, but you are still a teacher.”
Michelle: Well, I think it’s key—the advice that you just gave about grieving/grieving this loss—
Michelle: —because it is an ambiguous loss that we don’t realize.
Michelle: But there have been a lot of losses as we have walked through COVID and through this pandemic. It’s so important to remember that you did lose something.
Nan: Yes. My school is so fun; we are a big family. We do a dance at the beginning of the year, all the way down the hallway, and then we post it for the families to see. We have a book character day, where last year, I was Cruella de Vil—I mean, the whole garb. We try to one-up on everybody; the kids all come. We have great parties; we have great field days/field trips; faculty meetings are fun!
We’re all sequestered to our rooms, and it’s all going to be six feet apart or further. A lot of those things will be taken away from us, so we’ll have to think of a different way how to do it. I mean, I have parents come in; they’re called Mystery Readers. I give the kids clues, and parents come in to read to my classroom.
Nan: The other day, I thought, “We can’t do that.” Then I thought, “No! We can do it. They’ll have to Zoom, but we can still do it.”
Nan: It’s just thinking everything through. Especially with little ones, I’m trying to prepare myself for the first week of school of: “Oh, baby, you’ve got to keep that mask on,” “O, baby, you’ve got to keep that…” “Oh, it dropped in the toilet? Well, let’s get you a new one.” [Laughter]
Michelle: “Let’s get you a new one.” [Laughter]
Nan: Yes; you know? They’ve never done it before; I’ve never done it before. It’s a brand-new season with school.
Michelle: And what I’m hearing from you is: being flexible,—
Michelle: —and knowing expectations or not having the expectations that you had last year.
Nan: Right; right—the pivot—
Nan: —you know, learning to pivot.
Nan: I think you need to rely on your team. I think you need to prepare. If you do have an online portal, start learning it now. Start getting accustomed to it and learn it, so that you’re ahead of the curve a little bit. I’m a planner, so that’s me.
I just want to give my kids—I need to think through, you know, parents can’t come in the building. I’ve got to think through how I can receive them so they’re comfortable, without hugging.
Michelle: —and build that relationship with them that’s so important—
Michelle: as you’re teaching their child.
Nan: Right, while wearing a mask.
Nan: We’re all like, “Well, it’s got to be clear; they’ve got to be able to see us”; you know?
Nan: Everything just has to look a different way.
It is a struggle—you know, even for homeschooling parents—you’ve got a co-op you’d like to go to; you’ve got hands-on learning you’d like to go to/field trips to enrich it. High school students and all their extra activities. For me, I do Lego Club: “How in the world…?!” I mean, right now, my school is saying, “No clubs.” You know, a bucket of Legos for 30 kids on a Wednesday afternoon—it’s just not going to happen right now; so we have to be flexible. We have to kind of go on to Plan B, C, and D.
Nan: But the thing is—I’m still a teacher; I’m still going to have 20 little ones in my charge. They’re still going to have to learn some things, so I’m going to have to get creative.
Nan: There still have to be goals; there’s still got to be some fun to be had—we just have to be creative.
Michelle: Nan Deal, sharing how we’re all going to have to adapt and change, just a little bit, because there is this kind of new normal, at least, for a bit longer yet.
I hope you’ve been encouraged; we’ve got more encouragement coming along. We’ve got to take a break. I’ll be back in two minutes with more from Nan Deal. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Today, we are talking with Nan Deal. If the name, “Deal,” sounds familiar, it’s because Nan is the wife of Ron Deal, who is the head of FamilyLife Blended®, here at FamilyLife®.
I’m talking with Nan because she’s an early elementary teacher, and she’s helping us understand what this fall looks like for those of you who have put your child in school; or maybe you’re homeschooling; or maybe you’re doing that hybrid of both. I asked Nan: “How can parents and teachers come alongside each other to best help their children learn this fall?” Here’s Nan Deal.
Nan: You’ve got to think outside the box with the communication. You know, it won’t be that face to face.
Nan: There probably needs to be a lot more either Zoom or FaceTime calls at the beginning to introduce yourself. Meet the Teacher Night at my school is going to be a drive-by: I’m outside the car, and they’re in the car; and somebody’s getting their supplies out of the trunk. I mean, you’re going to have to figure out how to communicate, whether it’s more phone calls, more emails, more Zooms; and I know we’re Zoomed out!
Nan: We’re Google-meet-ed out. [Laughter] I think the communication has got to be above and beyond, especially at first. You know, a lot of us want to video tape our room, and share it with the parents to say: “Here’s where your child is going to be; this is what it looks like.”
Nan: I have a shelf in my room, where they get to bring a picture of their family; so that if they’re missing them, they can go over and look at it during the day. Well, that can still be on that shelf! You know, there are some things that still can be; and some things that, you know, we have to take away—and then, maybe, come up with an alternative—so, again, it’s being creative.
But it’s also saying: “I know this isn’t what you want,” or “I know this isn’t the best way to communicate right now, but it’s what we have; so help me help you.”
Nan: I think communication with your school is so important: communication with your administration/with your teacher. Let us know if it’s not working! Let us know what works better/what time of day. I very much want to be flexible for those parents—especially those who have, maybe, some at home/some at school—and they’re at home trying to have ten Zoom meetings a day.
Nan: “If another Zoom meeting with me is not great that night, let’s pivot and do it another night.”
Michelle: I’m hearing from you that feedback from parents is essential in all of this.
Nan: It is essential! It is key; and I think, from the teacher as well—go above and beyond at first—because, like I said, we’ve never done this before. There are a lot of parents who have never not walked into the school building. You know, they want to have lunch with their kids, maybe once a week, or go to that football game, or—
Michelle: —or drop them off for their first day of kindergarten with a picture with the teacher.
Nan: Right; yes.
You know, we have a college student; and he’s going to go back—but part of them are online and part of them are live—the other night, he said, “It’s just not been the college experience I’ve wanted.” I think, across the board, it’s not what any of us wanted.
Nan: As it lingers on, I feel like we’re getting edgier, and edgier, and edgier. That’s where that grace is going to have to come in; that’s where that prayer is going to have to come in, and our faith that: “God, You are going to equip me to do this.” I mean, I got a great education as a teacher. I was in the classroom a lot and had some great teachers I was under. Never once was I taught how to Zoom or do anything virtual. It’s a new day!
Nan: We’re going to have to extend ourselves a tremendous amount of grace, too; and I just feel like I need to do a lot of praying; you know?
Nan: It’s going to be one day at a time; because I feel like the plan might change after a week.
Michelle: Right. How do we help our kids/our students, who are really struggling; because they thought they could come back, and school would be normal again?
Nan: Right. I think that’s where we, as families, need to just have those talks. Like I said earlier, we need to grieve it; but we also need to talk around it and talk about the emotions around it: “I know you don’t like this; I know you’re frustrated. This doesn’t look like anything that you’ve wanted. How can we/what can we do differently? What are some things that we can do?”
I really feel like we’ve got to put emotions on it/words on it; we’ve got to talk it through. We can’t just walk around, bottling it up. I think we need to help our kids name the things that they’re feeling and the losses that they’re going through; and then, maybe, get creative about some ideas of: “Well, you can’t do this now; but what’s one thing that you can do?”
Michelle: Let’s think about creativity for a bit. I know there are a lot of overworked parents out there—
Michelle: —some parents, who are now working from home, and they’re also pulling double-duty of, maybe, an afternoon with their kids or an evening with their kids—
Michelle: —or you know, having to also be there to do the part-time teaching.
Michelle: What are some tips for some of those parents, who are going, “Okay! I’m about ready to pull my hair out; my kids are not listening to me”?
Nan: Right. I’ve heard from some families—having a plan and having a schedule, especially if you’re sharing devices, has been key—kind of being prepared and having a plan. But also, punting if it’s not working—you know, it’s kind of like—“Okay! We need a time out from this! So let’s all just time out from the devices,” or “…from the learning and pick it back up at another time,”—walk around the block; you know, take some breaks.
I’ve even known people who have hired family members as babysitters to come in and say, “Can you come in for a couple of hours so that I can then get this done?” Or maybe asking an older child to help a younger child with something. But, you know, taking some breaks/having some fun as a family. Not just being all about the online, I think, is important.
But I think you have to be—you kind of have to have a schedule in that, too, especially if you’re sharing devices. You may have a child that works really well in the morning/learns really well in the morning; you may have a child who doesn’t/they work well in the afternoon. Maybe you can flip-flop your day with, “Okay, I’m going to get a lot of my work done in the morning, and I’m going to then help in the afternoon.” I had one parent, who was a physician; she was like, “We are going to have to do this on the weekends; I am on the front lines.”
You know, I don’t think it has to be any kind of formula; I think it needs to fit your family. And I do think, in this COVID environment, with schools reopening, you’ve got to do what’s best for your family; you really do.
Michelle: That’s really a good word: “Doing what’s best instead of trying to fit everybody else.”
Nan: Right, and thinking about what everybody else is doing.
If it doesn’t fit your family, then think of what plan can fit your family. I’ve always said—because I’ve taught public; I’ve taught private—and I always asked my boys—“Hey, would you like me to homeschool you?” And they always said, “No.” [Laughter] I always took—“What does that say about Mom?!”
Michelle: I was just going to ask, did you take that as a dig; or did you take that as, “Well, sure, kid!”?
Nan: I took that as a dig when they were little; but when they got older, it was like, “You do not want me teaching you calculus. I’m an early childhood education major! [Laughter] After a certain amount, you need somebody else!”
I think we need to look at it as, “What is best for our family?” Every semester/every year is going to look different; you know? I think you need to look at it like that; and this school year, for sure, is going to look so different.
Michelle: So, Nan, what are your hopes and dreams for this year?
Nan: I’m already praying for those 20 little bodies who are coming into my room. I hope that I can be a calming factor in their life; that I can still teach with fidelity; and we can have fun, even though we’re masked up; and that we can still have those light-bulb moments and those fun moments, even though we’re just stuck in this one room. I’m going to try to give it my all but be gracious to myself, to my co-workers, to those parents, and to those kiddos. If we have to take a break from the masks, and we all have to kind of get away and pull it down for a minute, we’re going to pull it down for a minute, and count to five, and move on.
My son, Connor—favorite verse was Proverbs 3:5-6. I will say that every day: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.” As a kindergarten teacher, we always say, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” I’m going to be saying that to myself every day! “I’m not going to throw a fit about this year.” COVID will be gone, Lord willing, soon; and then it will be back to the way it should be. But for now, I’m going to do the best I can with God’s help.
Michelle: That’s awesome. Nan, thank you so much for joining me today.
Nan: Thank you for having me.
Michelle: It’s been fun.
Nan: It has been fun.
Michelle: And again, that was early elementary school teacher, Nan Deal, joining me today on FamilyLife This Week. Nan was actually a part of a panel of some other educators discussing what this fall is going to look like with Ron Deal on his podcast, FamilyLife Blended. Go to our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com, and we have information on how you can hear that podcast. We also have a link to an article about just what school will look like—“Four Ways that You Can Be Praying”—that’s at FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
If you have a teenager in your household, there are days when you love them; and then there are days that you plead with God for enough love not to scream at them. Am I right, or am I right? Well, I know that raising teenagers is hard. I have friends, who are in the throes of that right now; and they keep asking the question: “What do we really need to be teaching them? What is most important?” I sat down with Lindsey Carlson recently. She and I talked about: “How do we guide our teens/how we guide our teens in maturing in Christ?” We’ll have that conversation for you next week on FamilyLife This Week.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer, Keith Lynch, today; our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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