If you are reading this article and are a parent of school-aged children, you must be taking a recess break! My guess would be that you and one of your children just finished watching an online video from your child’s teacher. Maybe you just took a break from RAZ kids, or finished uploading a completed assignment to Seesaw. Either way, you, the parent-turned-teacher, are exhausted already. Your other children are asking questions about their assignments. You need a break, so you’ve made an executive decision: it’s recess time. By the way, this is morning recess so you’re only about a third of the way through the school day.
This might not be an exact match of your experience during the school closures due to COVID-19, but this is my wife’s life at the moment. For me, all this education happening at our home is a beautiful thing, but it does make it challenging to get my regular work done. I have a deep love for Christian education, even when it happens at my own home, but I do need to apologize to all you educators out there – I had to put on noise-cancelling headphones in order to write this opening paragraph.
My regular job is to lead Edifide, an organization whose membership is comprised of the employees of Christian schools across the province of Ontario. Our mission is to provide a voice on behalf of our members in matters pertaining to their employment, and our goal is to assist our members and the schools they work at to build healthy workplaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the work of our members and the schools that employ them. This impact has been both educational and financial.
In the face of school closures, teachers and other Christian school employees in Ontario have needed to adjust their work dramatically over a very short period of time. Many of our educator members have worked diligently to bring the classroom to the home in new ways. Many have had a very small window to learn new technologies and online tools, and have employed them as they assist their students remotely. The professionalism and dedication of Christian school educators has been incredible to witness as they have worked tirelessly to make methodological and pedagogical adjustments. And these early changes are likely just the start. With the recent announcement of extended publicly funded school closures, educators will be faced with many other upcoming challenges: student evaluation, student participation, nurturing classroom community, and other non-academic elements such as social interactions, friendship building and discipline.
Beyond all of these changes for professional educators, I want to acknowledge the significant challenges experienced by the newly created “family home schools” across the province. For many of you, the current “at-home” learning has stretched the bounds of our concept of church, school, and home working together to educate our children. Although a Reformed Christian view of education has never limited education to the four walls of the school, we have been fortunate to push much of that responsibility onto Christian schools. Yet, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the home is being asked to pick up a larger portion than we may be accustomed to. The timing of this shift in your children’s education isn’t optimal. Given the requirement of social distancing on so many businesses around the province and country, many parents struggling with doing their own jobs from home are now faced with the task of educating their children at the same time.
Along with all these educational challenges, our Christian schools in Ontario are also under significant financial pressures. Extended school closures have put considerable strain on the overall budgets of many schools. At the same time, many families within the school communities are facing similar financial constraints. The closing of all non-essential services has deeply impacted the earnings of many supporters of our Christian schools. Many of us have lost jobs, or are facing job and income reductions. In the midst of all these pressures, I want to press upon the employees and supporters of Christian schools the need to work together. As an organization that advocates on behalf of employees working in Christian schools, we at Edifide are facing very real tensions. We want to preserve the well-being of our members, financially and mentally, while also recognizing the need to be sensitive to the financial stability and viability of Christian schools during the crisis we are currently facing. We don’t believe that our members will be free from the suffering of the current financial crisis that is being felt within our communities. We also understand that requests for Christian school tuition rebates are not intended to devalue the educator’s work, but rather that they arise from the current financial realities faced by many families.
I want to end with an encouragement to our Christian school communities. History has shown that we can and have risen above significant adversity. Many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents built these schools and have supported them with blood, sweat and tears – and prayer. What is clear to me in all of this is the long view. In the end, all of us, as Christian school supporters, want to see each and all of our schools live on to provide Christian education for a long time into the future – until the time that our Lord returns to this good earth. We must face the COVID-19 crisis in the same way that we have faced so many of the other obstacles and crises we have faced in the past: in open and honest conversation with thoughtful contemplation and thorough understanding of each other. I pray the Lord’s strength and discernment to the Boards, leaders and employees of our Christian school communities as we wade through these depths together.