How bad can it be, I think to myself? At week one I will admit to laughable ideas of possessing previously untapped teaching prowess bordering on delusional. At week one I think ‘plenty of the great and the good were home schooled’. I Google this just to make sure… yes Caitlin Moran, Emma Watson, Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie…not so bad for the little grey cells after all to have your total amateur parents have a stab at this education malarkey.
My six-year-old tells me I am ‘always telling her what to do’ and in this context this feels like a positive start. Maybe I am a natural? It’ll surprise no parent or carer currently home schooling that this is woefully optimistic because the thing about teachers is that they are professionals. We knew this and yet we didn’t ‘know’ this. They are professionals with qualifications, ongoing training and a vocational calling to provide an education to children they didn’t even have! Equally, or more likely because of this, my daughter respects them. 7 weeks into familial lockdown and respect is ‘somewhat’ waning and children can spot a phoney a mile off!
We’re now in week 7 and whilst very therapeutic you can’t just silently scream into the fridge whilst you cram handfuls of panic bought Easter egg into your mouth between swigs of gin. This is the ‘new normal’ and educator is now on the ‘to do’ list. For me, it’s not been easy. As we crash our way through the current set up here are some of the things that have helped us.
Give Yourself a Break
You simply cannot hold yourself to the same work standards you did before ‘teach life cycle of a tadpole’ found itself sat alongside your work to do list. Trying to, and I have so I speak from wine-soaked experience, will leave you exhausted and resentful. You haven’t suddenly lost the ability to do your job, you have just lost some of the time and focus needed to hit the same deadlines you would pre-tadpole. Be realistic, account for your extra scholastic workload and set timelines that work for both you and your stakeholder.
This also goes for your ability as a supply teacher. OFSTED are not coming to your kitchen. I am sure proper teachers never need to pop ‘split diagraph’ into a search engine in order to understand today’s English lesson and that is okay. You’re doing your best.
No this is not a helpful tip of getting your new pupils to focus with the magnet like superpower that actual teachers possess. I’m talking about that class WhatsApp group you joined so the kids can stay in touch. Mute it or spend the day wondering how on earth little Georgie’s parents have had the time to help him reconstruct Windsor Castle from toilet roll innards. Read it at the end of day, better still let your child read it at the end of the day, it was for them anyway. Plus it’s probably better they don’t hear you accuse Georgie’s parents of being ‘those toilet roll hoarders’.
I am very fortunate to work for a business who hold ‘family first’ central to their ethos. A balanced family life, however that is made up, is vital to your wellbeing even if you have been ‘tidying’ the shed for the past 3 hours just to get some locked down time alone! Accept that your work life and family are now a blend. Your home may be your office and a classroom right now but first and foremost it is your family home. At Investigo it is accepted that you might not always be ‘video ready’, that calls may clash with the fifteenth meltdown over misunderstood maths (usually parental) or be interrupted. There are so many families in the same position and businesses on a whole have been great in offering their support. After all, the better we can all understand and respect one another’s demands, the better we can navigate them for the best results all round.
That said, you will still want and need to do work. For us this cannot happen without a full-on shout-fest unless we have some agreement around boundaries. Work and school schedules ebb and flow in intensity and volume, which you can work to your advantage. If you can create a routine flexible enough for some room to manoeuvre, it can help give you some structure, negate stress and prevent ‘can you all be quiet please, I am on a call’ comments (this, of course, is what my best self would say but she, like us all, is only making an appearance once a day for exercise. The reality was frequently more colourful).
For us, and our lark of a daughter, days start early so we can get some schooling in before breakfast, but perhaps your family keeps more sociable hours that are better for you to focus on some work. If you can share the workload between parents, older siblings, anyone lucky enough to be locked down with you then even better. You can tag team time and attention throughout the day to the best of your ability and your pupil/s may appreciate knowing when they can expect the next lesson.
There is help out there, unfortunately not coming in the form of a Mary Poppins, but there are plenty free ‘spoonfuls of sugar’ to help the ‘medicine go down’.
The BBC are running lessons each school day specifically tailored to your child’s key stage. You can access this via iPlayer at Bitesize Daily, then select the week, day you want. This alone is worth the licence fee.
If you’d rather choose your lessons, BBC Bitesize is fantastic for keeping them occupied whilst they’re being educated. You can find them here.
And lastly, also from the BBC there are educational and fun games for ages 0-6 or 6-12 .
The Maths Factor, created by Carol Vorderman, is being offered for free during the school closures. Despite sounding like it might be trying to make maths sound fun, it’s very good. You can find it here.
The Natural History Museum ‘Try at Home’ section is brilliant, especially so for dino fans.
Take a virtual school trip at Chester Zoo.
Primary school resources on everything from the queen’s birthday to butterflies to fractions can be found at Twinkl. You can set up a free account to access.
Have Tim Peake speak to you about his life as an astronaut at STEM.org.
And finally, as wiser people have reminded me, not all education is academic. There is cooking, tying shoelaces, making beds, being patient, using imagination, building dens, compromising, finding books and films you’ll love forever, negotiating and kindness to be learnt and we can all do that.