Its been said thousands of times by, well, pretty much everyone. 2020 hasn’t quite been what anyone could have expected at the start of the year. I’m not going to get absorbed by the ins and outs and the politics of how we’ve ended up in such an awful mess.
The 17 weeks we spent working from home and supporting our children’s home learning have brought us huge challenges, moments of fun, and overwhelming respect for their usual teachers. We’ve learned a lot from those hours of planning, stressing, negotiating, and toiling with our children.
1. I am not a teacher
My parents were teachers, himself’s mum too. I remember them working holidays and evenings, putting in loads of hours and being emotionally invested in the children they taught. However, what I’ve learned makes me unsuitable to teach is the enormous reserve of patience teachers need.
Week 1 I was full of self-congratulation, things were going smoothly. But from the end of the Easter holidays onwards I’ve run out of patience on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
And that’s just with the interruptions to my work day.
The patience I really lack is for a child to learn at their own pace. There were times with maths, with both boys, where I explained something completely clearly – from my perspective at least. They didn’t click immediately and got frustrated. My response was that I simply didn’t know how else to explain, I didn’t understand why they didn’t get it. Of course it was always made worse by trying to support two children doing different things at the same time. I mean seriously teachers – how do you do it with 30 kids of varying abilities?!
I don’t have the patience to multi-task (something I’m usually very good at) or to juggle discussions. Never mind not having any idea how to teach, I definitely don’t have the patience to cope with multiple children requiring different things.
2. My kids are resilient
I fear that my lack of patience has tested our boys’ resilience. They’ve been absolute troopers. Sure there have been plenty of trying moments for us all. The day that large boy interrupted me four times in an hour when he knew I was in a meeting with my boss. All the times that small boy decided he was driving YouTube for his RWI session with Rosie and ended up skipping too far ahead, opening another video or closing the browser completely.
Despite all that they’ve adjusted from spending their weeks with a class of 30, plus a bunch of other kids at breakfast and after school clubs, as well as all the different grown ups, down to being cloistered at home with just each other and their mum and dad. Small boy doesn’t seem to have missed other children much at all. Large boy had more struggles in the first few weeks, but video calls and Roblox with his friends have helped enormously.
They’ve both just got on with living a new and very different life. They’ve adjusted and coped so well, that they now find it rather odd to be back with people again. Their ability to go through such a huge change in a short space of time and then to have it continue for so long is astounding. Himself and I have been able to stay connected with our friends through social media and I’m very accustomed to working alone at home. But the boys have done enormously well, they deserve a huge treat sometime soon.
Home learning has taught us where their limits are and how important they are to each other.
3. I have low tolerance for noise
When I first started working from home I missed the tap tap tap and low chatter of the office. My solution was to have BBC Radio 6Music on constantly.
There’s a big difference between some quiet radio or tapping keyboards and the thundering thumps and squeals as two boys pretend to be made up animals rampaging through the room directly above my office.
I lost count of the number of times I shouted “too much noise!” or “calm down” up the stairs a long time ago.
Apparently, I prefer a quiet house to work in. My best times are when the boys are watching a movie or playing on their screens.
4. Crafts are not our thing
I’m quite* proud that we’ve managed to complete most of the work sent home by school. The one area that has dropped off the agenda first when we’ve been running short on time, has been the crafty stuff.
Its not really been a huge learning curve to discover this. I kind of knew that I wasn’t a big fan of crafts. And to be fair to me, some of the tasks were kind of ridiculous. A tent out of lollipops sticks? nope. A set of 20 stones with numbers on them with 14 hours notice? not a chance. A beach with tissue paper stones and handfolded umbrella? naaa.
We have done some lovely things. We enjoyed the yogurt pot frogs, the loo roll flower pot, and paper plate sunshine. But my glitter and glue aversion has been confirmed rather than beaten into submission.
5. Learning requires willing and encouragement
I think the main reason that home learning hasn’t been a complete disaster is that the boys are willing to learn. Large boy’s reports routinely talk about his thirst for knowledge and his readiness to take on challenges. It seems small boy isn’t so different either.
Small boy could barely push through 4 pages of a book at the beginning and now he’ll comfortably, if not willingly, complete 16 pages of Biff, Chip and Kipper. Large boy has astounded everyone with taking on year 6 maths challenges (he’s just finished year 3) and reading 3 million words. Total parental pride glow in action.
Sure we helped and supported them, pushed them sometimes and left them be at others. But I think the main reason for their success is their willingness to learn.
If they’d been dead set against learning at home it would have been an unmitigated disaster. If we’d expected them to just get on with it, the same result.
The combination of their willingness together with our support is the only reason we’ve got anywhere at all the home learning.
6. Working from home with kids is challenging
In fact I’d go as far as saying that it’s been harder than the 4 months I spent writing up my PhD. For me its been the constant merry go round of draws on my attention that’s been the hardest thing. The switching and changing and thinking about 4 things at once is exhausting.
I’ve made mistakes at work. Just recently, someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, so I forwarded it and forgot to copy the person asking so she didn’t know I’d done anything with her request. I’ve forgotten things in the supermarket, forgotten birthdays, called the children by the wrong names innumerable times.
Trying to be effective at my job in 20 minute bursts is simple mind boggling. I’m frazzled and so glad its over (forever? please yes).
7. Electronics and the internet are a necessary evil
How would we have coped with this in the absence of electronic baby sitters and laptops. Just ten years ago, I only had a desktop computer for work and I couldn’t connect to it remotely from my personal laptop. I know people who’ve had to source their own laptops to work from home and others who’ve ended up buying them for their children to work on.
Without the amazingly responsive teachers, we’d have been stumped with the home learning several times. Large boy has loved exchanging emails with his class teacher as well as his friends. Imagine the consequences for our mental health if we’d been quarantined with no contact with the outside world.
The work arsehole went to stay with his parents at the start of lockdown because he was so afraid of living alone for months on end. He may be an arsehole but I have so much sympathy for that fear of isolation that he and many others have had to deal with or try to escape. Without internet he wouldn’t have been able to make that escape.
The other saviour for us has been the Kindle. Large boy’s book addiction has caused many hours trawling his reading scheme and Kindle Unlimited, not to mention aided the accumulation of grey hairs. But without that and no libraries, I can’t bare to think of the trauma we would all have suffered.
8. We don’t need anyone
This is the strangest thing. I’m a very sociable person, I love a good natter and I can sit and gossip with anyone for hours given the chance. Himself enjoys a great work community and they have WhatsApp groups for banter as well as socialising in the local bars from time to time. Large boy has a close group of good friends and small boy is good natured and will play with almost anyone.
Given that all our characters are bent towards being people friendly (himself might argue that point, he claims not to like people but I don’t believe him), I’m rather surprised that we’ve adjusted almost without issue to the four of us being cooped up in the house together.
More than anyone else we’ve missed our parents. Both my parents and himself’s live far away, so we don’t see them very often. However, we should have seen them each at least once or twice during lockdown. It was when I sat down to imagine the end of lockdown 10 weeks ago that I realised how much I want to hug my mum. Here we are, still a couple of weeks away from seeing them but we’re so close now I think I’d be heartbroken if anything changed now.
9. The outdoors should be savoured
When I was a teenager I hated being made to go for walks. On one famous occasion I sat down half way up Ben Hiant on the Ardnamurchan peninsular and refused to walk to the top with my parents and little brother.
As a student things didn’t change much, I walked or cycled everywhere because I had to. When we had large boy, I walked miles just for something to do and to shed some baby weight, but not for the love of the countryside. Since the boys have been able to walk several miles we’ve ventured out on family days in the countryside, usually sticking with National Trust properties or somewhere with a good cafe for post-exertion sustenance.
However, since the initial one trip per day limitation was imposed we’ve been out almost everyday. At first just locally, but stretching the boys legs to a 4 mile trek to the nearest village and back. Then to many new places, we’ve discovered some lovely nature reserves within 5 miles of home that we didn’t even know were there and we’ve lived here almost five years. The fresh air, the bugs and birds, the flowers and the sky have cheered us all up so often that I think we all have so much more appreciation than we did before.
Even if Eric turned out not to be a caterpillar and never made it past pupation.
10. Teachers are saints
I already said how I’m not built to be a teacher.
Teachers don’t just have that patience that I’m missing. They have such generosity with their time and their spirit. In two weeks in March they turned around from teaching a class of 30 on site, to providing home based learning for those same children with almost zero contact.
Our school hasn’t used Zoom but they’ve kept in touch with every family by phone on a weekly basis. The teachers have responded to an email sent mid-afternoon on a Friday at 10pm. They’ve sacrificed so much of their personal time to support our children from afar. And they haven’t stopped there. They’ve been supporting all the hundreds of parents standing in as teachers, they’ve advised us and praised us for our meagre attempts at imitating them. They’ve read stories on Facebook, made collages and a personal card for every child. Never in the last 17 weeks have we felt detached from the school community.
I don’t know how the teachers have the energy and enthusiasm to be positive with reluctant learners, children who find school challenging for any reason, as well as meeting the needs of the information-hungry learners.
I’ve said for a long time that teachers and TAs are more vital for our children’s health, well being and success than doctors. We should be paying them accordingly.
I saved this one til last because its the most important. Thank you a million times to all the teachers, TAs, office staff, lunchtime assistants, caretakers and anyone else working in a school. Not just for the exceptional work you’ve done over the last months, but for the care and support, encouragement, and energy you share with our children every day that they’re in your care. You are saints.