Are there any parents in the audience? Considering the other side of the screen in online learning

When I found out the kids wouldn’t be returning to school after the Christmas hols I cried, a lot. My memory of summer term 2020 is an odd mix of sunny afternoons in the garden, hand-washing mania and hour-long arguments about the importance of learning the nine times table. I didn’t feel like I could do it all again!

But, two weeks in I have been pleasantly surprised at how much better it has been this time round. This is largely thanks to the incredible efforts of our primary school in providing full but manageable days of work and support for families struggling to figure it out. Tiny and Small are also more used to it now and are calm and more resigned to getting on with a bit of learning (most days!) I also feel more able to help them and realising that I can in fact ‘do it’ has meant I enjoy our time together a lot more.

That said, teaching your own kids is not easy. By the end of the day I am exhausted, and I’m in the privileged position of not having a permanent job to juggle. At times, I have found myself venting and complaining about the work or the way it’s been organised or the tone of the teacher in an online lesson. Comments from other parents suggest I am not alone in this!

But I have felt challenged to think about the other side this week, and living with a teacher does give me the opportunity to glimpse what life is like if you work in education at the moment. And what I see is that teachers are under pressure from all angles, as well as being under the spotlight in a new way. Parents inevitably compare their child’s experience with what other schools are offering and there’s a new requirement for teachers to make like YouTube influencers; suddenly parents and carers can all see and have opinions about their lessons.

We’ve had lessons from various teachers and while some are born kids TV presenters, others look hugely uncomfortable in front of the camera. Their ‘performance’ isn’t as polished, but they’re getting on with it. If I’m honest, my first response has sometimes been ‘poor effort’! But when I consider how it must feel for them, it changes my perspective. How would I cope with being asked to do tasks for which I have not been trained or prepared? I’m sure ‘real life’ lessons are quite a different story, but that’s something us parents never usually get to see.

Sometimes the work tasks sent home seem too easy or hard, or dry and irrelevant. But while I have some idea of what my child needs to know, I’m realising I don’t know it all. I’m not an educator and therefore I have to trust my children’s teachers are setting work with purpose. Just because I have this unusual opportunity to get a window into my child’s education doesn’t mean I should appraise it and take control.

I’m having moments of frustration with the school or individual teachers. But I’ve made the decision to think about them in a similar light to our medical folk at the moment – mostly dedicated people, trying their darned best to do their job well in a challenging and pressured situation. During the pandemic, the feeling of things piling up and becoming overwhelming is a familiar feeling for most of us and mental health is a big issue for many teachers right now. Alongside organising online learning, most are also going in to school to teach children of key workers and vulnerable children. Some have returned to the new term with Covid-19, covering for colleagues with Covid-19 or having lost loved ones to Covid-19.

Of course, in all walks of life there will be those who put in more or less effort than others. There will be instances of substandard lessons and unrealistic expectations. But for now, what our schools and teachers need is support from parents. Our own home school struggles are real, but where we need to resolve issues or get support, let’s do it with grace and patience.

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