This year, we’ve all been lifted out of the familiar spaces we’ve enjoyed teaching for so long and are having to set up a home office that works well for both recorded lessons and live instruction.
All the while, many of us have to think of the most important students in our life, who happen to be nearby: our little ones.
“How is my school going? How is THEIR school going?”
Out of years of training and seminars, there has never been any training on this particular scenario (even in the ones provided recently about virtual teaching; nothing we’ve seen yet has factored in teachers with kids in the house).
There are no “best practices” for this. Yet here we are. And even if we’re not still at home, we could be called back to virtual teaching at any time, depending on changes due to the virus.
In this article, we will look at the particular stresses of Pandemic Parent-Teachers and offer some suggestions that may help bring success and sanity in the home.
A Daily Parent-Teacher Conference
Our first consideration is stress. We, as teachers, expect so much from the students we teach. But we expect more from our own kids.
Their academic performance reflects directly on us, and for that reason it’s probably best that we aren’t normally their teachers. Even if we dislike it when other parents do it, we also occasionally fall victim to the mentality, “Let their teacher take up the mantle, and let me sit back over here and try to stay calm as I open their report card.”
Now, they’re in the same “schoolhouse” as us, albeit being taught by someone else. We now have a direct connection in their daily schooling. Whether we are getting them on their live class meetings or helping to complete the asynchronous assignments, it’s a confusing mix of “my-student/not-my-student” feelings of responsibility.
While the Coronavirus may not be 100% expelled by next fall, there will never be a year like this.
We are discovering “best practices” together. And our kids are as well. They didn’t ask for this scenario any more than we did, and it’s up to us to encourage them through the school year, like never before. Remembering that they may be feeling stress that they can’t verbalize will help us stay patient and stable in the ups and downs that will come.
Here’s a thought for all families: even more than the pandemic itself, children will remember how their parents dealt with it.
So keep going, keep discovering, and keep encouraging the little ones in your home.
Now, let’s look at some nuts and bolts of how to make this work well.
Your Child’s Learning Space
Living room or bedroom? Kitchen table or dining table? The place where a student learns is crucial. There are some things to consider.
We know that for decades, much consideration has been given to the layout and atmosphere of a school classroom, taking out distractions while putting in cheerful tones and making the rooms places to focus and concentrate.
Now, our children are expected to learn the same things but with the added challenge of studying and learning in a place that has always been a place to only play and relax.
The space should be comfortable for the child, but not too much so. Let’s start with seating.
Think of the chairs that are in your classroom. Are they comfortable? Yes, but not so much that you’d find many kids asleep in them (there’s always that one student that has decided the best time to watch movies is after midnight, and catches up on his sleep after recess).
Many years ago it was revealed that early fast food restaurant adopters had designed their restaurants with a delicate balance of “welcome!” and “are you done yet? We have more people that we want to serve today”. The seats have soft padding on the back, but you’re normally sitting on hard, cold plastic.
Keep the same approach in mind. Find a chair that’s comfortable, but avoid the big, soft couch. Not only is a couch made to be a perfect place to nap, but it is overly familiar. Your child likely just used that same spot to play Xbox, watch a movie, or just sprawl out.
A great idea is to just grab a dining room chair.
They’re generally partially padded o, but made to sit upright with no slouching allowed. And most likely the last time your young scholar sat on it, she was having to act interested in her great uncle’s story about their trip to Yellowstone. Once again.
But where in the house? Avoid having beds nearby. Beds call out to all of us, and the tablet or laptop and pencils and journals they’re using for school will go missing beneath the covers, while your child goes “offline”.
The kitchen might seem to be inviting, with bright lights and a table for school tools, but with a parent at home it can be busy during the day, with the fridge being visited and the coffeemaker giving off its fragrance.
A great place might be a corner of the living room, near but not next to a window, with an upright chair, a TV tray or something similar, and good lighting.
This may seem like a strange thing to consider, but when school is at home, food is a consideration. At school, it’s easy to lay down rules about when it’s appropriate to eat (just lunch in the cafeteria? Or are snacks allowed at ones’ desks?), but at home, the snacks usually flow freely from the kitchen.
During a busy day of instruction or lesson prep, the last thing we need is to have to make multiple visits to the kitchen to grab things for our kids, so it makes sense to have some packs of healthy snacks near your young student. It will help steer them away from that container of chocolate ice cream in the bottom of the freezer (which can turn the whole day into recess) and will help keep you productive in your chair.
Help Mom! Help Dad!
It’s essential to go over with them how to log into their device to get on their live classes if they’re young, or to find their assignments if they’re older.
Teaching virtually takes a lot of time and attention for one’s class, and we can’t always jump up and leave the students on-screen to lend a hand.
One thing to consider is whether or not they can “attend” their classes in the same room with headphones. Sitting alone in a room with a tablet is a huge change from normal school life, and it may not be healthy. Even if it’s the next room, they’re still alone.
Providing a sense of closeness can make a huge difference for their education in this strange year.
Turn It Off
Pre-Covid, we parents were the “device police”. Almost every waking hour was dedicated to monitoring their media intake.
“Not too much tablet! How much TV have you watched?”
Now, we’re putting a device in front of them and telling them that this is school. Needless to say, this may be more screen time every day than they (and we, teaching) are used to having, and we must pay attention to what that may be doing emotionally and mentally, for the whole family.
The dangers of excessive screen time are well-documented and include: obesity, violence, sleep problems, behavior problems, and ironically, problems with education.
Which makes this year all the more important to quickly unplug from screens as soon as possible when school is done. One idea is to save the outdoor excursions for right after school. Dedicate the recess break during the day to GoNoodle brain break (this may be necessary as well, as it can be difficult to coordinate a time when you as teacher can be free to go outside with them).
Just get up and get them moving.
Walking a dog, playing in the backyard, or just going for a walk will feel like pure decompression for everyone after being inside so long.
One Day At a Time
The only upside to this experience of teaching in a pandemic may be the amazing growth we will achieve as teachers from having to reinvent education so dramatically. It hardly seems worth it now, but growth is happening. We are being strengthened.
Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”.
Having to do the unprecedented does seem impossible, but after finding small things that work every day, we will build those things into routines, and then the routines will carry us through this period.
And we will be much stronger parents, and teachers.