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"You’re not a teacher. You're a parent": The message parents need to hear this school term.

Hey There Parents,

How are you going? I see you – trying to juggle your own work at home while simultaneously attempting to keep the kids up to speed with their learning.

If you’re anything like me, your house looks shambolic, you’ve started buying wine by the cask and you’ve found yourself saying things that you’ve never had to say out loud during a standard working day – things like: 

please stop howling, 

don’t lick each other, 

read in your head, 

not with permanent marker, 

and 

you can’t possibly be finished already. 

Bigger-than-usual doses of Mother Guilt are probably beginning to seep into the edges but there’s something confusing about the guilt these days too.

One day you’re beating yourself up because you’ve been too hard on the kids, the next you’re self-flagellating because you let them down tools at 12pm and watch crap on YouTube. (It started with genuine googling for an age appropriate science experiment – next thing you knew it was 3pm and funny cat videos were on the screen. On the plus side, you’d powered through quite a bit of work so should you really feel guilty?)

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These are strange and confusing times and I’ve had more than one friend confess that she’s thoroughly sick of her own kids. (There goes the guilt again – are we even allowed to say those things out loud? Are we bad parents if we do?)

“How do teachers do it?” I’ve been asked – many times. And my answer is always the same…

Teachers don’t do this. Teachers don’t teach in a home environment with a small group of siblings and inadequate resources. Teachers are qualified professionals who teach in specially designated spaces, with resources to support their work and large groups of unrelated students.  (As a side note: sometimes the large groups are too large and sometimes the teaching resources are pitiful, but that’s an article for another time). 

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My point is this: you’re not a teacher. You’re a parent. And – in an unprecedented health pandemic – you’re being asked to buoy your child through learning experiences while maintaining your own workload all while living in lockdown conditions.  

Parents – give yourself a break. 

Teaching is a profession – and even when you’re trained in it, it’s a pretty demanding gig. And now, as a teacher myself, attempting to home school my own two cherubs and juggle my work commitments, I’m feeling more frustrated than I did teaching full time with a class of 25 kids. (And it becomes so much harder when you’re confined and they’re your offspring – there’s no staff room I can escape to and they just know all my buttons to push.) 

All of that aside, there are a few things that can translate from the classroom to this home school/online learning situation that we find ourselves in. I suppose you could consider them ‘teacher hacks’. But to be honest, most of these pointers aren’t skills that teachers learn in university. They’re the survival skills teachers develop during their first few years in the classroom.

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First up – busy work.  These days, teachers aren’t allowed to use the expression “busy work”. We’ve been reminded again and again that students don’t go to school to be kept busy – they go to school to learn and achieve outcomes.

Yeah yeah, whatever – due to the health crisis I’m going to liberate the expression ‘busy work’, make it sexy again and empower all you parents with this lost but valuable art form.

Busy work is any easy but time consuming task that occupies a child. Busy work is something a child can do independently while still having a sense of achievement. Colouring in is a great example of busy work. Loom bands, paper craft (chatterboxes – ask your kids – they’ll show you), find-a-words, Sudoku puzzles, finger knitting, LEGO, card games and board games.

These are tasks that kids enjoy, that keeps their brains busy and that contribute to their mastery of many various skills. During this torturous challenging time of learning and working from home, establish some ‘busy work’ tasks that your child can really lose themselves in. Have the activities set up and ready to go so that you can direct them straight to it whenever you need to buy yourself a solid halfa or more.

The “pre-emptive strike” is another strategy that teachers use and would serve parents well during this time. Teachers become masters at anticipating the problems and hurdles ahead of their students – so they get in there and talk about the issues beforehand to avoid spot fires later on. 

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Class meetings, establishing behaviour expectations and agreeing on rules and consequences are all examples of the teacher pre-emptive strike. For parents at home right now, that could translate to a family team meeting each morning or evening. Discuss the roadblocks you keep coming up against and find solutions. 

For example:

“If you can’t spell a word, what could you do, other than ask me?” 

“If the app doesn’t work, what other work could you go on with?”  

“If your brother/sister is annoying the life out of you and distracting you, what could you do to resolve that problem?”

Establish processes and procedures so that the kids can work for longer periods of time with greater autonomy and independence.

 

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And finally – find some top-shelf, good quality screen time. Kids, like adults, need time to zone out and let’s be honest… right now, there’s nothing more comforting than sprawling on the lounge and watching something on TV that makes you completely forget about viruses and handwashing.

Take some time to sift through various offerings on all the viewing platforms and show your kids the programs and games they can choose from. Any teacher will tell you that documentaries are a safe bet – they keep you in the realm of ‘education’ and can easily be justified to any Principal that insists on popping into your classroom on a Friday afternoon.

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A quick google search of documentaries for kids yields amazing results! You know your child’s areas of interest – find some ‘factual viewing’ that will entertain and possibly (hopefully) educate.

I’ve recently discovered IMAGI-NATION {TV} produced by the fabulous people of AIME who want to ensure kids at home have mentors in their lives. Behind The News or BTN is also an excellent program, tailor made for primary school aged kids.

Parents, I want to let you in on a little secret. No one is expecting that you’re going to be across the entire curriculum. No one is expecting that your little one/big one is going to return to school without having missed a whole heap of stuff. No one is expecting you to replicate a school day or a school experience. Least of all the teachers. 

Teachers have already resigned themselves to the fact that when life does eventually return to a new ‘normal’ that allows everyone to attend school, the students in front of them will all be kicking off from different points on the learning playing field. It’ll be just like the start of a new school year.

Please rest assured that if your child didn’t cover all the content that was sent out during the lockdown period, they certainly won’t be the only one and they won’t be at a disadvantage.

Be kind to yourself and to your family. Focus on what matters right now – keeping safe, staying sane and drinking moderately. 

Feature image: Supplied/Gabbie Stroud.

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