We are just over two weeks in. Schools are closed until April 19th (at the very least). Is it time for an open plea to teachers and, by extension, the Department of Education, to press pause on any pressure arising from an unprecedented situation?
There’s a saying which will be familiar to some: work like you’re not a parent, and parent like you don’t work. After seven years pretending it’s manageable, I still find being in the supposedly privileged position of “working from home” while juggling homework a struggle. Now, millions of souls from countless countries have been dropped into the same boat with zero experience.
Parents of school-going children should take solace in the fact there are approximately 1.52 billion kids being “homeschooled” across the globe at this precise moment. Only, this isn’t homeschooling in the traditional sense. This is chaos. The constant ‘Seesaw’ amid the whirlwind of requests coming from your phone, your laptop, the kitchen, the bathroom, is making an already unnervingly dystopian situation somehow MORE stressful.
Since the schools closed on Friday, March 13th, the Department of Education has requested teachers continue lesson planning, therefore obligating them to provide access to the full curriculum. The majority of Primary School teachers have gone above and beyond to support both parents and pupils, some even tailoring to each pupil’s individual needs and suggesting independent tasks your child should be able to complete on their own – while you deal with the other kids’ school work and/or your full-time day job.
The last two weeks has seen an influx of “helpful” schedules from an array of online sources. While it’s always great to have options, too much choice in an already befuddling environment can lead to further confusion and zero headspace. Do you stick to the “suggested schedule” or delve into the multifaceted benefits of actual life skills, such as cooking, sewing, and gardening? Do you break out the board games, jigsaws and Lego while hosting a Zoom meeting with your colleagues?!
Ultimately, we choose to do what’s best for our families. We either feel guilt about discarding the schedule or we follow Elsa’s lead and let it go. Believe it or not, there is a choice. This isn’t about the teachers. This is about parents and the collective sanity of a family unit. And that is why I’ll be plonking my two in front of RTE Homeschool Hub hour, at 11am today. It is the structure they need that we, as parents, are struggling to provide in these uncertain times.
As for the circa six million teachers attempting to tutor from home around the world right now, they can’t win in this scenario. They will be criticised for not doing their job if they fail to provide the full curriculum. They will also be criticised if they have a more relaxed approach. The real question is, does anyone actually expect the work to be done? They certainly do – if your child is in secondary school…
Cast your mind back to being 13. Now, in addition to that Big Bang of Puberty, you are housebound with your parents for weeks on end due to a global pandemic that’s threatening to cull your grandparents. Your fledgling freedom of meeting your mates is suddenly strictly verboten. Plus, you’re expected to sit at a laptop (assuming you have a spare one knocking around) from 8:55am until approximately 4pm every day. You must take photos of your completed work and email everything by a certain time/day. In some jurisdictions, you’ve even been asked to wear your uniform to help you focus. You are 13.
These are all stories I’ve gleaned from parents over the last two weeks. This is a tricky stage in life under normal circumstances, never mind where we are now. What does that say to our teenagers? Are we telling them how they perform takes preference over how they feel? Are we going to ignore the inherently tribal nature of teenagers and instead give them a crash course in sociopathy? Surely everyone involved should consider the potential of siphoning some time from the three-month-long summer break for everyone’s wellbeing at this point. These are, after all, extenuating circumstances.
No doubt, there will be countless opinions on this, and a lot of it depends on the ages of the children. Irrespective of all that, emotional well-being should be key across the board. Not just sentiments or platitudes, actual heartfelt considered advice stating mental health is the only gauge that matters when it comes to your kids right now.
When you find a 13-year-old saying of their unforgiving timetable: “It’s terrible. It should not happen. Kids are worried enough as it is”, you can’t argue with the importance of taking their views into account.
Conversely, with the two-week “Easter Holidays” looming, your kids will have all this free time and nowhere to go… Perhaps only then will we all lament the lack of structure and appreciate the homeschooling schedule.
Originally published in The Irish Independent