Talking point: Homeschooling is a stressy blend of feverish positivity and latent despair
In these tense times, thank God for humour.
One of my favourite memes so far has a picture of an elderly woman with a manic grin. “This is Debbie,” it says. “Debbie is 31 years old and has been home schooling her kids for the past four hours.”
It’s been doing well on parents’ forums, that one, probably because it transmits the exact stressy blend of feverish positivity and latent despair many parents have felt at suddenly having to educate their children on top of doing their day jobs.
It certainly is an education, for the parents at least.
We are learning just how hard it is to teach, even when we have just a few children (or just the one, in my case).
My daughter is five and in P1. During the first week of lockdown, I scraped together enough ideas for doing sums that she showed no signs of rebellion. By the beginning of week two, the word “numeracy” was provoking a big sigh. By the end, she was throwing herself on the carpet and tutting histrionically. I’m now feeding her maths by stealth, as if it were broccoli. Clearly I’m not doing it right.
Yes, you gain certain insights from this arrangement: it gives you a clearer idea of what they are having trouble with, while they get the (dubious) benefit of one-to-one (or -two or -three) support. But we parents are not teachers and, my goodness, we are all too aware of it.
It’s been little help in my case looking back to my own school days. When I was five, teaching young children was quite different from how it is now. (P1s still got smacked, in front of the class, though that’s another story). We all sat at desks of two facing the teacher, who gave instruction in a traditional, top-down sort of way. We were left in no doubt that there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. I clearly remember being irritably told off and sent home with extra homework for failing to write my “kicking ks” neatly between the lines.
Today’s teachers take a more enlightened approach. During the early school years, learning is child-led with lots and lots of play and positivity and gentleness. It is better understood that encouraging children’s enthusiasm for learning when they are little is important for their whole school careers. If they imbibe the idea that school is fun and empowering at the outset, that’s half the battle.
We stand-ins for the professionals just have to hope that we don’t mess it all up before the kids go back to real school.
The teaching profession has been struggling with recruitment and retention for years. It’s possible that this crisis, by giving hundreds of thousands of Scottish parents a bit of work experience in the field, could help mitigate those problems. Some may find they want to do it professionally. They will have had the merest taste of the reality the professionals face, but it could whet their appetites for more.
And the rest of us? We’ll hand back the responsibility with relief and the deepest gratitude.