The Parent Struggle

“Parents aren’t teachers, they are not prepared for virtual school or homeschool...education has been interrupted.” @drbradjohnson
Nicki Wise

If the teachers were struggling, I see more and more parents admitting defeat. They are giving up not from lack of willingness, but from a place of love and self-care for their children and themselves. I can see how it is nearly impossible to manage any semblance of remote learning/working balance! I am reminded of the Brian Dyson’s (CEO of Coca Cola) quote about juggling - “it’s only the jobs that bounce back, family, health, friends and spirit won’t”. We as educators need to be mindful of the other stresses on family lives right now and as @drbradjohnson put in a recent tweet, “Parents aren’t teachers, they are not prepared for virtual school or homeschool...education has been interrupted.” So why aren’t we as educators brave enough to adapt to that interruption?

I am in no position to expertly make a judgement on what should be done. But I do know as a working parent I want to make the most of this time, in both my roles. As adults, we now have an opportunity to be even better role models to our children. To give them a peek into our world of work, the successes and struggles; how we juggle, communicate, overcome challenges, problem solve with our work colleagues and our extended family, ultimately in how we manage stress and adversity. I can guarantee you our children will not remember the schoolwork they did or didn’t do, they will remember how we as parents made them feel. The atmosphere in our homes at this time is the barometer of our children’s future mental health.

The atmosphere in our homes at this time is the barometer of our children’s future mental health

Remote Learning is not schooling at home. I’ve heard the stories and seen the evidence of schools sticking to timetable and teaching remotely via Zoom, Teams etc. Anyone working in this way knows a few of these such calls are much more exhausting than a few hours face to face equivalent.

For me, as a working parent, merely transferring the school day to home doesn’t work. Forgetting the teaching element, I cannot add nagging, cajoling, frustrated parent to the list of roles! At one point before Easter there was a day when my phone was pinging “hot” from the announcements from school - assignments due, feedback given, responses wanted - it was stressing me out! Goodness knows what it was doing to the cohort of 16 year old boys also receiving it. That said, like countless other families, in the two weeks before Easter we muddled through and kind of found a way that worked

Flexibility

We needed flexibility. The timetable we designed and agreed is not rigorous, but allows my teenager to choose what he will get done in a day and gives a broader choice of activity than just academic subjects. I feel this is setting him up with other skills, choice, prioritising, time management - all things he will need as he continues through life. It also allows me to “check in” with specific things to ask and alleviates the temptation to nag!  Allowing him to populate the timetable gives him a sense of what is possible and be able to justify why something didn’t get done (something may have taken longer, was harder to figure out etc) and I really don’t mind if he doesn’t get up until 10am and wants to work later to get it done. Note: he did try this, but ended up figuring out that he did prefer getting up and getting it done, so that’s a good lesson in delayed gratification!

Be the parent

I will always be the parent. My roles as teacher, teaching assistant, more knowledgeable other are temporary this time. We need to prioritise our lifetime roles and not let them erode or dissolve. I know that my lack of GCSE knowledge could easily become a source of stress for both of us, so we have found ways to support and engage whilst keeping the balance as tipped in the parent direction as possible.

We have an agreement that I will read through anything before anything is returned. I’m not control-freak parenting, but it has several intended benefits. It adds a layer of accountability (so he doesn’t rush just to get “it done”), it also shows I’m interested and that I respect the work the teachers are setting. Reading through is just that - mostly supported by a general verbal comment, I am not marking, but giving him the opportunity to review and submit something he should be proud of. There was one exception, partly due to the level of improvement I thought it required, where I copied an English assignment he wrote from Word into Google Drive and we co-edited it in real time. I modelled reading, correcting, re-reading, checking and talking him through it. Feedback in this collaborative way is what we do as adults in the workplace. I have seen far more effective results from modelling and guidance even if it adversely feels like you are doing it for them. It remains a constant source of annoyance to me that teaching is conversely seen as testing from a pupils perspective. We all learn best from a more knowledgeable other and build confidence from seeing what good looks like.

Working together, whether planning, doing or searching for answers together is not cheating!

This applies to the simplest of things - I still feel guilty about shouting at one of the children a few years ago for not knowing how (or where) to write an address on an envelope - but how do they know if they don’t receive post and don’t write letters! I’ve watched them brush off advice at the time from older family members but surreptitiously reinstate or follow it later. Young people today will listen to  peers, youtubers and other more knowledgeable others - if you try to be the stick waving teacher (or shouty parent!), they will turn off pretty fast. So in my view doing it with them and guiding them or even searching for the answers together is not cheating!

Moving forward into the summer term what would I like to see as a parent?

  • A wellbeing-first approach from schools. I want my son’s school to check in and see how he is doing both individually (fortnightly) and more often as a group - developing a continued relationship between teachers, students and groups (forms,class etc).
  • More variety in the delivery of content - just PDFs, PPTs and Worksheets or exam questions are no substitute for teaching. We love the low-tech but human contact of a recorded video!
  • Some open ended projects, either cross curricular or based on their sixth form choices that they can explore in a variety of ways. Something to keep their mind occupied and not to switch off until September. If someone could design and deliver a mini pre-EPQ style project - that would be amazing! (We considered it, but don’t have the resource)

Three top tips

  • Create a flexible timetable that works for YOUR FAMILY - even if the school doesn’t agree!
  • Be a parent first and foremost - parenting is a lifetime role that goes beyond this crisis so protect it!
  • If you do get involved with schoolwork - stay on your child’s side! Do it with them if necessary - it is NOT CHEATING!
  • If you do nothing else (especially with younger children) - Read and talk!

Lastly, be kind to yourself. Your children’s well being and mental health (and yours) is more important than grades.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by worksheets and school based activities and want to see what your children are capable of if they allow their creative juices to flow - check out our FREE Everyone Can Create from Home Global Challenge - 4 creative projects young people can share with the world! Find out more here.

Nicki Wise
Founder

Nicki has been working in education for the last 25 years. She has considerable experience teaching and integrating technology into classrooms from Early Years right up to Post-Graduate level. She is passionate about ensuring teachers build confidence by getting the basics right and then building and innovating from there.

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