By Paul Speller
I am not a teacher.
My wife is a teacher.
Both my parents were teachers (now retired).
I used to play in a cricket team with plenty of teachers in it.
I consider the teachers – and other staff – at my children’s school among my favourite people.
I’m on the school association. I go in to read with six-and-seven-year-olds. Normally I host a lunchtime storytelling club and a newspaper club.
It may sound like I want to be a teacher. But I do not.
I am aware of all the hard work involved, along with the investment – mental, emotional and physical – it takes to do the job they do, all the time knowing they are responsible for the education, wellbeing and future of numerous other people’s children.
If you are close to a teacher you know full well that six weeks in the summer is barely enough time to recover from a school year.
So I admire teachers, I respect them, and I am forever grateful to them.
But I am not a teacher.
And yet, here I am, now – theoretically at least – overseeing the education of my two primary school children, one in year six and one in year two. Just as many other parents are.
Those of you who are not having to supervise their children’s learning may well be sick of the sight of social media posts about the great things we’re all doing. At the moment we are seeing the fun of the daily frustrations we face, but we know that will not always be the case.
Keeping two children working on individual tasks focussed enough to allow you to talk to one while the other is occupied is no easy job. It’s hard to imagine how teachers and their support workers do that with classes of 25. Every single day.
So please try to be understanding of us and our ‘look at our home learning’ posts. It’s therapy and we need it.
There’s a sense of relief when your idea of how to make times tables interesting enough for your seven-year-old to give them a go has worked – although, take it from me, that there is a limit to how many different numbers you can emulate by contorting your body position in exchange for a mild laugh.
There is also pride at your children’s imagination and resilience, something that schools have been quietly affirming for years.
And who knew the sense of joy you could get from digging up your garden, while watching your 10-year-old put a flower pot on his head to duel his top-hatted younger brother?
It is a strange world we now find ourselves in. But our ability to cope with any form of home learning is down to the work that schools have done with our children down the years, along with some very specific work in recent weeks.
In some ways, school closures, when announced, were almost a relief. We knew it was coming. Schools had made preparations.
We have not been cast adrift. The amount of support we have received, as parents, has been phenomenal, inspirational and extremely welcome.
If I have any money left after this, I’m going to put some of it behind the bar of my favourite pub and instruct all the staff at my children’s school to go and have a well-earned drink.
These people were making preparations for this scenario while also keeping as much of an air of normality as possible, for the sake of our children, and all the time while having to introduce more and more safety measures. And also remember that they have taken in their stride the fact they have found themselves at greater personal risk as a result.
I’ve known some of the staff in my children’s school for seven years. Being a parent of a pupil makes the dynamic of your relationship with a such people unique. I can never bring myself to call any of the teachers by their first names, no matter how many school trips I’ve been on or clubs I’ve helped with.
But I like them all and I care about their welfare. I miss the hellos, the brief conversations and occasional jokes. Just as I miss the exchanges with parents on the school run.
When you work from home and the key component of adult interaction in your day job is normally with politicians, a few words another grown up can be very welcome.
Back to home learning, if that is really an accurate description. It will, I suspect, lead to parents finding out much more about themselves as they cope with the change in family dynamic.
You begin to really understand what a good education your children have received.
You remember how much more fun a child’s imagination is – and how much more important it is than the neatness of their handwriting.
You begin to understand that learning is not just numbers and words on a piece of paper. Or league tables, or grades.
It is much, much more.
School workers already knew that and, as long as they are trusted to tailor the home learning we are attempting to deliver – without being tied up in targets that are meaningless right now – then we should all get through this aspect of the crisis, hopefully unscathed and definitely enriched.
That is not to say I do not think I could do better. Much better.
To the teachers, I apologise for the fact that any updates I send are too long and chatty for their needs. As a freelance journalist currently deprived of a platform and an audience, even the thought of one reader makes it difficult not to get carried away.
Likewise I am conscious of the fact that, while in terms of reading and most forms of literacy I am very comfortable and keen to work with my children, science is lagging a little at the moment.
And the best thing I can say about my attempts to fathom Y6-level maths problems is that I managed to resist the temptation to draw a pair of glasses on the picture of the very talented teacher who set it. Well, I did for the first nine days. My son was mortified when I caved in on day 10. The teacher in question knows us both; if she ever sees that answer sheet, she will know straight way who was responsible.
I know I rely too heavily on recommended websites.
And I know don’t have the patience of a saint, I don’t always have the ability to come up with a better explanation when my first one fails, and I still don’t know how to write legibly with a wipe board marker pen.
But, I try to reassure myself that it’s okay. I’m not in charge of my children’s education, I’m just minding their classroom for a bit.
I am not a teacher.
Others are. And, for that, I am forever grateful.