In praise of teachers
This week marks one hundred days of lockdown in the UK and, despite the appearances of normality beginning to creep back into daily life – takeaway coffee, larger groups of people meeting up, shorter queues outside supermarkets and shops – for many of us, life continues much as it did right back in March – which is to say, at home, trying to juggle work and educating our kids. If you aren’t important enough to be a key worker or lucky enough to have a child who’s currently in reception, year one or year six, then f*ck all has actually changed, and I don’t think I’m the only one who is fraying around the edges.
I mentioned in my previous post the people and places I’ve missed the most – I’m planning Lockdown Loosening drinks with friends as soon as Boris says go, and I’ve googled ‘When will the Tate Modern open’ (don’t judge me, it’s my happy place for many reasons) but right now, the thing I’m missing most in this whole wide wretched world is the school, and its talented, energetic, knowledgeable TEACHERS.
I actually felt really emotional when I saw the news story earlier this week about a headteacher who had labelled some employees ‘lazy’. Not because of the details of that story itself, but because of the knee-jerk journalistic debates I could already feel brewing in the editorial meetings of papers and magazine shows across the land: ‘Teachers: homeschool heroes or lazy layabouts?’ I’m sure I’ll write again about the mainstream media (after fifteen years in it I have a lot of opinions about the news agenda and the way it’s set as well as institutional racism and sexism) but right now, I just want to get ahead of the curve, redress the balance and say TEACHERS COULD NOT BE ANY MORE AWESOME.
How do they do it? They have 30 kids in each class and still manage to impart knowledge in just six hours a day, while it seems to take me half that time to persuade my year three pupil just to sit in one place with a sharp pencil, some paper and an attitude one degree above mutiny, while his four-year-old sister is temporarily engaged in playing with something that almost certainly won’t be a toy. The day we learnt about right angles she ‘made a cake’ in the kitchen (with flour, ketchup, butter and biscuits) and the day that I took advantage of her absence and silence to make a start on a reading comprehension with her brother, I later discovered my favourite lipstick all over her, a mirror, the sink and the carpet. Some days keeping up with the national curriculum from home just isn’t worth the clear-up attempt later. I think I found my teaching level with these potato people, a rare activity that all three of us enjoyed and completed.
Our school has been absolutely fantastic at providing just the right balance of materials for home schooling combined with a lack of pressure to actually do any. This is perfectly pitched for frazzled parents adjusting to quarantine life, and probably also ideal for children who are at once happy to have some time off, but also missing their friends, fearful of this new dangerous virus everyone is talking of, and resentful that school work has entered their home, a domain that was previously associated purely with relaxation. I’m also in awe of my friends who are teachers and also have their own children at home – simultaneously handling both one of the most stressful work periods of their life while also trying to educate and care for their own children. (Yes I know teachers can send their own children into school, but some that I know are trying not to, or are using that school place minimally, while also still sending work to everyone else.)
Schools aren’t closed and teachers aren’t ‘off’. School buildings have been closed, but many teachers are working harder than ever, not only taking care of key workers’ children and vulnerable children, setting home working plans for children at home, and now welcoming back certain year groups, but also planning a transition period for year sixes and the new reception years. Everything has been thought of. I’m so proud of our school and of teachers everywhere. Give them a pay rise. And yes, I am happy to increase my taxes to fund it.
I was already grateful for our school and the fantastic work they do to support my children, but the period of enforced absence from the school run has reinforced that a hundredfold. As has my utter ineptitude as a home school teacher. This blog was partly inspired by my stress levels. My head keeps replaying that scene in Catastrophe where Liz begs Kevin to take her children for her (‘Please just take my fucking kids!!’). But I'm also very aware of my appreciation for the love, support and passion for educating children that our school has managed to continue to communicate, even from afar. Today my youngest will go back to pre-school and I’m excited for her and planning some blissful one-to-one time with the oldest. The local area is our oyster for three hours. One thing’s for sure, Cat’s Craptastic Home School is having an inset day in celebration.