This is the year that schools shrunk. Because of COVID-19 and our nationwide efforts to flatten the curve, the end of Term 1 saw our workplaces largely emptied out. Our classes, too, have been mostly disassembled, with students split up and separated further than we could ever have threatened.
As I write, most schoolrooms are now domestic set-ups, reduced to the confines of houses and apartments in cities, suburbs and regions all over the country, with students currently hunching over bedroom desks, coffee tables and sofas in makeshift ‘classrooms’.
We may be flattening the curve of the virus, but the learning curve for teachers has been vertiginously steep as we’ve grappled with new platforms and hastily modified our programs for online learning. Much like our schools, we teachers have also been downsized. Not dissimilar to Mike Teavee in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we’ve been shrunk and teleported into the screens of phones, tablets and laptops.
Of course, teachers aren’t the only ones who’ve had to adjust. The neighbour to my right has bought two sets of inflatable sumo suits so her four kids can take turns jumping “safely and constructively” on top of each other to release pent-up energy. Missing their usual sports and school-based physical interactions (namely play-fighting, pushing and spontaneous bouts of wrestling) they’re now battling each other over food, positions on the couch and any sideways glance with a hint of provocation.
The neighbour to my left has a 10-year-old child who bursts into tears when his French e-book doesn’t download. When this is resolved (it was the French teacher’s erreur) he then has a meltdown because he doesn’t know what to do with the spelling words.
Parents are in awe of what we do, not just in generating work, but in motivating students, understanding their needs and shortfalls, and having the organisation and discipline to engage not only one or two young minds, but 30 of them.
Friends further afield have divulged their successes, failures and surprises with their kids’ online learning. Almost all admitted, somewhat sheepishly, to taking creative liberties with the set program. One father had his kids build a half-pipe in the backyard. Another dad supervised a roller-blading obstacle course, claiming this is meaningful Design and Technology work, with bonus Health and Phys Ed thrown in.
In an attempt to keep their children engaged, a good number of parents have turned to practical activities. Baking and cooking have been favourites, which (I am told) develop skills in Food Science and Technology, Maths and English. (And Humanities, at a pinch, if you’re trying out food from another country.) Others have boosted the Health and Phys Ed content, with students counting the laps they run around the clothesline (Maths!) then calculating the calories burned (more Maths!) which they’ll then replace with consumption of the délicieuse friands (Languages! Home Ec!) currently in the oven.
If I were to distil all the feedback received from parents, it would look something like this:
a) What are verbs/vectors/atoms?
b) How do I keep my kids still/focused/away from the fridge?
c) This will end soon, right?
d) How do teachers do it?!
While the media has been showing us images of health workers being applauded in the streets – rightly so – there exists a less visible, yet very real, groundswell of admiration and gratitude for the work of teachers. It’s murmuring through kitchens all around the world. On social media, it can be found with the hashtags #teachersareheroes and #teachersrock.
The parents I spoke with are in awe of what we do, not just in generating work, but in motivating students, understanding their needs and shortfalls, and having the organisation and discipline to engage not only one or two young minds, but 30 of them – class after class, day after day.
‘You teachers are heroes!’ parents say at 3:05pm as they spill onto the verge, seeking adult conversation. It’s not a standing ovation, per say, but it’s nice to be reminded of this at a time when we may look smaller (digitally speaking) but our workloads are bigger than ever, and society feels very topsy-turvy. Our ‘hero’ status may be one of the positive things that remain when parents gratefully return their kids to our care.