Why Parents Need to Rethink the Normalcy of The “New Normal”
With almost 3 or 4 weeks into our current global health crisis depending on your geographical location, it is not surprising that majority of parents who have suddenly been thrown into home-schooling are convinced that teaching their children at home is possibly the hardest job in the world. As someone who was suddenly plunged into similar, yet non-pandemic situation 2 years ago, I must say, I wholeheartedly agree. Although I must add, for different reasons which I will explain shortly.
We have all the seen the memes, the cheeky “you’re it!’ teacher tweets and the melodramatic ‘thank you teachers’ videos. I am sure there is a lot of merit to Shonda Rhimes’s assertion that teachers should be the highest paid workers after only two days of home-schooling. The fact remains, teachers do a phenomenal job. No one can argue with that.
Anyone who read my previous blog post from last week would know that I hold the view that anyone literate can home educate. However, having to suddenly adjust to your children being indoors all day whilst you juggle proving your productivity levels to your remote team, as well as reassure your child’s schoolteacher that you’re not the weakest link; is a little short of asking a dancing cat to spin plates.
Coping with the stress of quarantine living during a global pandemic is tough on everyone. The pressure to stay safe, socially distant yet virtually connected with anxious friends and family is intense. In our homes, we are confronted with a sudden myriad of housework, coupled with constant shopping trips to assuage our basic survival demons whilst we torture ourselves about the fragility of our mortality. On top of all this, remote working parents are expected to clock in 6-8 hours a day which includes being available for endless ZOOM meetings in between bursts of attempting teach or facilitate virtual tutoring sessions for their children.
How can such a combustive home environment be readily accepted without due consideration to the cost to our collective mental or physical health?
So, if you are struggling to cope with meeting the demands of the ‘new normal’ and keep you and your family sane every day, it’s ok. You are not alone. Almost every one of my remote working-parent friends that I have spoken to around the world over the past few weeks have complained of feeling the same way. We are anxious and stressed out about keeping it all together not mention finding the time to breathe.
If what I’ve described so far explains your reality of home-schooling, let me reassure you of this once and for all on behalf of all home educators, what you’re doing right now is not home schooling or home education as we know it. I am sorry to tilt your halo. The most fitting phrase I’ve read describing the current home learning situation is ‘District 12 schooling’, ‘Pandemic Schooling’ or better yet, Remote Schooling.
Ordinarily, home education, when done intentionally, brings families together, leaves children feeling happier, freer and inevitably deeply motivated to learn for life not just to pass exams. Don’t get me wrong, home education is not devoid of its own challenges. It can be a steep learning curve even for the most intentional and well-prepared parents. However, normal home education, from what I have experienced first-hand and through exposure to many home education families directly and virtually, is certainly not as stressful as what many parents are currently having to endure.
Firstly, home education is something parents choose to do, even when cornered into it through difficulties with mainstream schooling. Responsible home educators often make a conscious decision to put their children first and are therefore able to adjust their lives and livelihoods accordingly. Home-schooled children in general often feel valued and at ease with exploring their unique abilities at an early age, Billie Eilish and her brother, being the most recent and popular case in point. Families tend to seek balance by becoming more intentional about every aspect of their lives.
Having been plunged into combining home education with remote work for a period of time in 2018, I can fully empathise with the inherent challenges with trying to do two full time jobs simultaneously. Granted, I didn’t have the added pressure of quarantine conditions and fear of death looming over my head. However, I did have to contend with an emotionally torn child who needed hours of outdoor socialising to stay connected with other children and a boss, who I did not feel at the time, would have accommodated my sudden change in home circumstance and understandably so.
After a few months of trying to do both jobs rather badly, I eventually chose my son’s well-being and the need to be present for a wholesome home education experience over work. In retrospect, having met lots of parents who combine work with home school and having mastered the science myself, I realise that there are many things I could have done better in 2018. The first of which was to have had an open and honest conversation with my employer at the outset about my need for time to adjust to my suddenly-new-home-schooling situation.Perhaps there is a lesson here for anyone currently struggling to cope with work and home-schooling in these precarious times.
Given what we know of global pandemics and how it characteristically changes the world as we know it, isn’t it time we begin to make room for a conversation about how to make the “new normal” work for the whole family?
Last week, I read a brilliantly written Forbes article on the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce. The article which rightly praised many companies for their efforts in helping employees transition smoothly into remote working, also left me slightly flummoxed in its casual proclamation of the dawn of the 4th Industrial revolution…all thanks to COVID-19. No one can deny the inevitability of our increasing reliance on AI or virtual technology. However, the idea of Bots, AI, remote working and remoting schooling becoming a common place in our own homes might not be something we want to celebrate so quickly.
Humour me for a minute and consider this thought; have you realised that as a result of COVID-19, our once private castles are now being run by our bosses, our kids’ head teachers, Jamie Oliver and Joe Wicks? Although, if I am honest, I personally wouldn’t mind asking either of last two to move in permanently.
With all the best intentions, in the absence of hands on help, the only way parents can be expected to put in full time hours is by leaving their children unattended, most likely in front of screens all day. The evidence into adverse effects of long exposure to screens for children, especially young child, is overwhelmingly ubiquitous. Even for two parent homes, where setting up a schoolwork supervision rota is possible, greater flexibility will be needed from employers. Unless parents are given the flexibility to give dedicated chunks of time to help their children with their schoolwork in the course of the workday, we can all just stop pretending that the ‘new normal’ is anything but a mental health disaster waiting to happen.
Schools as well as parents need to lower their expectations about what is academically achievable for their children during this pandemic. Having mentioned this in my last free resource 13 tips for suddenly new home educators, I still maintain, unless a child is studying for exams, 3 hours is enough to cover the basics. All other learning which are just as important, can be worked outside the core workday.
Even when working within the basic remit of 3 hours of home-schooling per day, I believe parents who want to remain connected with their children whilst supporting their learning are better off coaching /facilitating rather than attempting to “teach”. Teachers are trained to guide your child’s learning using particular methodologies and metrics which would be hard to master in ordinary circumstances let alone during these difficult times.
I have drawn from my own experience and insight into managing remote work and home schooling to craft these 10 quick tips to help parents who new to home-schooling learn how to facilitate your child’s home learning ease and I dare say, fun even.
Click on the link below to download my 10 quick tips on how to facilitate your child’s learning in a focused, fun and creative way.