Do you remember the first time?
We’re not talking sexy fun here – though that did indeed go out the window in tandem for many. No, we’re talking about a hell we all thought we’d left behind in late summer – homeschooling.
Back in those halcyon days of August, as we cheerfully waved our kids back into the classroom, parents – what seemed like every parent – swore blind they’d take a bullet for their kids’ teacher. “Pay them all a million quid a month,” we yelled, as we deposited our offspring and ran in the opposite direction. “Knighthoods for every educator.” In short, we’d tried teaching on for size, and those six-week summer holidays no longer seemed a professional luxury.
Now, it’s hard to imagine a nation more conflicted about schooling. Of course, we still want to protect our teachers. Hell, we’d move them in and feed them peeled grapes if it were an option. Mostly, we want to protect our kids too – when we’re not dreaming of dropkicking them out of the window.
But here’s the thing – it’s ok to want everyone to be safe, and to also want schools to just bloody be schools, reliably there, reliably full of patient adults who don’t want to dropkick your kids. It’s also fair to be red-faced, raging, apoplectic at an utterly predictable closure being announced with 12-hours’ notice, as it was in England. Because if one thing became clear to us all last summer, it’s that teaching is not a side-hustle, nor something you can squeeze into your lunchbreak, as we’re all now being expected to. Plus, kids are a nightmare – fact. Especially when they’re your own.
So here, in the spirit of solidarity, I thought I’d share a day in the life of my own homeschool, already in special measures. Because if my attempts at education have any purpose whatsoever (and trust me, they’re scholastically worthless), it would be that someone else, somewhere, feels a little less rubbish about their own abilities.
Once more into the breach we go, friends. No mum left behind…
Technically speaking, my son is still on school holidays. But he doesn’t know that, and we’re working, so in the interests of efficiency, our homeschool opened yesterday.
When we told seven-year-old Arthur he wouldn’t be returning to the classroom, he was genuinely sad so, guileless fool that I am, I truly believed this time would be easier. He seemed eager to learn, people. Eager!
That misconception lasted until 9.07am, four minutes after we’d gotten him to open a book. “This isn’t like school, Mummy,” he said, sadly. No kid, it’s not.
“He just needs to get into a routine,” my partner reasoned, naively, before setting about his favourite problem-solving approach – a spreadsheet. An hour’s reading, an hour’s maths, an hour’s writing, plus PE with Joe (returning next week lads!) or some time to do art. This, he suggested, would constitute a fair attempt at education each day.
We hung a clock in Arthur’s room and explained the routine to him. Easy.
At 9.13am, six minutes after he’d first given up, he appeared in the study. “Is it ten o’clock yet?”, he wheedled. No pal. No, it’s not. Then began the following conversation over the third snack of the day.
“Buddy, we’re not trying to be the bad guys here, but if you don’t learn to read and write well, how will you ever get a job when you’re a grown-up?”
“I don’t need to read or write Mummy, ‘cause I’m going to be a footballer for Liverpool and drive a Ferrari.”
“Footballers need to read and write too pal. Plus, how can you drive a Ferrari if you can’t read road signs?”
“Eh, I can read ‘stop’. Plus, red and green lights don’t have letters on, so…” He punctuated this with an eye-roll. At seven.
I didn’t dropkick him out the window though, so I get parent points for that, right? Plus, his debate skills are on point…
Inevitably, around 11am, a ‘good mum’ will appear on Google Classroom to post a picture of morning activities with perfect Penelope, who absolutely loves to read and recites times tables for fun.
“Penny had so much fun making this macaroni Mona Lisa to exact scale,” she’ll chirp, adding a heart-eye emoji for good measure.
Now, the good mums are lovely people, I’d sell my soul to be just half as patient and kind as them, and the rage they induce in me is 110 per cent my own failing. Hands up, I’m an affront to the sisterhood. But every time I see a post like this I find myself hoping, really hoping, that just once this time around, Penny will stuff The Faraway Tree under her pillow in favour of eating a crayon to see what it tastes like, or putting slime in her own hair for shits and giggles…
Anyway, the update acts as a kick up the arse and, having abandoned my own work, I spend the next hour trying, fruitlessly, to live up to her example by reading with him.
Conclusion? I don’t know what Arthur’s teacher says to him to get him to read, but the horrified expression on his face would suggest: “S.H.O.U.L.D. SHOULD. You read it two seconds ago with no problem. Seriously dude, what the hell? Are you trolling me?” falls somewhat short of the mark…
11.45am: reducing expectations
The teachers are setting work on iPads, ergo, iPads are no longer A Bad Thing.
Also, Mathletics is a game, and Minecraft is a game, and Minecraft is basically coding, if you ignore the killing zombies part… So, Minecraft is an educational tool, right?
Noon onwards: fuck it
In my defence, I usually make it to Tuesday before my fuck it instinct kicks in. But when it does, well, all bets are off.
“You know where the cereal bars and fruit roll-ups are, don’t you pal? Ok, no more than five snacks today. Here’s the remote, here’s your iPad, and here are the Nintendo joycons – try not to set fire to anything and I’ll see you at dinner. Have fun!”
I’m calling this part survival skills. Now, please no one call social services…