When Mum Becomes Miss
I watched a lesson once. For a friend. I know for a fact that the teacher had prepared it down to the smallest, finest detail. It was to be the highlight of a project he was delivering, one which included maths, music, some writing and reading. It involved a bit of geography with a dash of philosophical education. The broad topic which oversaw these learning opportunities was ‘The Police’. (That is, the people with tall hats as opposed to the singers with a Sting in their tail.) There was to be a spattering of drama – cops and robber chases – plus science, a forensic investigation into a stolen pencil case.
This would feature evidence of footprints and hair, alibis and statements. Exciting. But the best lesson was today. The History lesson. The one in which this teacher bestrode the classroom like an attorney before a jury in a cheap American soap, his audience agog with excitement. Facts would spill from this inspirational teacher like 2p pieces from a penny falls in a seaside amusement arcade.
I know that this lesson was immaculately prepared, because, (big reveal) I was the trainee delivering it. I’d even given up visits to Jim’s Bar in the Students’ Union (where a pint of mild cost 40p) as I slaved over my lecture.
This was going to be a hit. I prayed my assessor would choose to visit because, trust me, they would be in for a treat. Rather like the kids of today, as they face the prospect of weeks or months of learning at the hands of their new teacher. The one called Mum.
Coping with Corona
The education system seems to be adopting one of three approaches in dealing with current school closures. The best schools have set up online classes using commercial systems such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Those without the knowledge or facilities to do this are sending out packs of work, either physically or electronically. Some, sadly, are offering little in the way of education for their students.
Clearly, that third option is inadequate, even though illness, technical competence (or lack of it) and the electronic resources their students have at home are all factors which limit what schools can offer. Not every child has access to a laptop.
But while the other paths closed schools are using are better for their students, they are far, far from ideal. In all cases, considerable burden is placed on parents who are suddenly expected to step outside one role and into another. Without guidance, training or, frequently, support. Parents are parents, not professional educators.
Many of us are learning very quickly that being a great (or even enthusiastically average) parent does not necessarily equate to being a good teacher. Even where the school is providing much of the input, it is still falling to us to cope with problem printers, too much screen time, boredom, failing internet, boredom, misunderstandings, faults with the work, extension tasks. And boredom. Transforming from Mum to Miss or Pop to Prof is no easy trick – something that will be driven home more and more firmly over the coming weeks.
With this in mind, and calling on more than sixty years in education between us from teacher, to head to inspector, we at AB Peters are offering some tips which might, we hope, just make parents’ lives a little easier until the school gates beckon again.
Tricks and Tips for Successful Home School
Number One: Be a Parent Not a Teacher
Teachers have lots of advantages parents do not. With some painful exceptions, when they speak, kids listen and do what is asked. I coached a rugby club for schools once, and parents came to watch. It was not my coaching skills or tactical genius that impressed the dads, but the fact that when I told the kids to clear up cones, they did. There was no trick involved, just years of coaching to do as the teacher says.
But we parents have one huge weapon in our arsenal. Our kids love us. Wise parents use that relationship to persuade, cajole, encourage and, if all else fails, bribe. Ordering Johnny to finish his maths when the PS4 beckons will only end in a row. One which, let’s be honest, we are as likely to lose as win.
Number Two – Home is Home and School is School
Home cannot become school. Learning at school is a hugely interactive process. Learners talk between themselves; they switch on and off during lessons, they have jokes and laughs with their friends.
Learning at home is not like that. It is far more intense, far more focussed. Some children love this, others miss the interaction with mates. Nevertheless, three or four hours of work at home is equivalent to a full day at school.
Number Three – Establish a Routine
You will have read a lot about this, but it is important. Some schools are even advocating their students dress in their uniform. We are not going that far. In fact, there is plenty of research that suggests that uniforms hamper learning. It is all to do with the limbic brain, ties and sweaty acrylic jumpers, but we do not need to go into that. Still, routine is vital for the new home learner. And their temporary teacher.
Number Four – A Good Routine for Home Learning
So, here is a suggested routine for a typical eleven-year-old. It can be adapted for different age groups and made to fit with most regimes schools are suggesting. Don’t worry if it takes a while to establish, the rewards will be there in the long run.
9.00 – 30-45 minutes written English.
10.00 – 30-45 minutes written maths.
11.30 – 30 minutes practical maths, or science.
1.30 Thirty minutes reading. Guided reading is best. This is where reading is shared with parents/siblings/friends online etc. Each member of the group (even if that is just you and your child) takes it in turn to read aloud. The leader, usually the parent, will introduce questions and discussions as the reading progresses, enhancing learning and understanding. There has been a lot of research into reading recently, and the evidence is that good quality fiction reading not only helps with English study but also helps students to progress in all areas of the curriculum.
We have recently published a new edition of our book for 9-13-year olds, the time travel thriller Blaize. This is a guided reading version, with an introduction for parents on the basics of the tool, plus more than a hundred questions, writing tasks and discussion points requiring deep levels of understanding.
It is available on Amazon:
2.00 – Creative activities. E.g., art, cooking, board games, drama – whatever inspires you and your child. The learning here is from interaction, so it is great if, as parent, you can spend this time directly with your child.
3.00 – Exercise Time.
(We will be publishing some learning ideas over the coming weeks)
Number Five – Learners are the Best Teachers
It is natural to wish to impart what we know. For example, we can subtract, so we’ll show our kids and they’ll be able to do it too. Sadly, this is not a good way to teach. It might work, but probably won’t. Quality learning comes when we take charge of our own study. Home learning provides great opportunities for this. Then, as parent/teacher, we become facilitator, not instructor. Which is, of course, much less time consuming than sitting over our child, tutoring them.
This process of independence is called metacognition and is widely accepted as the highest form of learning. Schools are very bad at delivering it, because of the structures they have in place, and the need to maintain order. However, do not expect too much too soon. Children need to learn to be learners.
That History lesson was a disaster, by the way. After ten minutes, the kids were up the walls, the lecture had, (quite rightly) fallen apart but, thank goodness, no assessor had arrived.
Like many others, I learned to be a teacher the hard way. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do it overnight.