Switching from parent mode to teacher mode

by | Aug 13, 2020

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Our new reality means that parents have had to switch their roles from parents to teachers – with very little warning. Former teacher Teixeira Murray gives parents some tips on how parents can be teachers to their children at home.

Who would have thought we would find ourselves smack bang in the middle of a pandemic? It’s like we are living in a movie: raising and growing our families in the midst of an ever-present lurking virus, a virus that has literally brought the world to a standstill, and we are yet to see the aftermath.

And if that’s not scary enough, parents around the globe were forced into the wacky world of home-schooling their own children, or at least supervising said children through some sort of in-house education. Oy vey!

I cannot stress enough that this is the scariest thing that has ever happened to me as a person, a mother, and a teacher. Yes, I am a teacher, and so everyone addresses me with an “I am sure you are cruising through this” tone in their voices, but let me tell you, home-schooling truly shows me those proverbial “flames”.

Let me explain. I am a qualified teacher, but a high school teacher (in case that helps my case), and have very limited knowledge as to the learning patterns of six-year-olds and three-year-olds, other than the fact that I am their mother.

As an educator, I am all about the business of serious teaching, like literature reviews and crafting designer essays and reflecting on topics that shape the world. I am certainly not about the business of cutting shapes, colouring in numbers and repeating myself 10 000 times a day.

I remember the first day of home schooling my son (my twin in looks and now more obvious than before, my twin in personality and character). I was on the phone with his teacher practically the whole day, at times laughing at the absurdity of my teaching my own offspring, but mostly crying because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing.

The sheer frustration of first trying to convince my children that I was “authorised” and qualified  to teach them the given content, and second, the random outbursts of dismay displayed by both the home-school teacher and student, is something I thought I wouldn’t experience. Have I mentioned that I am an actual teacher?

But alas. One thing I have learnt in my now 10-week stint of being a home-school mother to my children is that I, in fact, cannot separate the two – being a mother and a teacher ‒ as well as I thought I should. In a way, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

My children have amazing teachers who are trained to deal with the many moods, emotions, and temperaments of the children assigned to them, and I want them to know that I am still their mother. I’m helping them to learn, but I am still their mother.

My children are different ‒ as most children are ‒ and as a mother you have the instincts to pick up on their physical and emotional needs.  I have learnt that my son is a sensitive learner and though smart, he is a child with a wandering mind, and when I expect him to sit still and learn (when he isn’t ready to do so) the task becomes futile and cumbersome. My daughter, on the other hand, is only three years old and wakes up in the morning with joy for yet another school day (she inherited this from me). School with her is much easier because she wants to learn.

But even that statement is flawed. Learning is not just about finishing worksheets and reciting the alphabet. I have come to learn first-hand that it has everything to with the overall well-being of the child, and for my son, this meant his emotional needs needed some attention too.

What most of us forget is that the Covid-19 pandemic has prohibited my son from his social interactions with his classmates, teachers, and friends, and this was and is a pretty big deal for him.

I remember one Friday, after about five weeks of getting into a good holistic routine with the children, my son sat at this school desk and just cried. He was crying because he was tired. Tired of only having me as his teacher and only having his sister as his classmate. He was tired of not having his friends play with him at break-time and tired of not going to his science and swimming lessons.

It broke my heart and of course, we stopped conventional schooling for the day and focused on my son’s emotional well-being by doing something different, calling his friends, and even going for a drive around the block. That day I learnt that learning is far more than academic performance but rather starts with emotional well-being.

We got through the 10 weeks of homeschooling because I didn’t switch off my mom mode when teaching my children, I remained a mother. I concluded that I am only a facilitator in their learning and that their teachers still know best the outcomes they desire for their age group. My job is to ensure my children are emotionally sound to receive the content and then we patiently work through it, identifying opportunities of learning, even if it means the learning day stretches out longer than planned.

It also made me realise how important it is for parents, even me, to constantly reinforce the lessons and content taught at school because these little brains require so much repetition at times. It personally drives me bonkers, but I now search for resources to help them cement the content they have been taught.

Having created a routine that includes learning time, screen time, playtime, quiet time, and learning time, helps immensely. The little ones feel safe in knowing what to expect from the day and they can absorb more. A solid routine is also something I planned with my children, asking them, what they want to do when (within limits) and what they feel they need to do in a day, perhaps a craft per day or week. It helps them feel involved and they begin to take ownership of their school week. They also love ticking items off their to-do list, which gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Remember, no two days are the same, but having a good mindset and a relatively positive attitude certainly helps to make the tasks easier. Also, my very important note is to remember your primary role as a parent: that trumps everything.