It’s 5:30. My husband’s alarm sounds. Normally I’m annoyed hearing it, but today I’m quietly pleased—I’ve been up since 4:30 with our 7-month-old, and it is a relief to share this suffering. So I wish him an exaggeratedly chipper, “Good morning!” and console myself with the fact that at least I get to stay in bed and nurse while he must get up immediately.
As long as I keep the room dark enough, keep still, and don’t make too much eye contact with the baby, it’s possible he’ll soon fall asleep again for an hour or two more, which means more sleep for me too. I try not to think about it too much, lest I get so excited by the prospect of more that I become too excited to have it. I have, as usual, a full day ahead of me, and I need to be alert.
For the past three years I’ve been teaching at a very exclusive private school. The high teacher-to-student ratios this school loves boasting of means lots of one-on-one time with students. Normally I love this aspect, but all the extra interaction can be difficult when exhausted. Under more typical circumstances I would be on maternity leave, but I’m allowed to have my baby with me while teaching, so I limited my break this time around to just two weeks.
After an enviously short commute, I have arrived in my classroom. There’s the standard alphabet on the wall and number chart, but they look more “Pinterest” than “elementary school classroom.” Instead of desks, the students are encouraged to sit together on couches, to foster the “family” dynamic this place is always promoting. It’s pretty homey, all things considered. The piano in the corner, which I first worried might be underused, has proven quite popular, and everyone makes time throughout the day for practice.
This whole setup is starting to sound very posh, so now might be a good time to balance the scales a bit and let you know that the monetary compensation sucks. There’s not an endless supply of cash available here, so a lot of focus is put on the intangible— the relationships being fostered, character-development, you get the idea. It’s like when a religious organization needs to hire someone new, but they don’t have a lot of money so they start touting “eternal rewards” as one of the benefits they offer. Sometimes I feel like I’m paid in smiles and tea refills.
Since teaching can be a bit of a slog sometimes, it’s important to find ways to keep spirits high. Lately, while the world has been in self-isolation, I’ve been amusing myself by seeing how long I can keep news of the nationwide school closures from reaching my students. My Grade 2 class still has no idea that most other seven year olds in the country are on extended holiday, and so we are happily continuing on with our regularly scheduled lessons. What a great benefit of all contact with friends being cancelled! With any luck, I can keep up the façade of business-as-usual until this term comes to its scheduled end in June.
I guess keeping this school open regardless of what’s going on in the world is one of the privileges I have being mom to my students. It’s got to be right up there with “running a highly exclusive private school from my living room.”
Eight years ago I scoffed at the suggestion of homeschooling. I am, after all, a proud former student of E. W. Farr and Pelham Centre. The arrival of my first child, and a move to a new school district caused me to, for the first time, actually consider the decision of what schooling would look like for our family, and that somehow got us to where we are today. A good decision I think—each of my children is at the top of their class.
This year the bulk of my time is spent with my oldest daughter in Grade 2, but every now and again I venture into junior kindergarten territory to ease my second-born into the game. Whereas at public schools practicality dictates keeping different ages separate wherever possible, here I get to enjoy seeing my kids in their different stages, all interacting as they learn together. We try to start each day with activities the three and five-year-old can participate in, usually some combination of poetry, folk song, Bible, and art study. When it won’t distract from lessons, music from the current term’s composer provides us with background music.
When I was in Grade 2, I was a “pleasure to have in class” (Miss D’Amico will back me up on that). My daughter is also wonderful to teach, but I’d be lying if I said the mom-child teaching dynamic is the same as the teacher-student teaching dynamic. She is much more willing to push my buttons. If you’re a parent of school-aged children, then you are currently finding yourself conscripted as a teacher of sorts for your very own highly exclusive Isolation Academy, and you may have an occasional button-pusher of your own. Thankfully, as parents, we are allowed a lot of creative leeway when it comes to our kids.
Earlier this school year, after a day of having my buttons excessively mashed, I, as teacher, wrote a letter about my daughter’s behaviour that day and instructed her to give it to…me, as mother, when she “got home.” I then had her “leave school” by exiting the front door. After standing on the front porch for 10 seconds, she came back in through the same front door, where I immediately welcomed her home with my best “how was your day at school?” She had to read me the letter from the teacher, and after a bit of discussion we came up with a new rule: While she’s at “home,” she can complain about school-related things. But when she’s at “school” she must treat her teacher as she would any other adult giving their time for her benefit.
I was pretty confident the whole thing worked when the next morning, without saying a word, she left the house, stood on the front porch for ten seconds, then came back in with a cheery “Hi, Teacher!” I was even surprised with a thoughtful apology letter she had written the evening before for “Dear Teacher.”
It seems even the annoying days can bring (non-monetary) rewards of their own. Now, if one of us starts to notice the learning dynamic is becoming a bit too informal, one of us will suggest she “go home for a snack” or some other errand that takes her “out of school” for a few minutes, basically for no other reason than for both of us to intentionally go back “in school” a few minutes later.
Are there any families out there who aren’t having to make adjustments right now? It can be difficult enough figuring out how to unexpectedly work from home, not being able to work at all, or just really missing being able to connect with people face- to-face. Having to navigate those changes with the additional duty of facilitating your child’s learning in the weeks to come can be downright daunting.
As someone with a few years of voluntary service under her belt, I assure you it’s possible. For most of you, this setup is only temporary. You know your kids. Focus on the skills they need help with, give them (and yourself) permission to go easy in other areas. And don’t underestimate the educational value of just sitting down with your kids and enjoying a good book together. While the rewards for your efforts may not be eternal (and certainly not monetary), you may be pleasantly surprised with just how far into the future they reach. ◆