A dad’s guide on how to home school or at least how to look like you know what you’re doing

When the virus struck, and the schools closed, my home office went from being a haven to a house of learning.

Father helping daughter to finish homework in her room

There are days that decide your career path, and for me, it was the day my Year Nine teacher walked into the classroom, took one look at me and groaned: “No, I can’t do this – just take yourself to the principal now and save us both time.” After I’d howled and argued in indignation, on my familiar walk to the front office, I swore that I would never, ever become a school teacher.

Not because they were bad people, you understand, it was more for self-preservation. I would never want to teach a child like me.

Karma, as anyone who thinks Covid-19 is a hoax will hopefully discover, is a bitch.

And homeschooling your children is not just Hell on Earth, but Hell in Your Own House. There is no escape, no mercy and no reservoir of patience deep enough to get through it unscarred.

I’d like to say that I’d already grown to respect teachers over the decades since I went out of my way to disrespect them, but I really haven’t.

As a parent, I tend to bemoan their imperfections, ridicule their working hours and irately berate the absurd number of holidays they get (and the sheer nerve they have shown in inventing the modern malady that is the ‘pupil-free day’, so that every school-holiday period is made a day longer for parents, as if teachers hadn’t had enough time off already).

But after what feels like at least nine months of attempting to teach my own children (well, my younger one at least, the boy is a teenager and thus knows everything already, rendering my efforts, and indeed my very existence, superfluous)

I have changed my tune, from pshaw to sheer awe.

I must admit there have been times before when I’ve almost come around. Like a sucker, I have occasionally agreed to volunteer to help out with things like reading time at our primary school – not having a real job makes you an obvious soft touch for such duties – and while doing so I have been deeply shaken by just how chaotic and accursed a place a kindergarten classroom can be.

Imagine, a bunch of kids barely able to wipe their own backsides, some of whom can read and many of whom can only just speak properly, being foisted upon you, usually in tears, for six hours a day, five days a week.

It’s a job that makes being a rodeo clown look relaxing, and seeing it at close quarters did give me some sense of why teachers think of a 9am to 3pm day as more than enough.

And then the virus struck, and the schools closed and my home office went from being a haven to a house of learning.

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While it’s true that there is an age at which many children can work in the Google Classroom and do (most of) their assigned work without much oversight from overworked parents who are also struggling with seeing so much more of their partners than is natural (not to mention discovering just how cranky their jobs make them on workdays), that age is somewhat older than my daughter.

I’d like to say there were some subjects I didn’t struggle with and, indeed, for a while, I didn’t hate spelling and grammar. I even got a laugh out of my student when attempting to teach her why commas are important by using the excellent “it’s time to eat, grandma” example.

And I’m determined to tell myself that it’s not just my daughter, that it’s quite normal to need things explained to you, so many, many times. Simple things. Times tables, addition, subtraction, where apostrophes go in proper English, how to spell “pharaoh” and “soldier” and “they’re”.

I never loved math, but I don’t remember it being so hard to learn, nor quite so deathly dull. Still, mathematics is a laugh riot compared to what passes for history in primary schools. If I have to take dictation of one more assignment about the First Fleet (to save precious time, my daughter now walks around the room espousing her ideas while I type them – watching her type things herself is more painful than if she etched the words into a blackboard with her fingernails), I will commit a crime myself and beg to be banished to some far-flung island.

I’ve tried to keep my calm, to be patient, because I do love my daughter so, and I can honestly say I never, ever found her anywhere near this frustrating until the responsibility of her education was lobbed into my lap.

 

That said, I did take some real actual learnings from my time in Dante’s inferno. Here they are:

 

1) Do not attempt to hold down two jobs at once – you’re not a God

 

A lot of people seem to think they can work from home AND run a home school. Doing this simultaneously is sheer foolery; you need to concentrate on one thing at a time. Work or school, never both.

2) Google Classroom is merely a serving suggestion

 

I’ve spoken to teachers about this, and indeed our school eventually emailed all parents to say that you should not expect to get through ALL of the work assigned on any given day. You can, if you want to, just as you can eat all the food at a buffet, but it’s probably not wise to try. Only attempt to do a realistic amount, and try to gauge, also, how much is too much for your child.

 

3) Realise that you are at a disadvantage right from the start

 

I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t admitted to being frustrated by the process of homeschooling. There’s a certain collegiate magic missing when you take a child out of an actual classroom, where they are surrounded by their peers, which inspires a kind of collective will to learn. You can’t fake that at home. The fact is, homeschooling is not normal, and it’s not ideal, and all you can do is try your best. Fortunately, homeschooling is not forever either.

 

4) Find your inner Zen

 

I don’t know how teachers can be as patient as they are. I’ve never known, but I have even less idea now. If repeating something over and over seems to have no effect on your child, do not scream and run into the street, tearing at your clothes and sobbing. Give yourself, and your student, a break. Try a different subject, and then when you come back to the thing that broke you, try a different approach. Or try valium. That might work (on you, not the child).

 

5) Look for the light at the end of the Google Classroom tunnel

 

At our house, we have been counting down to that first day back at school with the kind of fervor usually reserved for birthdays and Christmas. Pretty much every State and Territory at least has a plan to return to face-to-face learning now. It’s almost over. Hang in there, as the cat on the poster says.

 

 

Thankfully, blessedly, she has her first day back at school this week. Just one day, but what a day it will be, and when I hand her over at the gate, I know we’re not supposed to approach the teachers, but I may just have to hug mine and tell her, with great passion, that she is a miracle worker of the highest order. And should definitely be getting paid thrice her salary.