The elderly father-in-law of an old friend had an unfortunate habit of announcing in pubs, rather too loudly, “I was a grammar school headmaster, y’know!” The regulars would reply, “No need to shout about it. We can tell!”
Quiet and understated by nature, I refrain from such declarations, though in Godzone’s Red Lion I’m still too frequently asked, “You on holiday again? Again?” I respond in some exasperation, “No, I’m retired!”.
Wow! See what I did there? I accidentally slipped into the present. Alas, thanks to the virus and lockdown, for the time being the past tense is required, “when I used to be in the Red Lion”, though we shall be visiting to collect one of landlord Iain’s new take-away meals this week.
Reverting to my former profession, I raise my hat to erstwhile colleagues, battling on at some risk to themselves as many schools continue to admit both the children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable and thus safer in school. At the same time, they’re striving to keep academic programmes going for all their pupils.
Some secondaries are using the latest technology to teach directly. Others are using emails to set work (arguably the easy bit) and to get it in to mark (ah, that’s the drawback!). For the most part, I suspect primary schools are more relaxed, reasoning (rightly) that, for now, a prolonged holiday will do no long-term harm to younger ones’ learning.
What’s known as EduTwitter keeps me up to date both on what schools are doing to try to keep in touch with their pupils during the lockdown and, much more amusingly, on how most parents are coping with the challenge of doing school at home.
We Brits frequently use humour to get through a crisis, and this topic has provided plenty of laughs from Tweeting parents. Immediate reaction to school closures came from Voice of the North co-founder Keith Hann: “My children are not exactly weeping, wailing, gnashing their teeth or rending their clothes over the imminent and indefinite closure of their primary school. Their mother and I, on the other hand…”
Some parents have learned respect for their kids’ teachers: “After 30 minutes of trying to teach my 6 year-old I think teachers should all be paid £1m a year.”
Another was less droll but no less appreciative: “After 1 week with a 7 and 9 year-old my admiration for primary school teachers is off the scale… To keep kids that age fully focussed and deliver the work they do, I don my virtual hat. Totally amazing.” I think they meant “doff my hat”, but we get the sentiment.
Some parents go beyond admiration for teachers, in their absence, and feel pressure from children underwhelmed by their teaching skills: “From my nine year old’s diary (which she read to me): ‘it all began on Friday when Bojo decided to close the schools. Now we are at home being taught by unqualified teachers’. I think she means me, I am trying my best.”
Indeed you are. Keep calm and carry on.
And how are the kids coping? A farmer-neighbour in Godzone (our little patch of North Northumberland) asked his lad if he wanted to come up the hill and help with some calving. “I can’t, Dad,” came the reply. “I’ve got to log on to school at 9am.” Blimey! No messing with attendance at that virtual school! His dad says he’s never seen him work so hard.
One Tyneside school Tweeted an essay by a 13-year-old boy. “Lockdown is dreadful. I am so bored and fed up already… It is far worse than I expected it to be: I wish I was back at school. I have unending amounts of work which feel like they will go on forever.”
Perhaps lockdown will mirror the old joke about the chap who asked his doctor how he could live to be a hundred. “Give up drink, cigarettes and women, and eschew red meat.”
“And will I live to be 100, Doc?”
“No, but it will seem like it.”
Keep calm. Carry on.