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On my mandated daily exercise yesterday, I turned a corner to behold an extraordinary sight – a couple of primary-aged kids, in school uniform. This felt a bit like stumbling upon the Queen of England or a live Tasmanian Tiger – we haven’t seen such things round our way for quite a while. I did stop and gawp for a second, before wondering why we put perfectly good small humans into such hideous outfits (an olive/mustard combo in this case, like some kind of experimental Allen’s Lolly). School, for some, is back on the agenda.

Heading back to Normal

My own two teenagers are going back to high school this week. Only for one day, and as they’re in different years, on different days. But, their excitement at this news was palpable. They've done well in isolation, adjusting to video conferencing, online submissions and putting a virtual hand up, but despite best efforts, fully remote education doesn't quite tick all their boxes. They want to see more than one of their friends at a time, they want the chatter and to applaud the home haircuts, and I think above all, they want a familiar regimen in the appropriate setting, their own hideous uniforms (a remarkable sort of pseudo-tartan) notwithstanding.

Their parents have so far managed to suppress visible signs of relief - things get crowded here sometimes, and like many families, we’ve sacrificed bits of our home to the nobler and more essential functions of an art studio, workshop, gym, study areas, and I fear the kitchen may never recover from what goes on there. We too would like to start getting back to some kind of normal.

A Sort-Of Empty Nest

But the truth is, we’ll miss it when they’re back at school full-time. We’re not excessively concerned parents generally, and while we take an interest, we tend to leave the education professionals to do their job without too much interference. From Kindergarten until now, this has worked well for us. Remote schooling has, however, brought their education very much into the home. And, goodness, I’ll confess I really had no idea. They work, like, a lot. And they do things that are quite extraordinary – NASA-level algebra, history that’s interesting, marvellously depressing dystopian literature, industrial design, and wherever it’s available, they incorporate technology with amazing dexterity. But I get asked to review assignments, to drill a hole into something, to comment on Dadaism or Bauhaus, and to explain the concept of catharsis or osmosis or whatever it is, every day. I usually fail miserably (though my hole-drilling isn’t too bad), but I am there, I see what’s frustrating, and once in a while, I get a little spark of comprehension. And that’s wonderful. Assuming that teachers get this all the time, I am just plain jealous.

Teacher-Envy, and how to deal with it

I don’t necessarily want to be a teacher (I doubt they’d have me), but having had school deposited so emphatically into my home for the last few weeks, I do want to maintain the oversight I’ve gained, and I definitely want to witness more of those addictive sparks of comprehension, if only as a mere parent. The school my kids attend has, in common with most throughout the country, done a brilliant job in extremely taxing circumstances. What they don’t currently have, however, is a means for me to keep up my current level of involvement without interrogating my kids to the point where they hate me, or by being a pest to staff. It would be disingenuous of me not to mention that Canvas offers a Parent App, that would allow me (in a minimally intrusive manner), to co-enrol with my children, see grades and upcoming assignments, set myself alerts, and receive and respond to any direct communication from teachers. Even though school starts this week, the kids will still be taking lessons at home four out of five days. I think we’re all old hands by now, but there’s always something more to learn, and Instructure has put together an entire web series with tips and tools for parents in our predicament. Particularly entertaining is this chat among some US Mums, all of whom have been professionally involved in education, and two of whom actually work for Instructure these days. Watch out for the tip on baking (don’t knock it – baking teaches physics, chemistry and time management, and you can eat the outcome as part of a formal assessment). In the meantime, my thanks to all the teachers who kept things going so well during lockdown, and, while the circumstances weren’t ideal, for giving me just a taste of how it feels to do what you do.

Keep learning - I’m off to look up osmosis.

Austin Harrison

Senior Bid Manager, Instructure