Here is a practical guide for parents who are doubling as teachers at the moment, written by educator and author Roxanna Elden.
Elden combines 11 years of experience as a public school teacher with a decade of speaking about education issues. Her first book, the nonfiction “See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers,” is widely used for teacher training. Her debut novel, “Adequate Yearly Progress,” follows a diverse group of educators in an urban high school as their professional lives affect their personal lives and vice versa.
By Roxanna Elden
I’m often disappointed at how little my teaching experience prepared me for parenting. Eleven years in front of the classroom has done nothing for my skills at managing supermarket tantrums, getting a toddler to finish a yogurt in less than two hours, or reliably getting dirty clothes placed into the hamper.
So now, as school districts across the country announce coronavirus-related shutdowns, I’m no more excited than any other parent about becoming my kids’ full-time teacher until … whenever. In this one small corner of our new parenting normal, however, instructional experience offers an edge. At the very least, I’ve been able to answer some of the questions raised by non-teacher parent friends as they prepare for the unasked-for career change ahead. Here are a few.
How do I structure the day?
There’s a reason schools have bells: Getting through a seven-hour school day is hard enough with a built-in schedule. Without set transition times, it’s easy to spend the whole day covering one small topic — or rush through everything too quickly and find yourself with a rowdy class and endless free time. (For teachers, 30 minutes of unstructured class time can feel like a week and a half.)
As a stand-in for the school bell, try setting alarms on your phone to break the day into parts, making changes to the schedule as you find your own rhythm. (Or if that feels like too many ringtones in your life, pencil in an hourly weekday schedule and try to stick to it.) Allot time for each subject you want to cover, plus lunch and recess. Include transition periods of five to 10 minutes in which kids can stretch, socialize and get ready for the next subject.
Another pro tip: Make sure to work in a set “planning period” — that’s an undisturbed period of time to catch up on the things you have to get done so you can be a better teacher when you’re with the kids.
How do I plan a lesson?
There are many ways to structure a lesson plan, but the simplest one is captured by the maxim “I do, we do, you do.” The teacher starts by introducing and actively explaining a concept. Then students practice with the teacher’s help. Then students practice on their own, after which the teacher checks their work to make sure they’ve actually mastered the material.
Mistakes can be pointed out in the moment or addressed in the next day’s lesson. The time when students are working independently is crucial for their own understanding; it also functions as a small break for you.
Remember that in a class of 20 to 30 kids, a teacher would not have time to hover over an individual child for each math problem. A parent who’s working remotely or running a coronavirus-panicked household while teaching is not expected to, either.
What if I don’t know how to teach the subject my child is studying?
If your school district isn’t providing you with online resources, you can still get some sense of what your child should be learning this year by visiting the Common Core State Standards website. (Most states still use the Core or some version of it.) You may not know the exact material and how to teach it — everything from calculus to phonics involves some specialized instructional skills.
But if you have a basic outline of what your child should be learning, you can dig up ways of keeping them on track. Grade-specific activity workbooks are available anywhere you buy books. You can find documentaries that cover social studies or science topics. Many generous teachers explain their subjects on YouTube. There’s also a website called Teachers Pay Teachers, where educators share lesson materials they’ve created for their own classrooms. You can search for lessons by subject, grade level and Common Core standard. (Despite the name of the site, many of the materials are free.)
What if my kids won’t listen to me?
Every teacher knows that the first day of school is a time when students test what’s up for negotiation. Does this teacher mean business? Can we get away with texting under the desk? Are we actually going to have to do work?
You may not have a class of 30 students to manage, but you face a different challenge: students who already have you pretty well figured out. With that in mind, try your best to stay in character as a teacher. Sure, you’ll make rookie mistakes and have to correct course. And yes, your teaching wardrobe may largely consist of unwashed pajamas. But at whatever level of professional effort you can manage, strive for consistency. Pick an official first day, then maintain your insistence on treating part of each weekday as school. Brace yourself to stick with it despite initial pushback or whining. You don’t know how long you’re going to be responsible for your kids’ education — and, as any teacher will tell you, if you give in too much too early, it can be a long year.
What if I’m not good at teaching?
Forget everything you’ve seen in movies. In real life, teachers don’t spend most of their time beaming at classes full of enthusiastically raised hands. (And they almost never stand on their desks and give impassioned speeches about the kids’ potential.) Just as you may have noticed with parenting, your personal strengths and weaknesses have a way of creeping into your teaching persona whether you want them to or not. You appreciate the importance of the job in front of you.
But your level of energy, creativity or tolerance for a kid relentlessly tapping a pen while you are trying to give instructions will change only so much. Which means you’ll have to learn to forgive yourself for those moments when you’re not your best self, or you don’t sound enough like a real teacher — or you sound too much like the teachers you hated when you were in school. Welcome to the club.
Best of luck as you bravely embark on your teaching career. May your pencils stay sharp and your coffee mug stay full. And one day, when the kids are back in school and Teacher Appreciation Week rolls around, may you remember this experience.