Four tips to help you teach and parent simultaneously

You are trying to deliver a live lesson online but your own child really, really wants your attention. Emma Sheppard offers some advice
7th January 2021, 12:14pm
Emma Sheppard


Four tips to help you teach and parent simultaneously
Woman Working From Home, While Her Daughter Sits On Her Shoulders

As we enter a second period of national lockdown, many teachers will find themselves once again balancing the needs of their virtual classrooms with the needs of their own children. 

While spaces may be available in schools for children of critical workers, teachers may choose - or be forced - to keep their own children at home with them, whether out of a sense of social responsibility to reduce the transmission of infections, because schools and nurseries have fully closed as a result of staff shortages, or because school places have been assigned to families with parents in more critical roles or students in more vulnerable circumstances.

The memory of spring 2020, which swung between the bliss of spending an increased amount of time with my own preschool children and the traumatic experience of placating them (and my husband) while I was on a three-hour training session, is stamped clearly in my mind. 

Coronavirus: Teaching and home-schooling at the same time

This time, instead of short bursts of online teaching for exam classes only, teachers are likely to be teaching a full curriculum of back-to-back lessons while also home-schooling and caring for their own children. 

This task is only intensified when you have young children not yet able to entertain themselves or focus for extended periods of time, and who don't understand why they can't have the attention they want and need. 

It may not be enough simply to step back, take a deep breath and put things into perspective. So, here are some practical approaches that can help lessen the chaos and achieve a calmer environment for all…some of the time, at least.

1. Clear and honest communication

Whether you need to sit down and have a frank discussion with your partner or those in your childcare bubble, or clearly outline your circumstances to your line manager, clear and honest conversation is key. 

Aim to remain as objective as possible, outlining what is required of you at home and at school, and what is and is not possible. 

Between you and the team who enable you both to parent and to teach, there will be flexibility and compromise. This could take the form of prioritising the classes that specifically need you to be present, and where administrative tasks can be exchanged for teaching duties. Or it could be a clear childcare shift system between you, your partner and your childcare bubble, fully communicated to their employers as well as yours.

2. Learn to live with the noise

One simple - but stressful - element of teaching online with your own children present is noise. 

Your voice is required to teach, and your child will interrupt you, with varying degrees of hysteria or persistence. 

It's important to remember that your students may be dealing with similar situations in their own homes, so normalising and championing this balance could be a hugely compassionate act for them. And including your own children in the lesson as "guests" or "helpers" can be a temporarily fun activity for all. 

The mute button is your friend here, as is the opportunity to record videos or voice lectures at a more convenient time, and then being available on your platform's chat function as students learn from these videos. 

Equally, it is unlikely that you would be lecturing and instructing for the full duration of a face-to-face lesson so the same should also be true online. Providing students with extended time to complete tasks, with clear outcomes for the end of the lesson, enables them to gather their resources and keep up with the lesson without becoming overwhelmed. 

It also enables you to keep one eye on the chat function, unmute with short bursts of instruction and feedback, and simultaneously colour in a picture or build a tower out of blocks with your own child.

3. Know the value of routine

If your children are anything like mine, cabin fever kicks in fairly early in the day, and a solid routine helps to level out their excitement and tantrums. Outside time is particularly helpful for burning off energy, increasing the appeal of quiet playing when they come home. 

Look at your timetable for the next seven weeks and figure out exactly when, and for how long, you can take your children out of the house - come rain or shine. In those moments, drop everything, get them out of the house and come back with time to set them up with an activity or free play. 

This will build in a semblance of routine, and will be good for everyone's mental and physical health. And it will also allow you to spend quality time with your children, away from the distraction of a screen, quenching some of their thirst for your undivided and constant attention. 

Any tasks that have been dropped the moment the "leave lesson" button has been clicked can be picked up after bedtime, when your children are calmer or when you have support from your childcare bubble.

4. Use screens without guilt

We don't even own a television and our children don't know who Hey Duggee is, so you can fully trust the following reassurance: drop the screen guilt for the foreseeable future. If I'm doing it, then so can you. 

We are in unprecedented times, special measures, pandemic, blah-de-blah, and even if more screen time than usual is probably proven to be a bad idea (who knows?), it's better than seven weeks of a screaming and crying parent.

One way I assuage my screen guilt is to be pretty selective about content, and consider the meaning behind the screen. Teach Your Monster to Read is incredible for my son's reading and phonics. The two of them snuggle together for Snuggly Film Club in my daughter's bed once a day - and there are snacks. 

Offerings on CBeebies are a substitute for the science, history and wonder that they can't currently access. When I feel it really has been too much, I whack on an audio book or a hide the iPad, so that they can only hear the film, rather than see it, while they are otherwise playing.

At school, we sit students in front of interactive whiteboards almost every lesson, so if our children are learning on screens at home right now, and diversifying through play and creative activities when we are available, is their screen time really any more increased than it would be at school?

The fact remains that the next half-term will involve heightened levels of stress for all teachers, including those who are parents. For moments of crisis, have your priorities clearly in your mind and deal with the most pressing demand first. Everything else can be addressed later. 

When everyone has a great day, celebrate. And when it all goes wrong, forgive yourself - you are doing the best you can. 

Emma Sheppard is founder of The MaternityTeacher/PaternityTeacher Project and lead practitioner for English

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