Coronavirus: A home-school diary by an accidental head

A parent in Australia explains how coronavirus has forced him to become the 'principal' of a three-student home school

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So, let me start by declaring that I’m not in a good mood when I write this – it’s probably not the best time to pen an article about becoming the principal of my own home school, where my three students are also my three children, but I needed an outlet to vent.

I’d also like to stress that I in no way think that I’m the only one currently faced with a houseful of kids who are not at school due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, it’s precisely because my experience is so similar to many others that I felt it appropriate to share.

Enough disclaimers, now to the facts. Enrolled in my school is a 14-year old girl (let’s call her A1), an 11-year old girl (A2) and an eight-year-old boy (A3). They all go to the same school and, as I write, it's the end of day five at home, after one of the teachers in the high school tested positive to Covid-19. I happened to be overseas in Malaysia for the first two days, which was ironic because everyone thought I’d be the high-risk person.

Home-schooling because of coronavirus

With the sudden nature of the school closure, teachers and students were ill-prepared for the online world that they would need to inhabit. Here is a rundown of how the first five days unfolded:

Day 1: At 3.30am the school sent out an email informing parents and students that due to a positive case of Covid-19 the school would not open. This meant that there was no time for teachers to adjust to the information, leaving the students to have a "day off". Fortunately, A1 (my eldest) was able to hold the fort alone while I was out of town and her mother went to work.

The day descended into a day of TikToks and Netflix for A1 and A2 and Lego building for A3. By the end of the day, the teachers had decided to send out school work via email to keep students learning (or at least busy) while not at school. That resulted in eight emails for A1, two for A3 and, surprisingly, zero emails for A2.


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Day 2: A3 couldn’t wait to start home school and was up at 8am, getting right into his allocated schoolwork, hoping to knock it over before morning tea. He actually finished it by 11.30am, showing that there really is only three-and-a-half hours of useful work per day for eight-year-olds. A2, having found the next Netflix series to binge on, was happy being curled up in bed for most of the day despite it being 25C outside.

A1, trying to cope with the increased workload, didn’t get out of bed until 11am and when she did, she complained about how hard it all was.

Day 3: This is the day I arrived home from Malaysia and when I walked into the house at midday, still with an online meeting to attend before the end of the day, all I saw was a very stressed out A1 (who was complaining that she was getting far more work online than they ever did in class): a Lego-building A3, who had already done his homework; and an A2 that had finally been assigned some work. Mind you, by the time I came in she’d finished that work and was up to series two of the new show.

The weekend started after day three and A1 had one of her friends sleep over that night. I asked them both what they liked and disliked about remote learning? They both disliked the lack of teacher interface and would have loved the opportunity to ask the teacher questions face to face. A1 liked doing work whenever she wanted to (read: never) and her friend liked there being no timetable. It meant she could do maths quickly because she was good at it and spend more time on English, which she found more difficult, rather than having 45 minutes arbitrarily allotted to both.

Day 4: This was a Monday and the school, over the weekend, had worked out that emailing homework was probably not the most effective way to disseminate tasks or engage students, and so the directive came that the school would move to Microsoft Teams as a way to run virtual classes. However, this was new for them and they only managed to run an hour-long tutorial for high schoolers, with no other work assigned.

I had a meeting in the city that morning. By the time I came back it was Lord of the Flies, which was fortuitous because that’s the book A1 is studying in English. A2 and A3 – natural adversaries – were at war. Cabin fever (or cabbage fever as A3 used to call it) was in full swing, while A1, having caught up on the work overload the day before, went out for lunch with her friends after the short tutorial. So much for social distancing!

Day 5: So, that brings us to today and, without giving away the punchline, at lunchtime A2 said to me, “I never thought I’d say this but I really miss school.”

It started with A1 up bright and early to make sure she was ready and waiting for her first online class, English, at 9am. I’m happy to say that she was there on time, but unhappy about the fact that she left a mess in the kitchen for me to clean up…

An hour and a half later, following some technical difficulties, A3 managed to log into his Microsoft Teams tutorial, which was a nightmare – just imagine about 100 primary school boys logged on, unable to maintain focus and constantly turning their microphones on and off. Fortunately, he was able to access Teams from his phone (a hand-me-down iPhone 6 without a sim card). That was followed by A2’s tutorial, much more civilised but, being that she knew how it worked already, a complete waste of time. Mind you, because we’re a device down, A2 needed to use my computer to participate.

Following A3’s tutorial about how to use Teams, he called one of his friends and invited him over for a playdate. Great?! Now there’s a fourth pupil in my home school! Again, so much for social distancing…

By now A1 was in her maths class and I could hear the printer going, printing out the instructions for the class. And then after a solid four hours of school A1 was back in bed –  Netflix and chill

Throughout all this my nerves were on edge, my temper threatening to boil over as I was trying to maintain a working day that was filled with changes, adjustments and uncertainty. Can’t say I’m looking forward to day six…

Jeremy Weinstein is a consultant for global skills development company NoTosh, who is based in Melbourne, Australia. A version of this piece was originally published as a blog post

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