Covid-19: 'Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine'

Home-schooling her own children and remote teaching, along with the stress of the crisis, has left this teacher frazzled

Jo Brighouse

Coronavirus lockdown diary: Jo Brighouse says home-schooling her own children and teaching her class remotely has left her with a low attention span

Home Learning Lockdown Day 1

The kids are awake before us. As I struggle into consciousness, I can hear their excitement. They spent yesterday drawing the sign for The Brighouse Academy. We have a crest, a motto, a full timetable and a chart for house points.

“You know I can’t teach you till the afternoon,” I tell them. “I have to go into school to look after the children whose parents are still working.”

Mr Brighouse appears. “I think I’ve got a temperature," he says. A thermometer check and five coughs later, it turns out I am not going into school after all. So beginneth the first day of home-schooling. Only it’s not just home-schooling. As well as the two at home, there are another 33 expecting to be educated remotely.

The first day does not go to plan. As my own children sit at the kitchen table, new notebooks and pencils clutched in expectation, my laptop starts pinging. The online classroom programme I have barely got to grips with is buzzing with activity.

“We’ll do a lesson later, ” I promise them. “Go and find that nice Mr Wicks on YouTube and jump around for a bit." They vanish and I turn my attention to the laptop, which is mostly full of nine-, 10- and 11-year-olds saying "hi" to each other. I remind them they have tasks to complete and ask if they have any questions. I am immediately inundated with a multitude of queries ranging from what pen they can use to what a verb is.

An hour later, I come up for air long enough to remember that I have my own kids. They have ditched The Body Coach after five minutes. The girl has been watching skateboarding cats for nearly an hour while the boy is crouched over TTrockstars (if nothing else he should emerge from this a times-tables ninja).

I give them books to read and hide the TV remote while I get back to the laptop. I message and email feverishly. The work trickles in. I grapple with the online marking. Some work is typed, some arrives on upside-down blurry photographs of handwritten sheets. Some children do not appear at all. I mark generously. I shower their efforts with praise. Right now I’m more interested in keeping in touch than whether they use capital letters for proper nouns.

Home Learning Lockdown Day 6

Saturday. Education – in all its weird and wonderful forms – is paused. I consider my weekend plans. I will spring clean the house. I will sort laundry. I will bake cakes and cook nutritious meals. This does not happen. The children watch seven movies back to back and I read two crime novels.

Home Learning Lockdown Day 10

We are adjusting. We are on a learning curve. We have learned not to paint pictures with the cat in the room. We have learned not to work on a six-year-old’s handwriting without a stack of biscuits to hand. We have learned that learning is a moveable feast. The online world (or “the world” as it has now become) abounds with messages of positivity. This will be a time of great creativity, of refocusing, of inspiration. Shakespeare wrote King Lear while the country was in quarantine. 

I have never felt less inspired. My concentration span has never been shorter. Uncertainty and a squatting dormant fear is short- circuiting all complete thoughts. Life is full of new vocab (furlough, Zoom, social distancing). The world outside is one of graphs, figures and messages from my doctor and nurse friends who are out working while I sit safe with a laptop.

“I miss school,” the online pupils message me.

“Me too,” I reply.

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse 

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