This whole pandemic business is going to have lots of unexpected outcomes, but might one of them just be a slightly greater appreciation of the skills of teachers?
I can’t have been the only person to have been underwhelmed by the ONS survey showing that pupils had struggled with home learning, and that parents were finding that it was affecting their own wellbeing.
Teaching is hard, and teachers have to tackle a whole host of challenges at once to achieve good outcomes – including having classes considerably larger than the typical home-school setup.
The missing skill
Firstly, let’s note the interesting anomaly in parents’ views on support. On the one hand, 75 per cent said they had all the resources they needed for home schooling. But 43 per cent said that they struggled because of a lack of guidance and support.
Presumably, therefore, the issue was not so much a lack of work being set by schools, but a lack of knowledge on the part of parents as to how to support children with learning and how to apply the content.
What they lacked was the skill of a teacher.
Of course, most parents would admit that. Indeed, many would say that they would never have wanted to be teachers, so why would we expect anything different?
But the question is whether they recognise what it was they were missing. We talk all the time about people thinking they know what teaching is about because everyone went to school, but it very rarely comes up in conversations with parents.
The ability to explain new knowledge
Anecdotally from my own school, I know that, where many of our pupils have grumbled (sometimes seriously; more often with good humour) about the quality of their teaching at home, their first point of complaint has been that their parent doesn’t explain things as well as their normal class teacher.
We shouldn’t overlook that. The ability to explain new knowledge and tasks in a way that allows young people both to access and learn from their work is no small feat.
Many outside the profession may well be tempted to presume that, given the right materials and a compliant class, they would be able to lead a few lessons pretty successfully and make it down to the staffroom in time for a cuppa. Perhaps a few weeks of trying to achieve such things at home might have convinced them otherwise.
Then there’s the other stand-out figure in the piece: of those who struggled to continue their home learning, the biggest barrier – by some margin – was a lack of motivation, with nearly four in five parents saying this was an issue with their child.
A newfound appreciation
There will be plenty of examples of teachers who have contacted parents, only to hear stories of children who “refuse to get off the X-box” (anyone else wonder why parents can’t find the plug socket?), or “just won’t do anything for me”.
Hopefully, for some of those families, it’s also brought a newfound appreciation for what teachers do achieve with their children. But, sadly, others won’t have thought that far.
Perhaps we need to be franker with parents? No doubt some of those who have found this apparently simple task so challenging are just the same parents who were complaining six months ago that a teacher had dared to keep a child in at breaktime to complete their work?
Many parents will be glad to hand the teaching responsibilities back over to schools in September, and teachers will be glad to take up the reins. But parents play their part too, in teaching their children to value the work of their teachers, and supporting the school when it’s not all plain sailing.