Like many teachers across the country, I am firmly in work-from-home mode now. The rest of my household is in the same position.
My children have had to develop their negotiation skills as we grapple with their various schooling requirements, and they debate whose work is most important. They debate as if their life depended on it. They are hellbent in their quest to secure a day with the fast laptop instead of “the rubbish one”.
This week started with my eight year old’s online recorder lesson clashing with the other son’s chemistry mock. We've also had other issues, maybe less pressing but still significant, such as the need to practise on roller skates in the kitchen. This usually is fine, but not when I am about to log in to a meeting. It seems that roller skating has the same urgency as a category one call to the emergency services.
The fact that it’s 4pm and I’m having a meeting is immaterial to them. As far as they are concerned, school finishes at 3.30pm. “Yes,” I explain to them, “teachers have to keep working once school finishes and the pupils go home.”
I am met with the response: “You’re always having meetings.”
Coronavirus: ‘You drink a lot of tea’
The problem with us all being at home is space. We all need our own little place to work, study, take calls and eat. For the kids, their bedrooms double-up as classrooms and my husband has conveniently taken over the living room.
This leaves me in the kitchen, the hub of the house. I don't have a problem with working in the kitchen. I invested in a retro-looking pink desk and I've set myself up in the corner, 15 paces away from the kettle.
My main problem is that my family needs to eat, and it feels like I’m working in a drive-through McDonald’s. At the end of the day, the dishwasher is groaning under the weight of my mugs.
“You drink a lot of tea,” my husband muses, as he looks in the cupboard to find there are no clean mugs left. Then comes the question. “Do you always drink that much tea at work?”
Lunchtime is particularly interesting, as it seems to span three hours of the day. With four children and staggered start times, lunch can be anytime between 11.30am and 2.30pm.
That means that, while they are munching away on a cheese sandwich, they get to hear me teaching and interacting with my classes. Beans on toast have been banned, as the microwave is too noisy when I’m teaching, and we live by the rule, “if you can’t find something, make do”. I feel the mentality of making do will be good for my Gen-Z kids.
But, as they eat silently, they take it upon themselves to become Ofsted inspectors and grade my delivery. Apparently, I speak differently depending on what class I am teaching. Who knew?
I also seemingly get stressed before undertaking any form of technological wizardry (I am aware).
‘Why do you spend so much time on your laptop?’
But being a music teacher comes with, well, a level of noise. This can be particularly problematic for household members who are on essential work calls or even doing mocks. This requires them to double-up or even swap rooms if they need some peace away from my noisy work station.
While listening to the likes of Mozart is supposed to improve concentration, hearing me bash out a load of rhythms on pots and pans in a bid to create a kitchen samba doesn’t have the Mozart effect. Neither do the vocal warm-ups I do at the beginning of each choir rehearsal.
My kids also didn’t realise that I spend a large amount of time on my laptop. As I’m hammering away at my keyboard, they drop in with the occasional “what are you doing?” – usually because they are holding out for me to feed and water them rather than them having to forage for food themselves.
“Lesson planning, marking, writing Year 11 reports, emailing a parent, watching a YouTube clip on how to do x, y or z on Teams,” is the usual reply. They have slowly realised that teaching isn’t just teaching; there are loads of other things that we teachers need to do beyond that.
On the other side of the coin, seeing my kids take part in online learning has given me a real appreciation of what it’s like to be on the other end of a live lesson, and has helped me realise that, in their own way, many children are quietly getting on with their work behind the camera.
Having watched me in full motion, they also recognise the extraordinary efforts teachers put into their lessons. I think they now appreciate that I might be mum, cook, cleaner, bottle washer and taxi driver, but I am also a teacher.
And, after lockdown III, I think they might appreciate me – and their teachers – a tiny bit more.
Emily Gunton is director of music, head of co-curricular and outreach, and school consultant teacher at Blackheath High School in south-east London