• "I know it’s early days under the new homeschool/distance learning Covid-curtailing protocols, but I thought I’d check in with you anyway," writes Ian Rose. (E+)Source: E+
The new term started this week in schools across Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory and this dad is full of thanks for the teacher who taught his son.
Ian Rose

24 Apr 2020 - 12:59 PM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2020 - 4:29 PM

Wow. It’s hard to believe we’re only days into the new term. And there are… how many still to go? No, let’s not look at the calendar - who needs the extra trauma right now?

I know it’s early days under the new homeschool/distance learning Covid-curtailing protocols, but I thought I’d check in with you anyway, just share some thoughts and feelings while I still have enough of a grip to wrestle them into words.

I’ve never been one to underestimate the work of a teacher. Not for me snide asides about sweet gigs, long holidays and that quote about those that can’t, teach. I’ve always held you whiteboard wizards in the highest regard and I assumed that rascal George Bernard Shaw had his tongue firmly in beardy cheek when he dropped that line, anyway.

I’ve never been one to underestimate the work of a teacher.

So it’s not as though I didn’t already know it, but these past few days have really brought home (and kept home, under lockdown) just what hard yakka you do.

If I’m floundering like this with two kids under the roof - and one of them is our super-studious, head-down and get-on-with-it 10-year-old daughter (surely a wild teenager waiting to emerge from compliancy’s chrysalis, but, hey, let’s cross that treacherous bridge when we get there) - what’s it like with 25 or more, widely scattered in ability and inclination to learn, all in one classroom? All clamouring for your attention (or trying to avoid it so they can get on with doing their more fun thing).

How did you stay so calm when you were hosting that Homeroom meeting at the start of day one?

How did you stay so calm when you were hosting that Homeroom meeting at the start of day one? All those little hands going up in their little virtual windows, most of them asking questions that you’d answered 30 seconds earlier. How did you keep on track with at least half a dozen of the cohort seeing their own online image as invitation to trial every silly face they could muster?

And keep your own such a mask of serenity?

I think it was about 15 minutes into that first meeting, as you went from patiently explaining, for the 11th time, how to mark attendance to asking Lucas to please stop doing that, while unmuting Jane for long enough to approve her request to go to the bathroom, all without breaking sweat, drawing breath or dissolving into sobs, that I finally realised I’ll never have what it takes to teach.

I can’t pretend I’ve found these first days easy.

I can’t pretend I’ve found these first days easy.

Our son, as you know, is a third-grader with autism. No intellectual disability, but some pretty hefty challenges with working memory and processing. He has a big heart, as you observed yourself during our recent parent-teacher interview (I could have hugged you when you said that, though even pre-distancing, contained myself), but both of us know he’s no picnic to school.

At that same parent-teacher meeting, I most likely suggested a bunch of strategies and angles you might try to get him engaged, maybe advocated some latitude. Now I’m having to walk the talk. And finding I’ve two left feet.

I watched some concerned people on a breakfast television sofa the other morning, wringing their hands over how parents with kids on the spectrum would cope with homeschooling. The problem was, they said, that these children need routines, fall apart without them. And that may be the case for many with autism spectrum disorder, but it’s wide of the mark when it comes to our son.

This kid embraces chaos like it’s just come out of quarantine. He pooh-poohs a schedule. Thumbs his nose at an agenda.

But you know this, right? Probably take it in your stride.

Likewise his ability to focus, with razor-sharp precision, on the tiny procedural detail which is adjacent and incidental to the very thing you’d like and need him to be focusing on.

For instance - on Friday, I was so determined to get him logged on and at assembly on time, ready to start the day and leap on to task, that we were sitting in front of the keyboard with 10 minutes to spare. But then he became so obsessed with typing in his username and password as quickly as possible (“NO dad, one more try - I can do it faster! I said NO!”) that we end up 10 minutes late, acrimonious at outset.

Maybe it’s me you’re teaching, after all.

Distractions everywhere. Pulling at a hangnail, following the progress of a millipede across the window, railing against the injustice of an older sister who has finished her morning’s work and is now bouncing, flagrantly, outside on the trampoline - how the hell do you make a maths or spelling task as compelling for even five minutes?

But, yes, it’s early days.

I’m going to keep doing my best not to give us too hard a time over this, to keep it all in whatever’s passing for perspective just now. Certainly not dwell too long on how neat and well-furnished our classmates workspaces look compared with ours, no sir.

Who knows, maybe that zen-like calmness you exude will rub off on me over time. Maybe it’s me you’re teaching, after all.

Like I say, I just thought I’d drop you a line. To let you know we miss you. We really, really do.

Ian Rose is a Melbourne-based writer.

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