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Navigating The Time of Coronavirus as a Teacher and Mum

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Ten days ago I was asked by makchic editor Liyana if I would write an article for Teacher’s Day. Being a teacher and mum of young children, I suppose this made sense. So I said yes, no problem, I would knock one out, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Ten days passed with absolute zilch.

Today I spent hour upon hour procrastinating and agonising over what I would actually say. For what do I know about what people want to hear from a teacher or a mother, what hasn’t already been said, especially in these strange and unprecedented times? And what do I write about when I am still learning so much myself, and unsure about so many things?

Lessons to Learn, Lessons to Teach

I thought it would be best for me to do a mental offloading to make some sense of things myself, as both a teacher and mum of young children. Some are random notes to reminisce about, and some remind me of what kind of lessons I want to learn and to teach.
  • When I was a teaching assistant, I was extremely close to the children during non-class times, and I would watch them play independently with great interest. For it was during playtime you would really see the children’s personalities come to the fore. The most troubling children in class could surprise me with such tenderness and creativity, and the smartest children could shock me with their mean-spiritedness. Playtime was the crunch time – it was the time the children honed and experimented and polished and tweaked all their social muscles and skills.
  • As a teacher now, it still blows my mind when the children in my class write certain testimonials (we have this thing in our class) about their friends. Very often the children will write things like ‘So and so was kind because she/he let me play with her/him today’. Imagine that – these nine and ten-year-olds actually ask (or intimate to) each other ‘Can I play with you?’, and deem it such a kind and wonderful act, that it is worthy of a written testimonial. She played with me. Or she let me play with her. The use of ‘let’ still fills me with wonder when I think about it.

Being more than just kind

  • I have a great fondness for the kind children I know. But it is the children who exhibit a certain consciousness and perceptiveness that really floor me. Once, I had to ask four children separately to explain a playground incident that involved hitting. Three of them described the situation: what had happened, who had started it. One child, however, took the time to explain to me what he thought – that the offending child had been wrong but it was because he had been pushed to an emotional edge. ‘I think he couldn’t help himself, Ms.  And I understand why he lost control.’  Some children are smart, and some are emotionally-conscious. I feel that is a step-up from merely being kind – he was able to put himself in the shoes of someone who wasn’t so kind, and see the bigger picture.
  • When you meet the parents of children, you almost always understand why their children are the way they are. Nine out of ten times, I would go: “Ahh, that’s why. I get it.”

The Growth Mindset: Embracing Mistakes

  • Kindness is big and important. The growth mindset is, however, probably the single most powerful thing you could help a child develop, the notion that you may not be good at something yet. You’re not stupid or bad with numbers, and it’s perfectly okay to make errors. That, just like learning to swim or ride a bike, hard things like arithmetic get easier if you practise more and learn from your mistakes. Many times it is not intellectual or academic capability, but attitude or mindset that powers them through. I found that in my class, reminding children of this seemed to make them feel more relieved and confident, willing to take on more mental risks and challenges.
  • The children who have exasperated me most are not the ones who find the work challenging or who do not get it. The children who make me feel like pulling my hair out sometimes are the ones who repeatedly say ‘I need help’ when they didn’t really attempt things in the first place. During these times of online schooling, you really see which ones are self-starters with a growth mindset. One of my girls tells me ‘Ms, I don’t know how to do this.’ A second later she says, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll figure it out.’ Five minutes later she has worked it all out herself.  One child, who is really quite bright, needs handholding for two days about how to resolve tech issues. Another will tell me excitedly how she has, in a day, taught herself how to overcome the tech issue and has taught her other peers as well. I’ll always remember this now as a teacher and mum.

Better methods for better behaviour

  • One day, my pupil told me two older children were saying nasty things to him. I marched my pupil to the older children’s class and related this to their class teacher. I expected some horrified scolding and disciplinary action. Their class teacher, all calm and filled with smiles, firmly told my child how she would be dealing with her children later. (I don’t doubt that she gave them an earful that afternoon). “But now,” she said to my child, “I want to focus on you, and how they will make it up to you.” She enthusiastically told him how her two children would apologise and spend the next few days looking for him during playtime. They were to ask him if he would like to play, and to say one nice thing to him every day that week. Her children were embarrassed but not humiliated, my child felt empowered and special, and I was in awe. It was the way she announced all of this as well, as if she were organising a party instead of meting out consequences. A brief but effective masterclass. Teachers are always still learning from each other.
  • Parents often expect their children to be amazing and wonderful readers, but when I gently ask their parents about the reading culture in their homes, they admit they do not read themselves. Children learn most by watching us, and watch what we pay attention to.

Teacher and mum: Do we have real allies or not?

  • Sometimes the people closest to teachers and mothers, great allies such as good friends or even partners, may not truly understand the mental and physical load of these roles. They may say they understand things well, but sometimes their words or actions do not reflect ally-like behaviour. Senior leaders may have forgotten what it’s like being in the classroom, friends may offer passive-aggressive judgments on your performance as a friend or colleague. If our closest allies do not truly understand us, how do we – teachers and mothers – expect the working world to make conditions better and more favourable for us in our multi-faceted roles?
  • People think teachers are amazing superhumans and that mothers are even more so. But amidst the public respect and adulation, come the deep cracks and moments of despair that a teacher or mother faces alone during challenging, exhausting times. I’m not going to lie, dear reader, it was a low day today, and exhaustion got the better of me. During a break in the craziness of online schooling with my school children, my actual children buried me under pillows, cushions and blankets for some fun. Two thoughts went through my head as their giggling became more muffled and it got darker and darker. One, it is getting difficult to breathe. Two, it is rather nice to be in this stillness and quiet, so I don’t mind.  Yikes.  So if you’re feeling that your child’s teacher is probably doing things wrong, perhaps spare a thought that it is a tough day, and we may not have things all together sometimes. Sod the maths work, and just do what makes you and your child happy.

What kind of lessons should we focus on now?

So how do I end an odd piece like this? Maybe to say these are times that everyone is re-evaluating, shifting and learning new things about themselves and each other. Perhaps we should take the opportunity to view learning and education differently.

As a teacher, I try to teach my children in ways I know their parents may not be familiar with. I try to think about how parents may currently be anxious and stressed too, and I try to encourage my kids to just be helpful and aware of their parents.

As a parent, I am so thankful that my child’s teacher has taught him all the things that he needs to learn, and it leaves me space to teach him things I feel he can learn best from me, and with me. I’d hopefully like my child to see me exhausted and expressing sadness or distress, and how we can comfort and pick each other up. I hope he sees that his dad and mum get into disagreements and come out with apologies and compromises. I hope he learns that his parents also want to focus on making family and friends laugh and feel good during these times.

Most of all, as a teacher and mum, I would want all my children to know that we are all still learning with each other. That there are no perfect superheroes around right now, and that all of us can only do the best that we humanly can.

 

From us at makchic, Happy Teacher’s Day to all teachers!

Laych Koh is the editor-in-chief of makchic.

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