Sam is a high school English teacher from Manchester, United Kingdom

The downsides of the coronavirus crisis are almost too many to mention. However, one major upside is that a sense of community has developed with people trying to help each other in any way they can. As a qualified teacher with experience of one-to-one tutoring, I believe the best way I can support my community is by offering some advice to parents who find themselves homeschooling their children for the first time. 

You have always been your child’s most important teacher, even before the crisis started. Most children learn to walk, develop a moral code, become fluent in a language and sometimes start to read before they ever step foot in a classroom. Teaching can sometimes be overwhelming but take encouragement from your previous successes. NASA scientists struggle to teach a robot how to walk.

Several studies have shown that teenagers need up to ten hours of sleep a night. Any teacher who has stood in front of a sea of yawning faces at 8.30 a.m. can attest that most teenagers are not ready to learn when they arrive in the classroom. Starting the learning at 10:00 a.m. will provide enough time to wake up and get ready. Similarly, it might be tempting to carry on studies until late at night, but finishing earlier will give the children more time to relax before going to bed. 

In a school day, pupils will have five hour-long lessons but this time also includes arriving and being registered. This may come as a shock to some parents but pupils can sometimes get distracted during this lesson time too! Simply put, a five-hour day does not mean five hours of focussed individual learning. Limit lessons to forty-five minutes with breaks.

Over the past couple of weeks, some teachers have worked tirelessly to create resources that pupils can use to continue their studies. These range from worksheets to online activities. The lessons should be easy to follow and will link to what pupils have been learning this academic year. When it comes to planning your lessons, this should be your starting point.

These are unprecedented times for teachers and most schools in the country will have panicked and sent home far too much work. When schools are reopened teachers will be flooded with a new set of lessons to plan and will struggle to mark the work that is done at home over the next few weeks. Don’t worry about trying to finish all of the work. Instead, encourage your children to work to the best of their ability and progress through the work at a pace that suits them.

I often try to impress on disaffected teenagers that while an understanding of English literature is unlikely to be a major element of their future career, the skills that are learnt in an English classroom are invaluable. English literature teaches logical thinking and expression of ideas concisely and clearly.

Try to find simple ways to turn your child’s interests into a learning opportunity. If you watch a film together spend a few minutes discussing the themes and ideas. You are learning how to analyse a text. Even shows like The Simpsons can explore complex moral ideas. Get them to write a short review explaining what they liked or didn’t like. It might not be a review of classic literature, but it’s still engaging and relevant. 

This is a simple tool I have used with challenging classes and could be put to good use during this period of home-based learning. At the start of the day, agree on some simple rules that you both must follow when in the learning environment:

Agree on some rewards for following the rules and sanctions for breaking them. Having a copy of these rules on view will be a reminder to both parent and child of the basic expectations. The fact that the child helped to create the rules will make them more eager to earn rewards. I would recommend revisiting this occasionally. 

I do not speak Spanish but a few weeks ago I was covering a Spanish lesson as a supply teacher. What could have been an embarrassing disaster turned into a productive lesson for myself and the pupils. We used my subject ignorance to discuss problem-solving. By the end of the lesson, pupils had created a list of places they could go if they were stuck on their Spanish homework including textbooks, websites, and asking teachers for support.

This situation is bound to happen over the next few weeks when your child asks a difficult question. Don’t make up an answer or change subject – encourage pupils to approach the problem with resilience and consider where the correct answer could be found.

Here are some ideas of places to search for answers to difficult questions:

For further information

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