A global pandemic has imposed several changes on our way-of-life – some of them beneficial and probably permanent.
We’ve learned how to be nearly as productive from our virtual and remote workplaces as we are from our offices.
We've learned we can manage without 24-hour shopping.
People who previously were labeled “unskilled workers,” like retail clerks or truck drivers, are now, properly, heralded as “essential.”
COVID-19 also has forced us to expand distance learning and homeschooling. In doing so, parents have experienced some epiphanies: Teaching is tremendously difficult – and the halos their little angles wear may hide tiny horns.
I grew up watching television shows like “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and “My Three Sons.” Adults in these shows had the unique ability, simply by virtue of being parents, to turn all aspects of life into learning experiences. Because of this, I deluded myself into believing my standing as a parent qualified me to teach.
Instead, I found TV’s depiction of the all-knowing parent to be about as realistic as a coyote painting a tunnel onto a boulder to fool a road runner.
My children, Nathan, 4; and Kenneth, 2, attended preschool prior to the pandemic. Every night at dinner, I’d ask what they learned that day. I’d be regaled with disjointed stories of play-time, friends, and even fantastical tales of elephants or unicorns in the classroom.
It wasn’t until my wife, a schoolteacher, and I sat down with the boys for our first day of home-school that I realized just how much the teachers at my children’s pre-school had taught my boys.
“Daddy, Kenneth is frustrated,” my 4-year-old said as I was trying to teach his younger brother how to hold a crayon. “His hands are too small, and he’s frustrated.”
Where did he learn that word, I thought, and how did he learn to use it properly? He was spot-on, of course, and upon his sage advice, I altered my methods.
An experienced teacher, my wife was far better prepared for turning our living room into an ersatz classroom.
For example, to calculate the average attention span of a child, she taught me it is customary to convert the child’s age into minutes. That means you’d better be prepared to offer something new every two minutes when trying to teach a two-year-old.
At 51, I am unaccustomed to an original thought every couple of minutes. Add to that the task of conveying these thoughts in a meaningful, exciting way, and I feel like I should be fitted for a “dunce cap.”
On rare occasion it is magical: Everything works and the kids are spelling new words in sing-song fashion, creating artistic masterpieces out of macaroni, or figuring out just how many apples Johnny has.
Watching them grow and learn, I imagined they would be as impressed as I was with the progress we’re all making: They are not.
The sound of the garbage truck outside, an errant fly buzzing through the room, or even a memory loosely associated with our lessons is enough to derail our learning train. Getting back on track can sometimes take the rest of the day.
Keep in mind, my classroom consists of my two children. As I feel my frustration carving new lines in my face, and turning more hair gray, I am amazed at what teachers go through every day.
Millions of children just like mine, as well as those with learning disabilities and other challenges, are not only educated, but also welcomed, loved, and made to feel they matter in classrooms nationwide.
I have always respected teachers. That respect grew when I saw what my wife had to go through on a daily basis. It took stepping in front of my own tiny classroom however, to truly appreciate what it takes to earn the title of “teacher.”
I have enjoyed my time with my boys; I feel a sense of exhausted pride in what we’ve accomplished in our lessons.
I do not, though, fool myself into believing that what I've done makes me worthy of the exalted title, “teacher.” Come September, with true humility, I will turn over my kids to those who have.