The extension of the lockdown in South Africa because of the Coronavirus pandemic means that school is online for the foreseeable future. How do teachers and parents cope with the changes this brings?

You won’t find a teacher who went into their career for the love of paperwork, computers and admin!

Teachers are teachers because they love children and feel called to BE with children. The highlight of their day is seeing those young faces light up right in front of them.

Teaching is also a gift from God and therefore not to be taken lightly. “We all have different gifts. According to the grace given to each of us…..if it is teaching then teach” (Romans 12:6).

Parents are not schoolteachers!

As a schoolteacher and parent myself I can attest to the fact that this is a very different relationship. When helping my son with his homework once when he was little he asked me, “What do you really know about this stuff Mum?” He just did not see me as his teacher. To become your child’s teacher, you must swap hats and take on a different role.

This is not easy.

Shonda Rhimes (well know TV director and producer) tweeted recently:

“Been home-schooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week!”

So, for teachers and parents alike this is a whole new frontier. We are learning as we go.  But it is clear that we need both teachers and parents in order to make our way successfully.

So here are four things to think about as we set out on this journey together.

It all revolves around TECHNOLOGY

With the impact on our lives of “social distancing” it is great that we can “stay connected” through technology. Using Google classroom, Apple classroom, Zoom, webinar apps, SEESAW and Microsoft Teams (and many more!) schools can go online.

The amount of tech resources and skills many teachers and parents must learn to use in a relatively short space of time can seem overwhelming. Equal access to digital connectivity is not a reality either.

How do we climb this mountain?

Not by panicking. Let’s draw on 2 Timothy 1:7 here which tells us “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” Yes, I do believe this can apply to using tech too.

Firstly, we should not be afraid to try new things and even fail. Secondly, we need to love and support one another by sharing the tech and connectivity we have with those who don’t. Be creative – share devices, connectivity, and budgets. Lastly, it is going to take self-discipline. For teachers this means researching online sites, following other teachers who already know how to do online teaching, and learning new skills. For parents it may involve sacrificing some of their time, money and even their own data/Wi-Fi (less Netflix!) so that their children can learn online. But with courage, love and self-discipline so much is possible.

It does NOT all revolve around technology

Yes, I know that this contradicts the point above so, let me explain.

While technology is the tool that gets us connected it does not have to be the only means of learning but rather the way to guide children to off-screen learning.

We know as teachers that children learn best using different methods (kinaesthetic, auditory, visual etc…) and that especially younger children need to move and interact with the world around them. Tech can simply be the way to pass on a message that directs them away from digital activities to nature, art, physical exercise, reading books and working on paper etc…

John writes in 3 John 1:2 “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” As parents and teachers let’s make sure children (and ourselves!) are healthy in body and spirit too.

Teachers in China, who have been teaching online, write about how important it is to focus on more than just tech activities. Ironically you will find lots of ideas on how to do this ONLINE! Use google and search for scavenger hunts, nature tasks, exercise routines, art and science experiments that encourage children to interact with the real world. Parents make room for mess and experimentation, play board games and get creative yourself. Then teach your children important life skills of how to tidy up too.

Be kind….. We need each other for this to work

Ephesians 4:32 says “Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you though Christ.”

This new type of learning comes at a time when anxiety is high and the world is troubled.

Let’s not add to each other’s burdens by comparing ourselves to each other, competing with one another, lauding our skills over those less skilled or by criticising each other. Teachers need to acknowledge and help other teachers, and they are asking parents not to publicly scrutinise teachers on social media as they navigate an uncharted map with little time for preparation.

Online tweets also show parents ranting about how overloaded and difficult the online work is to manage.  Online work should be manageable by weaker learners, there should be less rather than more, and it should be able to fit into a family schedule which may already be stretched and stressed. So let’s BE KIND!

Connections are more important than connectivity or academics at this time

This time will be written about in the history books. But most young children will remember how their home felt during this time of the pandemic more than anything specific about the virus or what they learnt in Mathematics during lockdown.

Children are watching us and learning about how to respond to stress, uncertainty, fear and faith. Let’s wire our kids for resilience not panic, for faith and not despair.

So while online learning might be essential to keep up, especially in higher grades and university, let us not lose sight of the hidden curriculum that we need to focus on in this time. Let it be a time when teachers and parents can role model how to hold on to faith, cope with illness, grief and fear, support one another and above all hold onto Jesus through the storm.

Remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble.”

As teachers and parents, let’s walk this truth together and lead the younger ones into the light of Jesus.