With schools closed across Minnesota – and indeed the whole country – parents have experienced several weeks of on-the-job training as teachers.
Here's a quick take on a few of the lessons they are learning:
Teachers have to have a plan. They can't make things up as they go along.
Teachers have to have Plan B, because what can go wrong, will go wrong.
Routine is important, but so is variety. A strategy that works like gangbusters one day might flop the next.
There's no substitute for a teacher's enthusiasm. Kids can tell when their teacher is bored.
Good teachers rely on other good teachers for advice and strategies.
Being a mediocre teacher is tiring. Being a good teacher is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting — and the kids keep showing up the next day, no matter how tired you are.
Six hours of great teaching can be ruined by one moment when frustration gets the best of you — and kids quickly learn how to push a teacher's buttons.
We could go on and on, but we've made our point; namely, that the COVID-19 pandemic is giving millions of parents a much clearer picture of what teachers experience for 36 weeks every year.
At the very least, we suspect that, post-pandemic, people will be far less likely to complain that teaching is a gravy-train job with 14 weeks of vacation. Teaching is difficult, and no amount of college education and training can fully prepare one for the moment when 25 students enter a classroom, each of them carrying his/her own unique background, skills and emotional needs.
In the long run, this nationwide parental crash course in teaching should be a good thing. Parents should be even more sympathetic to the challenges teachers face and should thus be better prepared to work with their kids' instructors when regular classes resume. It's one thing to get an email from a teacher regarding a boy's problems with reading or a girl's inability to focus for more than five consecutive minutes, but it's quite another to experience those problems day after day at the kitchen table.
That's part of the unique challenge parents face right now. While teachers go home at the end of a rough day, parents today have to eat dinner and spend the evening with the students they sparred with for two or three hours that afternoon. Forced proximity creates tension that isn't conducive to learning.
Which is why parents also need to develop one crucial trait that good teachers have: a short memory. Each day is a chance to start over, and while both parents and kids need to learn from their mistakes, nothing is gained by needlessly rehashing them.
Of course, the reality is that parents haven't trained for this, which is why they need to cut themselves some slack. Kids are the ultimate uncontrolled variables, so things don't always work out. Bad days will happen. Children will get frustrated. Lessons won't always get done on time.
So remember that even the best teachers have been known to need a "mental health day" – which means they abandon their lesson plan, pop a great movie into the DVD player and let their kids have an hour off, too.