For some, working from home has provided the chance to skive, but spare a thought for those who are working harder than ever
For years we’ve had to listen to so-called experts tout the virtues of working from home, but for those juggling demanding jobs and young children in these coronavirus times the pressures can be enormous.
Nowhere is this more the case than for teachers in schools where online learning has been well-established and communication with students is key.
“I face a three-fold challenge,” said Natalie Shaka, a teacher at a Nicosia private school and with a four-year-old daughter. “I am a teacher of somebody else’s kids. I take care of my child and I am even a pre-school teacher for my child.”
She described how she has sometimes had to interrupt online lessons to take her daughter to the bathroom.
“I cannot say no, and yes there are talks about poop and pee which my students at the other end of the computer may hear.”
The giggles from her students at such times aside, she says she and most of her colleagues feel they are missing out on everything: on family time and on being able to offer the same level of teaching which parents and pupils expect from classroom teaching.
“My daughter says ‘I don’t want to play with you’ because I will interrupt to help a student. I have been given huge files from her school and she asks ‘why are you teaching me? You are not my teacher.’ She senses that it does not make sense.”
The nature of online teaching has also meant that to a certain extent the concept of the school day has disappeared even though the timing of lessons continues more or less as normal. She fully understands why the questions the students would have asked in the physical classroom are now being asked online during the whole day, but it adds to the sense of frustration of not being able to give enough to all.
To add to the stress is that the British exam boards have cancelled IGCSEs and A level examinations for this year. Final alternatives are yet to be announced but certificates will be based on predicted grades and probably more coursework.
“We have to give them more material now, especially those who have exams. Before we would have an [external] exam at the end of the school year, now we have to produce other material to give grades.”
Is there anything positive in her experiences of the last few weeks?
“It’s taught me to get more organised, which will help in the long run,” she laughed.
If stress is the feeling when you have got one child, how about when you have five?
Elias and Maria Hadjielias, both in academia, have three elder children eight, six and four years old who under normal circumstances would go to school and kindergarten. The younger ones, twins, are just two months old.
“Normally we would have a quiet time until 1pm where we could do a lot of work, now we don’t have that,” Maria said. “The children ask questions all the time. They also want to have a programme otherwise they are confused. So we try to read with them in the mornings similar to what happens at school.”
It helps to remember not to get too stressed.
“Yesterday I was on Skype about a project, stressing what I would do if the twins cry and asked Elias to look after the children, but then the meeting started and I saw for others it is now normal to have their children around them when they are online for work.”
To sum it up, “you worry whether you are able to give them what they are given at school but also your brain gets tired, 24 hours a day are not enough.”
Andria Georgiou, an employee of an international HR company with two children who are slightly older, aged 8 and 11, commented the situation is bad even if – or maybe precisely when – the school does its best to help.
If anything, she says, the private English school her children attend is sending too much information to the parents, resulting in an overload.
“There are meetings set up on Zoom, Skype, Teams and I have to explain how all this works to the children, who constantly ask ‘Mummy help me with this or help me with that’. Then the microphone might not be working or some other issue. I am teacher, cook, employee all at the same time,” she said.
There are also the afternoon activities to cope with, something which kept the children out of the home in the afternoons, but now all take place online.
“There are music lessons, dance, and there are online meetings for this, and they keep changing the times. I understand they want to keep the kids busy, but mainly they keep me busy as well,” she said.
“People say enjoy your time with the kids, make the most of it, but that is a joke. I don’t have any time to spend.”
There are many challenges which make these times depressing, including work pressures. “I can never switch off from home, I am always plugged in. I am overwhelmed. I don’t know if there is a rhythm. If there is, I can’t find it.”
Tips from the ‘experts’
Develop a plan – but stay flexible as there is no ‘magic bullet’
Designate a work-free zone so children understand where what is being done
Create a ‘do not disturb’ way to communicate while you are online such as showing kids by a ‘thumbs up’ sign that they may disturb you and a ‘thumbs down’ when you are really busy
Invent competitions, for example giving your offspring a prize for a quiet hour, or a tidy bedroom
Take scheduled breaks
If you have support from your partner you may be able to work in a ‘morning’ and ‘afternoon’ shift
In short, some ingenuity is required, and taking a few deep breaths at times