Primary teacher Rebecca Clements recalls a sense of “excitement” in her household during the school holidays before Sydney went into lockdown.
Despite the approaching challenge Rebecca, who has two school-aged boys, 11 and seven, a two-year-old and a husband on the COVID frontline, said they were all “very positive”.
“There was a sense of ‘excitement’ in the holidays; that I would be home with them and able to help them,” the year 4 teacher at Roselea Public School.
“My middle son was excited for me to do sport and science with him. I too was excited because this was not an opportunity I had been given before where I could have an impact on his learning.
“However, the demands of teaching and parenting in lockdown, didn’t allow this to occur the way we had imagined.
“To be honest, it hasn’t been pleasurable and as lovely as I, we, had all initially anticipated.”
With the three boys learning at home and a husband working at a hospital in a hotspot LGA, Rebecca said the demands on her time have been “extreme”.
“Trying to facilitate the learning for my own children has been so very demanding and challenging, and I am in the position of having extensive teacher training to implement this, whereas a lot of people would not have this background knowledge,” she said.
“I remember the first week, I was working 14 to 16 hours a day in order to prepare, organise and facilitate the work and demands, then at night, cooking and cleaning and completing my ‘mum duties’ in order to prepare the family for the next day.
“I was not alone in this. As Federation Representative at my school, I was aware that this was a consistent thread and it appeared to be worse for those with younger and school-aged children.”
She found herself torn between her students and her sons.
“The two school-aged children found me to be ‘stressed’ and ‘not happy’,” Rebecca said. “As a mother this is somewhat heartbreaking because, in a sense, you have to turn your back on your own children in order to provide the children in your class with what is needed. I don’t believe there is a balanced way to achieve this.
“I found by the time I clocked off the working day, the boys were getting ready for bed, the baby would be asleep and all I could manage was to read the older two a book at night.
“I haven’t been able to be the ‘mum’ that they have needed or the ‘mum’ that is required through this time. Going to bed late at night feeling like this, is no way positive for personal mental health.
“I have always been extremely confident with managing a successful work and home life balance. It is something that I pride myself that I can achieve successfully being a ‘working mum’.”
On the positive side, Rebecca acknowledged the “proactive” support of her school’s principal and executive team, who have shown genuine concern for the wellbeing of all staff.
If she had any advice for teachers in the same boat, it is “be kind to yourself”, and reminded members of Federation’s support network.
“If it gets to a point where things aren’t sustainable, speak to your principal, to the executive and reach out for help,” she said. “If they are not aware of such issues, then it is very difficult for them to support and provide help.
“I have found Federation’s COVID FAQ’s very helpful as a go-to tool, also, having access to a Professional Support Officer is a really valuable and supportive tool … with prompt advice and information when required.”
Rebecca said there was an expectation among teachers that, with the experience of last year, remote learning this time would be “better” and done in “a more dynamic way”.
“However, this wasn’t the case,” she said. “There was no chance to ‘refresh’ and ‘upskill’ with the online learning platforms before the children started the term, and no opportunity to increase professional learning around this domain beforehand.
“The principal and executive were doing all they could and an amazing job in providing support but given the timeframe to when the children commenced, there was limited time for this to occur.
“In light of this, an extra Staff Development Day or an extra ‘offline’ day at the start of the term would have been extremely useful in providing and giving class teachers the time to be equipped and ready, have teacher programs made and reviewed, rather than teacher using their own time to do this.”
She said the technology side of supervising her own children was “very challenging” and cannot imagine how parents with even less than her limited IT experience manage the array of log-in details, different platforms, and solving IT issues.