‘What’s a hyphen for?’ It’s thirty-two minutes into the first ever day of Daddy’s free school and I’m under pressure. As a former English teacher I should know the answer to my son’s question about punctuation. Equally, a week off his fourth birthday he shouldn’t really be asking something this complex, but we are where we are. Drawing from years of real teaching experience I inhale deeply, look slightly irritated and carry on as if I didn’t hear him.
I can use hyphens, but I can’t always explain why. Besides, I don’t feel like it’s something I should have to explain to someone who’s only just out of pull-ups.
As the Coronavirus changes our lives in new and rubbish ways, many parents will now find themselves trying to home school. On the plus side, this is the smallest class size most of our kids will ever experience. As a working-class man who’s done ok but has a pathological aversion to spending money, I warned my son this is ‘the closest he’d ever get to private school’.
In fact I made a number of quips, which left me wondering if I was doing this for him or because I’m starting to miss a live audience. I made him line up outside the ‘class’. I did a register. These may have got a laugh if he’d actually been to proper school and had any kind of reference point.
Most parents will feel the pressure of home schooling their kids, but for people with actual teaching experience the expectations are even higher.
I was able to deploy my actual teaching experience to one useful effect. I remembered to set a learning objective at the very start of the lesson, it’s a good way to give the learning context and purpose.
When doing so, it’s also handy to set a very low bar so you can end the session giving yourself a pat on the back for having achieved the academic equivalent of performing limbo under a bus stop.
I had hoped we’d do some basic spelling, but my son, like his dad has huge belief in his own ability based on scant evidence. All he wanted to spell were dinosaurs with more syllables than a Greek surname. They were all beyond me. Even for this article I tried to google one of the names to give you an example, but gave up because it was too hard.
As I quickly flipped between subjects I reflected on just how many ideas kids pinball between during the average school day. The standard five lessons, usually all different subjects, seems like a recipe for ADHD. While the modern middle-age person descends into blinkered binge-watch mentality, kid’s academic minds are effectively channel hopping. They go from algebra to the Algonquins, from the periodic table to why women have periods.
I recalled the discombobulated look when pupils arrived at my classroom for the last lesson of the day, like they’d spent the day playing national curriculum piñata.
Back with my son I had another go with letters, which should’ve been my strong suit. I suspect my poor grasp of phonics confused him, however, and I can’t provide an answer as to why ‘c’ and ‘k’ have the same sound. In a surprise twist, I excelled with numbers. Up until now he struggled with ten to twenty, which is fair enough. They are needlessly complex, like deciding whatever the last decade was called. Once you get past these numerical curveballs literally everything follows a simpler pattern. But no, these pretentious pricks have vague associations with their simpler counterparts. As a word ‘Eleven’ has barely any relationship to ‘one’. And why isn’t it ‘fiveteen’?
Despite these ontological curiosities, he got there. I was genuinely impressed and gave him a gold star. He asked me if I had an actual gold star to give out. I did not.
Nonetheless, we concluded the lesson on high. I think he’ll be ready for big school in September. Especially if big school also finishes at 9:38 on the dot.