Love (of learning) in the time of Coronavirus
During the lockdown of COVID-19, we’ve been keeping in touch with our students. Here are Kate's thoughts on studying in these unprecedented times.
Kate is in her first year of the FdA Inclusive Education, and is one of The Learning Institute's Student Ambassadors.
4th April 2020
Summer 2019: I am a full-time mother.
Autumn 2019: I am a full-time mother and a full-time student.
Spring 2020: I am a full-time mother, a full-time student and suddenly… a full-time ‘home learning facilitator’. That escalated quickly!
So how are we all doing in these strange, uncertain times? None of us know how long this will last and so for now we all persevere with our new ‘normal’. My family are some of the very (very) lucky ones… we live in a very rural part of Cornwall, the sun is shining, and we have plenty to do to feel like we’re being useful. The lockdown is even enjoyable most of the time but knowing that others aren’t having it quite so easy, and the unknown threat of what will come, are the dark clouds to our silver lining.
Suddenly the teenage one and I are competing for the good laptop (I almost always lose as teenage egos prioritise their own needs first and foremost!) The middle one happily requisitions the old brick of a laptop. The desk that I bought only a week before (to use for writing my essays) suddenly turns into the husband’s office so he can work from home. Hmmm……
I look back with rose-tinted spectacles on the blissful hours of child-free time when the big ones were at school and the grandparents had the baby so I could get on with my course work. I am now fiercely protective of the minutes I can squirrel away from my family to concentrate. Those minutes are the moments that my mind can expand and breathe, away from constant requests for biscuits and entertainment. I had no idea when I started this course that it would become (for a short time hopefully!) the only ‘me time’ I would have for days on end!
We are all studying varying types of education on our course, and, actually, isn’t this the most amazing and historically unique opportunity for a different take on understanding education? As an Inclusive Education student, this is probably the most ‘exclusive-inclusive’ education that I will ever experience! What an amazing opportunity for us all to gain a fresh insight into education and at the same time get to know our offspring, partners and ourselves in an entirely new (relentless) way. And I will embrace this opportunity … so long as no one panic buys all the coffee and biscuits!
9th April 2020
Vive la revolution! The peasants are revolting!
And they really are ... the mini peasants that live in my house are getting increasingly feral and I’m not sure when I last found the hairbrush.
They are also staging a behaviour revolt. The Middle and the Baby-not-baby are ‘spirited’ children at the best of times, but isolation has sent them into a frenzy of determination that I have never known before. Of course, I understand that they have lost control of everything in their lives apart from their crumbly-spined mother, but their constant need to exert control over me is exhausting! BUT, their delighted squeals as they splash into the ice cold paddling pool are a tonic indeed.
We have been busily tie dyeing, veggie patching and baking our way through the pre-Easter week and I’ve been noticing my next assignment deadline playing Grandmother’s Footsteps with me while my back is turned. The Teen’s hair dyeing attempts and blowing up the paddling pool have taken precedence today, but the long weekend beckons with the Husband home so I can ‘identify and evaluate’ some research ethics in peace!
16th April 2020
Remains of the day
DsnghiUPUIJON UFHSUHJN AMIPJ is the input from the Baby-not-baby. I wonder how many of us needed to check our assignments for helpful additions like that this week? Despite the sudden appearance of my assignment deadline (well, sudden in my head, not in reality of course), I thankfully sent my few thousand words into the ether just in time – phew!
This week has been particularly chocolate-fuelled after the Easter Bunny managed to make an appearance despite the lockdown (thankfully, I’d been uncharacteristically organised this year!). In our wisdom, we spent Easter Eve camping in the garden. A quick scan of Facebook revealed that we were not the only ones and I had a crisis of identity when I realised how many of us are on the same craft-bake-camp-repeat trajectory at the moment. Even down to the near-identical Easter cheesecakes which not only graced my Facebook feed but also my dinner table. Then I realised – it’s not that we’re all unoriginal, it’s just that none of us can get any flour to make any other sort of cake!
‘Home Learning’ began again with an optimistic timetable - it went out the window when I thought Tuesday was Monday and we still haven’t caught up. Luckily it makes no difference to anyone really). The Teen is entirely self-sufficient, as usual. In fact, I’m fairly sure that if she found herself in a Lord of the Flies scenario (which suddenly seems less far-fetched) she would have everyone organised and a commune happily existing in the blink of an eye with no need for adult intervention whatsoever. She’ll probably still do all her homework! Anyway, despite my valiant attempts for an education-filled schedule, we are finding ourselves a pattern of work, play and exploration which generally fades away by mid-afternoon leaving the remains of the day for Coffee (me) and Chocolate (the little ones).
When the Husband comes home (or downstairs), I can hide away and do some of my work. It is even more joyful one evening after a long day of constant demands from the little ones when I am typing away and hear “Daddy I need a wee…Daddy a weeeeeeeeee” and just as the husband carries a naked Baby-not-baby past the door I hear “Daddy, I’ve done my wee now”. I cannot help but smile.
23rd April 2020
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (in Lockdown)
So the lockdown life trundles on… children are no less wild, make-up has been entirely renounced (not that anything other than mascara played much of a part in my life anyway), vegetables are growing and the grass has finally been properly cut. The weather lends life the atmosphere of fondly remembered long summers of my childhood. Basically, I feel as though we have been marooned on holiday. This lockdown life is unplanned, and externally enforced, but not at all unpleasant … for us.
I have been allowing myself to feel safe in our bubble here in Cornwall. No-one I know is sick yet, the sun is shining and reality is far away, isn’t it? I catch up with a doctor friend and she tells me her husband is now working on the hospital Covid ward. I think of their small children, similar ages to mine, and the difference between their experiences of this. I imagine my children having to wait to cuddle daddy when he gets home so he can make himself safe after simply doing his job.
I think of the BBC’s Emily Maitlis and her fantastic speech about the inequality of Covid-19. We are not all experiencing this in the same way or even together after all. The inequalities of this disease and its after-effects will be the challenge of our generation. I look at our current module about the Enabling Environment with fresh eyes and wonder what challenges we will face as new teachers in a few years’ time. I have been feeling useless: in awe of the heroes working on the frontline of this crisis, and perhaps uneasy about the insignificance of my worries about passing this module. Now I wonder if perhaps we all have our part to play, perhaps this course will even allow me to be a hero to someone in a few years when my classroom will be filled with children affected by this strange, uncertain time.
6th May 2020
The Hunger Games
INT. FAMILY SITTING ROOM – MORNING
A tired-looking woman is in deep conversation with a small child. The room around them is in complete disarray as though a small explosion has occurred, or a particularly careless burglar has been looking for something of any worth whatsoever in this room with no success.
I want the pink plate
What about this lovely blue one?
But I’ve just sat down and…
NO! I want chocolate spread
OK, on your toast?
NO! On a spoon. On the pink plate
But the pink plate is dirty and I want to drink my coffee…
Please, Mummy? I love you.
Mother wearily gets up to make the breakfast that she knows will be ignored until she takes it away. Mother returns to the table and sits down. She sips her cold coffee. The Middle One enters the room knocking a pile of paperwork and a cup off the sideboard as he goes past. He doesn’t notice this and flops down at the table.
Mum? Can you make me some breakfast? I’m really tired
Mother puts her head into her hands and groans. The Baby-not-baby pats the Mother gently on the head slightly condescendingly.
Except that isn’t the end, as other parents know so well. We know that the breakfast made for the Baby-not-baby will be ignored, that endless snacks will be requested straight after the breakfast because she is “soooo hungry”, and that consequently she will not eat her lunch because she is full. Repeat for the afternoon. Repeat all night if it’s a bad one!
The lockdown seems to be having an odd effect on my smallest children, creating cycles of behaviours through which they are oscillating wildly. The Baby-not-baby has never been a sleeper, and although she’s just starting to sleep through some nights, these blissful gifts are punctuated by nights of nocturnal sleep-avoidance that even the Middle One never achieved (or perhaps I have just wiped those particular cherished moments from my memory?). The Middle One, who wears his heart on his sleeve, seems to be storing his emotions somewhere so close to the surface that they bubble away unpredictably, exploding regularly and spectacularly. And the Teen? She’s drifting along peacefully, getting on with her work and being generally helpful. Something isn’t right!
I know a lot of us will be getting so much ‘quality time’ with our loved ones that we are getting on every single last nerve that we each own. I know this is as true for them as it is for me. The deploying of endless tactics to get the Middle One to do some vaguely educational activity is so so wearing, but the feeling when he understands something new I’m explaining is extraordinary. And occasionally, the Baby-not-baby will sit still on my lap for a whole episode of Peter Rabbit, which is like a mini-holiday. And they are really cute when they’re asleep, I suppose.
My first year as an Inclusive Education Student
September 2019. In a room full of education students, I am starting my student life. I will be studying Inclusive Education. I know what that means – it’s all about Special Educational Needs, right?
So far, I have learned that Inclusive Education is literally that - education which is inclusive of all children. Children who have SEN may have more obvious needs to consider in the classroom, but children are more than simply a sum of their diagnoses. They also have a race, a gender, an age, a social class which all impact on their education. Confused yet?
The simplest part is that all those things, or the effect of them at least, is socially constructed. Inequality only exists because of the way our society is built.
A person is not born disabled, they are disabled by society. Put simply, a disability is not a ‘thing’ that someone can have. But someone might be disabled by the society around them if they are expected to climb stairs when they cannot use their legs, for example. Once I saw the problem of inequality lying with society rather than the individual, I began to start thinking ‘inclusively’.
Little did I know at the start of the academic year how much I would learn.
This year has been fascinating for me personally: rewiring my brain after leaving it idle for too long, exploring new concepts and ideas, and challenging my own constructions of issues which will be vital to me in my future career.
But my own development (while interesting to me, of course) has been rather overtaken by worldwide events recently. In the limited social atmosphere of lockdown, social media has taken on greater importance and the world outside my valley seems to be a series of hashtags now. #CoViD19 #newnormal #BLM
Hashtags are important to us. They are a useful means of filing our collective musings and gauging public opinion, but the repercussions of what we discuss on social media spread far wider than that. We don’t know yet what effects #CoViD19 will have on the children we will be working with, never mind the historical and ongoing needs connected to #BLM. When we get back to some kind of normality, the concepts introduced to me through Inclusive Education will be more important than ever and I am so excited to be a part of the #newnormal and education #beyondthehashtag.