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  • Writer's picture1marthasmith


I lost my temper, blew my stack, hit the roof. I flipped my lid, flew off the handle, went ballistic. I might even have lost my rag, although, on reflection, I might simply have thrown a wobbly. And the unfortunate recipient of my rage? A teacher, to my shame.

I have made no secret of my struggles with home-schooling my children (see previous posts Jesus at the Spar, and the unapologetically miserable Covert Covid). To be clear, the staff at both my children's schools have been heroic throughout Lockdown. They have continued to teach, some having to train themselves to do it online. Both schools have also remained open which must have been genuinely frightening. They have continued to set and mark work and have offered help from afar. One emails me from the train station in her car, where she sits every single day as her child loves the stimulation of trains, just to see if we are OK. Another withdrew all her work for a week and sent my boy brain games to complete when the volume of work overwhelmed him. Others have empathised without judgement and another thanked me, yes, thanked ME for helping my child with their work.

Supporting two children with additional needs, both of whom require one to one support at school, has, at times, broken me. It is not that they are not keen. My daughter now expects to do some work every day and, without question, tries extremely hard. Focus is difficult for her and her confidence is low, but on the whole she is cheerful about her work and it has been lovely to see her pride when she masters a new skill. My son also works hard and takes his studies seriously, so attitude is not the issue. What he struggles with is learning from purely verbal information, inference, taking notes while watching films and processing large pieces of text. I have just described the majority of his workload. What he needs is a translator, someone who can pinpoint the precise instruction and get him started. That is no longer a willing Learning Support Assistant. That is now me.

We are getting close to the end of term and there is no question that progress has been made. My daughter's school has been fantastic as they have largely left me to my own devices, offering help when I have asked for it but happy for me to work with her at our own pace. My early pleas for help were largely answered in terms of the volume of work set for my son. He was allowed to drop the two subjects that he will no longer study next year, in order to concentrate on those that he will take for GCSE at the end of years ten and eleven. This helped and gave me back at least half a day a week. Online classes have also reduced the number of hours of home-study set each week.

What I was not prepared for, however, and what actually tipped me over the edge, was coursework. Actual coursework, as part of his actual exams for an actual qualification to be taken next summer. Coursework in a subject that I have never studied and which could, at my level of understanding, have been written in hieroglyphics.

My son's teacher had spent over an hour online explaining how to tackle the first task. There was nothing visual, he simply read from the instructions and verbally explained what to do. The result of this was that one week later, when my son cheerfully tuned in for his next on-line lesson, he found to his horror that he should have submitted hours of completed work, work that neither he nor I knew how to do. He panicked, shouting down the stairs, petrified of getting into trouble. He then had a heartbreaking meltdown. I started trying to decipher the instructions, after all, the work had to be done but, after I had to google half the words in the first paragraph including 'pixel', we were beside ourselves. I didn't manage to cool down before I fired off a stuffy email acidly declaring that I could not support my boy in this subject and should not be expected to educate myself to GCSE level in a subject that I did not understand and no, thanks awfully for the suggestion, but I am not able to sit with him on his video calls to gauge his understanding as well, due to the fact that I have another child at home who requires support and supervision etc etc rant rant...

Other staff tried to help and a teaching assistant stepped forward and offered to translate the tasks into simpler language for us. She can try to steer us back on course if we veer away from the task. But the problem remains that this is work that has to be done - you either do it or you don't and, if you don't, you can kiss that particular qualification goodbye. He needs as many passes as possible to secure a place on the course of his dreams at the college of his dreams and I cannot let him fail due to my own complete ineptitude for technical subjects. So on we plod and no, it isn't always interesting learning something new...

So I am sorry, Mr Teacher, that you have been the target of my fury. I am sure that you have been working hard too and this strange time has been grim for us all. The problem is that I've never been very good with people who don't appear to have taken the time to understand my son, or appreciate how hard he tries. And it probably didn't help that you ignored my request for a meeting at the beginning of the year or that you are the only person in a very long time to doubt his commitment to his work. I have since watched a video of you painstakingly trying to explain every line of the task and that was tough going indeed. But repeating purely verbal information to a child that cannot process purely verbal information is no different to a Brit abroad who feels that if he just shouts loudly enough in his own language, the damned 'foreigners' will eventually understand him.

I appreciate that my ravings have probably proved to you that I am a lunatic ( I am used to that ) and the strength of my rage is not purely down to you but to the stress of spending so many hours each day supporting school work along with all the other fears and pressures of the last three months. But if I could give you one tip, in order to avoid having to fend off an irate parent like me again, it would be to read the information you have been given about the learning needs of ALL your students and adapt your teaching to include everyone in your care. Just that. Your students deserve nothing less.

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