It seems like overnight we all have a new normal. Schools across the United States are cancelled for the remainder of the school year and many jobs are requiring people to work from home. The coronavirus has even required many places to issue quarantine orders for cities and states.
I can remember my husband and I having a little over a day to prepare for my boys to be home with us for two weeks. After a short period of shock, we setup their homeschooling area in our dining room. (We have three boys, so we needed a big area.) My husband has a very demanding job that requires him to spend a lot of time on the phone, talking with developers. We decided that I would become our sons’ homeschooling teacher.
Soon I realized that two weeks would become indefinite: They would not be going back to school. I thought I would be really stressed, or might have to take leave to ensure that my boys wouldn’t get behind in school. To my surprise, however, some things I put in place early helped me be successful. What follows are some tips that helped me juggle working full time with homeschooling in the current environment.
Create a Daily Schedule
Strong organizational skills were really helpful when it came to creating a daily schedule for my sons. I wanted to ensure they had structured learning at home just like they did in school, but it also needed to be flexible so that I could do my own work.
We didn’t cover every subject every day; for example, we only did science once a week. (I also incorporated home economics once a week.) I would schedule my sons’ breaks around my own meetings, so I could complete them without interruption. Most days my sons would work two hours, break for two hours, and then work another two hours.
I did lesson planning in the evening to prepare for the next day. I would review all the work that my sons’ teachers had for them and prepare a lesson plan. This way they knew what to work on next and could work independently on some items. When my own workday was over, I would check their schoolwork and have them make corrections the next day.
Create a Designated Homeschool Area
Initially, when they were only going to be home for two weeks, we worked from the dining room table: They did their school assignments while I worked at my laptop. When I realized school would be closed for the remainder of the year, I moved my entire basement home-office setup—two monitors, a keyboard, and a docking station—upstairs to the dining room.
We don’t use the formal dining room for eating or anything else now—just work. My sons treat this area as if it was their actual school. I have bins in the middle of the table for each of the boys to place their school supplies and have even assigned class chores. I am there to assist with any questions they may have and to ensure they are staying on track.
It doesn’t replace their school, of course. But it does ensure there is a workspace where my sons and I can both succeed.
Create an Optimal Learning Environment
This is the most important tip: I had to ensure my sons and I could work without unnecessary distractions. I first had to ensure the TV in the living room was off and there were no other distractions. The TV could only be used during breaks and if their work for the day was done. If I had to make a phone call or get on a conference call, I would take it in my office. This way the boys could work without the distraction of me talking on a call.
I scheduled their parent-teacher Zoom meetings when I got off work. That way, school did not interfere with my work, either.
This new normal of ours requires all of us to adjust to the changes it demands. Instead of getting mad at now having to homeschool, I have focused on refusing to let my sons get behind in their academic learning. With my adjustments, I am still working full time and have met all my deadlines. Setting it up was a struggle at first, but planning and adjusting to the changes helped make this transition a success.
Contracting Officer, U.S. General Services Administration.