By Elly Duncan
Linda Ireland says the idea — like many good ideas — came to her from personal experience.
The former New South Wales English and Drama teacher, now retired for 16 years, saw the impact remote learning was having on her children and grandchildren.
“Two of my families had parents who are working from home with children. I couldn’t possibly see how you could support them all,” Linda told The Drum.
“People are doing a great job, but it’s taking a toll. I could see it all unraveling.”
After a few emails to parents, ‘Mimi’s School’ was underway. She now spends several hours a day providing teaching and support to six of her primary school-aged grandchildren — all at a safe distance of course, via Zoom.
“My role is to keep them structured, keep them advancing,” she said.
“We do Zoom conferencing, writing, stories, sometimes it would be a science lesson. My husband comes in and does ‘Pop’ art!”
After several weeks of lessons, Linda realised there must be other willing and passionate retired teachers — and other families that might need the help.
“I just thought, if this is what it was like for a middle class family, imagine what it’s like for a single mother, or someone in lower social class,” she said.
“It’s really worrying.”
It was that thought that sparked her into action.
Linda’s now written to a number of state and federal politicians, calling for someone to coordinate a program where retired teachers can step in to take on some of the remote learning workload.
“Now we’re in this rather unique situation of a global pandemic, we’re kept at home and we have all this time,” she told The Drum.
“Let’s use those skills, with that time and that generation, to work with schools where there are people who are struggling.”
Concerns raised over the effects of interrupted schooling
As part of COVID-19 distancing measures, a number of states have directed schools to switch to online and/or remote learning.
Earlier this week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed students would return to classrooms in a staggered fashion, one day a week from May 11.
As ABC News found earlier this month, experts are concerned that disruption to learning could make kids more anxious, potentially taking on the stress parents may feel.
Appearing on The Drum this week, reporter and newsreader Nastasia Campanella echoed some of the concerns, saying students with disabilities had a different array of experiences.
“I spoke to a student by the name of Ben Mavelin, who is a student with autism. On the one hand he said it was great to be learning at home, because he found it difficult to be in a big classroom setting with other kids to begin with,” she said.
“But then, on the other hand, he was quite used to having support from a teacher’s aid and that wasn’t being necessarily provided at home.”
Author Jane Caro said the ongoing debate over whether to keep students isolated or returned to school was ‘very conflicting’.
“Teachers are desperate to get back into the classroom,” Ms Caro said.
“That’s why they went into teaching, because they love that interaction with students.
“Online learning is always going to be a second alternative. But we have to listen to teachers.”
The Drum reached out to both the NSW and federal education ministers for comment.
A spokesperson for federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told The Drum every state and territory had responsibility for the schools in their jurisdiction — including online learning and support.
“The Federal Government wants the curve to continue to flatten and for teachers right across the nation to return to teaching in the classroom, in accordance with the national principles set out by National Cabinet,” the spokesperson said.
Benefits go beyond the students themselves
While Linda’s focus is ensuring her grandkids — now students — keep up with their studies, she’s also reaping benefits in the process.
“The fact I’m talking to you shows I’ve learned video conferencing!” she laughs.
“I’m learning Zoom conferencing, how to share screens, upload documents — even new terms that teachers use now.”
In addition, she says engaging in remote learning has also helped herself and her husband — also a retired teacher — deal with social distancing and isolation.
With most of her extended family living out of town, tutoring provides a means of constant communication and interaction.
“It gives us a way to connect, to spend our time.”
More than anything, Linda wants to give back.
“We have whole generations younger than us, protecting us and other vulnerable people in society” she said.
“Here’s an opportunity for those of us with these skills and this time, to make a contribution that’s deeply rewarding, to a society that’s doing so much for us.”
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