#Plagueschooling

Been teaching for thirty years, and have so far successfully managed to avoid the one kind of teaching I never wanted to do – teaching my own kids.

When my youngest failed to learn how to read in kindergarten, I didn’t get out my copy of Word Matters. I stayed firmly in Mom-mode: kept taking my kids to the library to quietly help them pick Just Right books (and also letting them bring home whatever they thought they wanted to read), and Reading Aloud every night (No link for this one, because it’s super easy – just open a book, snuggle in and start reading the words on the page. That’s it. You can skip words, skip pages, fall asleep right in the middle – trust me, kids love that! Just read. No rules to remember). I didn’t step in on Study Skills until my middle-schooler ground himself down to D’s and F’s via a doomed hail-Mary disaster-mode of perpetual procrastination.

And here we are. Schools closed for who knows how long, and families confined to themselves and their immediate surroundings. Suddenly I’m not only in charge of reading (and cooking, cleaning, managing activities, health care, household organization, etc.), but also handwashing, super-sanitizing, news-interpreting, and Algebra. All while working from home. Yipes!

So I find myself digging deep for the advice I most need to give myself in these trying times. I can do this, if I can just remember all I’ve learned in all these years of teaching.

Good teachers have a plan.

Plagueschooling Routine Draft #1 for an eager 10-year-old, resistant 13-year-old and reluctant 48-year-old. If it will help me keep writing, I’ll give it a try. Keep you posted. http://lmquraishi.com

I knew I had to start with defining my goals. District emails alerted me to probable closure of schools a little ahead of the curve, giving me time to think about the shape I wanted our lives to have during these trying times. I knew for sure that I wanted every day to include time to:

  • Sleep
  • Read
  • Chill
  • Be alone
  • Be together
  • Write
  • Exercise
  • Get outside
  • Stay connected
  • Stay informed
  • HAVE FUN!

You’ll notice that math was NOT on my list.

Good teachers ask their students what they want to learn.

I asked the kids what was important to them. My ten-year-old immediately produced a school schedule for ME (the only teacher she could get her hands on). My thirteen-year-old declines to participate in homeschooling in any way, which means he passed on the opportunity for input. When my daughter asked me what our school would be called, I naturally riffed on a J. M. Barrie reference, but that wasn’t J. K. Rowling enough for her. So now, whenever I refer to the Never Never School, she immediately adds “of Witchcraft and Wizardry!” and my thirteen-year-old punctuates the sentence with something appropriately adolescent like “Poop emoji” delivered with an expert mix of sarcasm and glum.

Good teachers have their own style.

After one day of Mommy Madness, during which I consumed every internet article offering advice or information about how to keep a potentially deadly virus away from my 72-year old mother (who lives with us), and underwent the uncomfortable and terrifying Jekyll/Hyde transformation into Plague Mama (more on that later), we tried one day of no plan at all to just see what my kids did with that…

Despicable Me, which we will NOT be visiting this summer at Universal Studios.

NOT a viable option for me. I promptly came up with Plagueschooling Routine Draft #1.

It’s not perfect, but I’m determined to give it at least a week. My daughter loves the structure, my son non-verbally appreciates the independence, and I’m grateful for time with my kids alternating with sanity-preserving time to myself.

Good teachers keep it flexible.

This is my weakness (as you’ve already no doubt noticed). I tried to plan for my lack of flexibility by building time into the plan when my children could legitimately get away from me to “read a book.” I certainly won’t check up on that. I will be hiding in my room, going for yet another walk down the same street (the only one I can get to on a cane), or obsessively surfing the net. In the sometime spring weather we’re having in the California lockdown, we’ve started a “the sun is out – let’s go see!” routine. Matched by “It’s raining! Does anyone want to go for a rain walk with me?” Also, we will be having a MAXIMUM of four days a week of “school.” Day Five is wide open. My guess is movies and semi-illicit but very sanitized and socially-distanced expeditions to outdoor locations around the Bay Area.

Good teachers get ideas from everywhere.

Good teachers are clear about expectations, and calm about consequences.

In addition to our usual family rules:

  • Take good care.
  • Do your part.
  • Be generous.
  • Be kind and compassionate.
  • Speak the truth of your heart.
  • Be positive.

We’ve added a few rules especially for California’s COVID19 Quarantine:

  • NEVER wake up ANYBODY who is sleeping at ANY time of day or night.
  • All ANNOYING NOISES will be ejected from the premises.

My children will accurately report to their children years from now that their mother was anything by calm about consequences. More on that later. But I do have a few natural consequences in mind for those times when my children just have to test the limits:

  • GO OUTSIDE!
  • For every infraction, you have to go to bed ten minutes earlier. So I can get a break from your obnoxious behavior (did I say that out loud?)

Just kidding. It will actually be:

Good teachers belly laugh.

I learned this from my Kindergarten teacher – Thank you, Jane! There’s nothing that will put your kids more at ease in troubled times than hearing you laugh. Even better if they’re the ones who made you do it. So look for laughter everywhere – Buzzfeed Parents on homeschooling during COVID19 – and if you’ve found some, share it with me! And let me know…how’s #Plagueschooling going for you?

Friday the 13th Protest

As a former teacher, I’m often asked by other moms what I think about the education that’s happening in our California public schools. I can go on and on, but it comes down to this: Money matters. Thanks, Mr. Peabody, for your rousing call to action. Personally, I’ll be nursing the Birthday Girl‘s 103.8 fever, so if you can get out there and tell our legislators to put OUR money where their mouths are, do it!

Mr. Peabody

Fellow Teachers, Parents, Citizens and California Neighbors,

We have cut our schools to the bone and then into the bone and Prop 30 and the Governor’s budget are not going to do more than stem the bleeding. The bones are still weak and have been weak since Californians passed Prop 13 thirty-five years ago (almost to the day). From overcrowded kindergarten classes to overpriced university classes, we are paying for our financial mistakes with the miseducation of an entire generation, the decimation of our schools, our libraries and our cities.

One field trip could change all that. Enough with the cutting of librarians, arts in the schools, music programs. Enough with overworked, underpaid teachers, and classroom conditions which do not and will not foster the critical thinking and innovation we need to save our economy and environment! Mark your calendars:

Let’s takeover Sacramento on Friday the 13th, 9/13/13, and demand…

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Scenes From Singapore

Singapore Parliament House @ the Heart of the City

Singapore Parliament House @ the Heart of the City (Photo credit: williamcho)

Singapore was a very difficult place for me to be. No doubt a huge part of that was being so far from my family. I loved the people I met and worked with, saw and tasted many beautiful and interesting things, but after about eight days away from my children, my body started to fall apart.

Last year it was my children’s bodies that deteriorated. I came home from ten days in Singapore to a daughter with a staph infection on  top of hand, foot & mouth disease, and a son with a burst eardrum. This year a bug bite attempted to attack my entire leg before the excellent medical care in Singapore intervened with a timely shot in the butt.

It was an incredible privilege to be invited across the world to teach a writing camp to young Singaporean writers. The kids were eager, adventurous and welcoming. My colleagues were industrious and intrepid about trying completely new ways of thinking about teaching kids to write.

These consummate hosts went to great pains to introduce me to the incredible sights and especially the exquisite cuisine of Singapore.  Although the relentless urbanity, devoted consumerism and polished presentation of this particular city were not to my taste overall, I did find a great many experiences to treasure during my two visits there. Continue reading