#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?

Life – CANCELLED, Blog – ON!

I am not an adaptable person. Not well-suited to keep up with hourly updates on world pandemics or the cancelation of LIFE AS WE KNOW IT.

I tried to keep things normal yesterday with green pee in the toilet for St. Patrick’s Day (CANCELLED), but it turns out that organic powder food dye ends up looking more like Leprechaun Leftovers.

If temperament assessments had been around when I was an infant, I would undoubtedly have been the baby with the rictus, red-faced scream at every change in air temperature or illumination. If my mother denies this and tells you I was a perfect baby, then that just means the damage occurred later, probably in middle school. I shouldn’t say damage. I wish I could claim to be a genius like Willow Chance who uses Counting by 7s to to center herself, meanwhile transforming the lives of everyone around her for the better. My adaptation strategies are much less mathematical and not at all inspirational. I match my underwear to my socks. I rewrite the same list over and over until I don’t have to use white-out tape. I make new rules for my kids to follow. My children now call me “Plague Mama.”

By Holly Goldberg Sloane (2014), cover art by —, sold by my favorite local independent children’s bookseller, Flashlight Books

Unprecedented times in Unpresidented times (YA biography by Martha Brokenbrough). I was already home from work, recovering from ACL reconstructive knee surgery and getting a pretty good hobble on. I took the cancellation of my kids’ school pretty well. Three-plus weeks of spring break?….Well, I’d already started a list of spring cleaning tasks, and having the kids around would only make the list longer. At the park with my kids playing the newly invented game of Eyeball Tag*, I managed not to jump when my phone blared with The Emergency Signal, alerting me to the imminent lockdown order for six Bay Area counties. But when they closed the Library, that was the last crack in my fragile (fake) equanimity. My fractured thinking shattered around one question: who have they got defining “Essential Services,” anyway?

Searing YA biography by Martha Brokenbrough, available at Flashlight Books online

So I have reverted to the one thing that can make sense of these crazy times. (Yes, you can be sure that my underwear matches my shirt or my socks or both – you’ll never not think about that now, but that’s not what I meant.) No, my lifesaver, my link, my sanity and my savior: The Newsletter.

My mom will tell you – and this is true – that when I boxed up all my possessions at age twenty to leave the country for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer (Peace Corps – CANCELED), I packed as though I would never return. I’m pretty sure I designated heirs for my journals (all that middle school ruination, documented). But before I left for the world I didn’t know, my mom and I set up one essential link to keep me tethered to the world I knew: the Newsletter Tree.

Made of trees, literally. Because it was printed on paper. Handwritten by me, on paper, one copy mailed by post to my mom. Who Xeroxed four copies (we all still said Xerox, then), and sent them on to four folks who diligently made their copies, and sent them on, and so on. And people wrote back. Eventually I came home. People I didn’t even know came up to talk to me about things I had written, having been participants in an ancient form of social media. Some of you still have the artifacts of that time, the actual newsletters. While I was gone, email was invented and stamps became a vanity item.

Now that it doesn’t involve handwriting and photocopying and envelope glue and trips to the post office, everyone has a newsletter. I guess they’re called “blogs” these days. So I’m back, the Mom Next Door, blogging and slogging my way through the latest alerts, announcements, closures and kid conflicts. Tomorrow we start the Never Never School (of Witchcraft and Wizardry), which my 13-year old son just calls, “No.” I’ll be keeping track of myself here, along with:

  • Updates on our family’s (mental) health and stories from a household spanning ages 10-72
  • Links for homeschooling, especially in writing, reading, poetry and music (my specialties)
  • Links to great book reviews for children’s literature of all ages
  • Latest scientific or practical information on COVID19 (How to Clean/Disinfect Your Home if someone there is sick)
  • Funny Times for funny times – belly laughs for boosting immunity
  • Good News – the best of humanity as we come together to survive and thrive
  • The Bright Side – counting our blessings in unusual times

Send me a link to your Newsletter – Let’s keep in touch!

*Eyeball Tag post coming soon.