IT’S been a difficult 11 months for teachers and parents — so how hard must it be for someone juggling both?!
It’s fair to say that Helen Quealy Murphy is looking forward to the schools reopening in the coming weeks more than most...
Since the new year, she has been teaching her pupils from Midleton C.B.S. Secondary School online, and also home-schooling her four children.
Helen, from Douglas, has quite the CV. When she’s not busy with her main teaching job, you can find her modelling for some of Cork’s top boutiques, hosting events, or catch her live on her popular Instagram account — Daily Diva Diary.
So how does the busy mum of Katie, aged 14, Roisin, aged 12, Lucy, aged 11, and Dan, aged 10, manage these busy days? Well, she gets off to a good start by tackling the housework at the crack of dawn!
“The one thing that helps me is that I have to be up before the kids,” Helen explains.
“If I am not up before the kids — forget about the rest of the day, it just doesn’t work.
“I get up at least an hour and a half before them and it lets me get my head straight. I have my quiet cup of tea in the morning.
“Getting up that time also allows me to do things like clean out the fire and empty the dishwasher without being disturbed.
“I will have the washing on, washing hung out, and brush and wash the floor so at least I know that the house is straight and I am not sitting down doing work, saying in the back of my head ‘Oh Jesus, I have to clean that bathroom’.”
Helen, whose husband is a heath professional, sums up her attitude thus: “I suppose, to have a tidy house, a tidy mind.”
Almost a year into the pandemic, education has changed dramatically, with the rise of e-learning.
The sudden shift away from the classroom for teachers came as a shock to the system for many teachers like Helen, and she admits it hasn’t been easy.
“Last year, when all this kicked off in March — the first day we started home-schooling, I really didn’t have a clue,” Helen recalls.
“I put the four kids and myself around the kitchen table and we did absolutely nothing. Sure, within a half an hour we were all having a big row!
“I learned from my mistakes and now we all have separate study spaces.
I am at the kitchen table and my son Dan sits at the other side of me so I can go up and down and help him.
“The three girls then are in their bedrooms and they all work away,” she explains.
Cleaning done, breakfast eaten, seating arrangements allocated — it’s only now that Helen’s official working day really begins with her students in Midleton C.B.S. Secondary School.
As well as juggling her own four kids at home, she then has to educate almost 30 students per class throughout the day via Zoom and Seesaw.
She explains: “We extended our classes to an hour, just to leave that bit of extra time for students in case they are having wi-fi or log-in issues.
“Usually, throughout the day, it works well. However, in between some classes my own kids might come over and ask me to help them with their own work.
“If I have time off then I can help Dan with his maths or his English, or else Lucy might be shouting at me to help her with a subject.
“If there is anything that can wait, I ask them to wait until I am finished, so I can help them with their homework.
“It’s funny because my own pupils are even used to my kids coming over to me saying ‘Mammy, can you set up this zoom call?’
“Whenever this might happen, I’ll ask my own class then to read something on PowerPoint so I can assist them for a minute.
“Then, I might even have other mammies on my Zoom classes fixing their kids’ computers! Some mums are not even realising the camera is on them.
“We are all faced with so many similar issues and we are all trying to get through this together. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s work,” she said.
With the shift away from the classroom, some of us are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic.
A year on into the current health crisis, Helen says schools are much better prepared this time than last year and says that some of her students are even performing better.
“This year, parents and schools are much better prepared and teaching and learning is happening online, as opposed to it being home-schooling.
“I think this is a very important distinction to make. The kids are literally learning online and the teachers are teaching online.
“Some of my pupils are engaging with me even more now than they would in the classroom and I am giving them immediate feedback, even on their homework.
“The feedback they are getting back online is more instantaneous from me and that’s a great thing.
“This year, it is much more official and definite. I have so much more interaction.”
When the family’s school day is over, it’s very important to the Quealy-Murphy clan to get out and about for some fresh air and some down time.
Helen and her husband are very mindful of the children’s screen time and they allow them an hour in the evenings for games like TikTok or Minecraft.