Not an easy sell, this year. At least it's nice outside, although that can be the insult added to the depressive or anxious injury that pushes things over the edge. With everyone still supposed to be isolated from everyone else, an over-reliance on screens and a succession of terrible news about coronavirus and (when it can push its way to the top of the news agenda) Brexit, racism and the latest on Donald Trump's continuing struggle with reality, it's no surprise if (that?) mental health is suffering.
Oddly, despite the strangeness of the situation, mine has mostly been good throughout this lockdown. The opportunity to a bunch of things that I wouldn't otherwise have done has been great, as has the time spent with my children who I would otherwise see only briefly at the start - when in a flap to get to work - and at the end - exhausted by work - of the day. There is no doubt that my work life is easier in some ways than it was when I was in front of classes full time, largely because I'm not having to steel myself for the behavioural battle that can characterise some teaching. One relatively naive commentator I read a couple of days ago seemed to think that if we could just make sure all the students gathered around their respective screens for a few hours a day, they would learn just as much as if they were in the classroom... Well, that's not quite what she said. What she said was she couldn't understand why teachers weren't offering real-time teaching instead of setting work for students to do in their own time. Apparently that's what they do in private schools. Good for them. In that case, the parents presumably have a bit more of a dog in the fight, paying as they do some thousands of pounds a term for their children's education, and therefore they expect them to be occupied. And are, perhaps, that bit more willing to impose. What's missed in this argument is that you don't just need the kid to be sat at the computer, you need them to have switched off all the distracting crap that a computer can do and actually be focused on the lesson. And - with the best will in the world - the commentator in question did not seem to expect to have to commit to being there to facilitate this for hours at a time.
It can't be stressed highly enough that 'live' teaching online seems to be a bit of a nightmare, because trying to organise the 30-or-so kids to all be using the same software at the same time is a job beyond what most of us can achieve, but more than that, you're either depriving the students of the social aspect of the real classroom by not letting them interact (most lessons probably have no more than 20-30 minutes of 'teaching', with a decent proportion of the time spent of work of various kinds - this idea that a teacher stands at the front teaching for an hour at a time is pretty niche in modern education), or you're letting them interact, which is guaranteed chaos.
It could be done, but there are so many pitfalls that most schools don't really want to approach it that way. Nevertheless schools get hammered off right-wing commentators for not managing to achieve what private schools with an embarrassment of resources can do. Ah, well. I've done my best to do right by the kids, which is not necessarily the same as doing right by their parents. Occupying time - a goal that smells strongly of 'childcare' rather than 'education' is not the point. And here's the real existential threat to our way of life: if it turns out that remote education under the broad supervision of parents is no less effective than piling kids together in schools, it may be time to have a think about how we do school and what it's for.
So all of that was a diversion of a sort. Mental health is likely to suffer in such strange, suffocating circumstances. It is probably the single weirdest thing that most of us have ever experienced. Here's the thing, then. Reach out. It might be that reaching out is exactly what you need to do. It might be that you need to speak - or converse by text - with someone who gets you. It might be that all you need to do is read their words, offering their love and the promise that better times will come, whether that be in a month or two, or a year, or longer. It might be that you can't have that conversation, and that is as hard as it comes. But hope remains, even if it means waiting...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought