Meet the teacher educating kids in lockdown through rap as MC GRAMMAR

Coronavirus has radically changed the way we work.

While some of us have had to change jobs to fulfill essential needs, others are adjusting to working from home.

Our Where I Work series explores the reality of remote working, each weekday taking a look inside a different person’s home office.

Today we’re chatting with Jacob Mitchell, 36, a primary school teacher who also tours schools as MC GRAMMAR, using rap and rhyme to teach children aged six to 11 about the English language.

As the coronavirus pandemic has closed down schools, Jacob isn’t educating kids in the classroom – instead he’s releasing live episodes of MC GRAMMAR lessons that he films in the annex at the bottom of his garden.

Here’s how he’s working from the North London home he shares with his wife Andrea and his two daughters, Khloe and Ellie.

Hey, Jacob! How has the pandemic changed the way you work?

Usually I’m not a home in the week during working hours. I work part-time as a primary school teacher and part time as an educational consultant and advisor.

For the past two years I’ve also been visiting schools as MC GRAMMAR – a rapping teacher that delivers the national curriculum objectives by rapping and rhyming over fresh beats and melodies.

Both my role as an educational consultant and my work as MC GRAMMAR means I’m usually visiting up to four cities each week around the UK. This year, before the coronavirus hit, I have also been to Dubai and Colorado with work, which was amazing. I also had bookings to go to schools in other countries this year, but unfortunately they’ve been cancelled or postponed.

When the schools closed I was contacted by multiple parents and teachers asking for my advice on making lessons at home fun and engaging. So, for the past few weeks I’ve been bringing what I usually do at schools to YouTube, running two live lessons a week – every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am to inspire kids to read and love books.

I’m trying to make education as fun as possible to get kids around the UK who are stuck with limited or no education, learning at home.

I’ve been creating these lessons from the annex at the bottom of my garden with my brother-in-law, Leon, who’s been helping film and create them with me. He is also a primary school teacher and as we can no longer teach kids directly, we wanted to still help children learn together.

Teacher giving out rap grammar lessons is a hit

Talk us through your workspace

Leon, my brother-in-law, is staying in the one-bedroom annex flat that has a double bedroom, a shower and toilet and kitchen and living room.

He’s helping me create my MC GRAMMAR videos at the moment so we’ve had to move all the items from his living room into my office. We’ve put up a green screen, a table, a camera and some lights and do our YouTube videos from here. It’s fun!

When I’m not in the studio shooting videos, if I’m doing admin and taking calls then I work everywhere and anywhere in the house – I hang out in my youngest daughter’s bedroom or any space that’s free. It’s all about improvisation at the moment.

What’s a working day like in lockdown?

It’s all about structure – I wake up early and do my admin between 5am – 8am and then work in shifts.

Usually I work again around 11am – 1pm and then have some Zoom calls in the afternoon and get back to work once my little ones are in bed.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m busy in the studio at 10am doing my live shows. Every Tuesday of the week we drop a new lesson with a song and kids can rap along, and then there will be a task to do for lesson two on Thursday’s Shout-Out show. Thursday’s lessons will include a task check-in/answers and review for the kids, a rap game lesson, live book raps, Grammar Gang shout-outs and competitions and giveaways.

Before each lesson I prep, and in between the two lessons I answer emails from parents about the next lesson and mark the homework.

How do you stay focused when working from home?

It’s been quite tough, and with two young children I have to do shifts while the kids are sleeping. So I wake up at 5am, before they wake up at eight, and do a few hours work.

I then spend some time with them and then I do a mid-afternoon shift from around 11am – 1pm. Then it’s all systems go again when they go to sleep at 7pm.

I’m actually used to waking up early from the regular travel I do so that part of it is not too difficult for me. However, staying focused definitely isn’t easy. I make sure I have discipline – I try to stick to the hours I’m supposed to work and have a really clear and honest lines of communication with my partner, so she knows exactly when I’m working and exactly when I can be with the girls and help out with the family and around the house. My partner works part time in retail, so we work collaboratively around that.

What challenges have you come up against when working in lockdown?

There’s definitely a new challenge every day. Aside from the challenges of the logistics and finding space and time to do work, the hardest thing for me is the pangs of guilt that you feel a lot of the time that you’re not spending enough time with the kids. You can hear them playing and having fun or calling your name in the background and you feel terrible.

But I’m trying not to feel guilty as it is actually work time, and I wouldn’t usually be at home – working and being home with the kids are two separate things: I try to remember that.

Personally, I think you need to structured times and to be really disciplined; yet, it is still tough especially when they’re grabbing your hand and wanting to play with you.

How are you doing mentally with being in lockdown?

I’m a big believer in needing variety to keep you challenged and to support and help your mental health during these times.

I go for walks, I do things that challenge me mentally, I’m always reading books and also trying to learn piano in my spare time. I’m exercising to strengthen my physical and mental health, and spending lots of quality time with my kids. I’m also connecting with nostalgic activities that bring me joy and remind me of happy times and memories, so I’ve started playing Mario Kart which I haven’t done in years as it is so much fun! I would say making every day different is really helping.

The lessons on Youtube are really helping me. My passion and purpose is to educate and empower others. This opportunity to reach out to others and support them is exactly that — a wonderful gift that I am very grateful for.

How do you switch off from work when your home is your office?

Rest and relaxation for me is spending quality time with the kids. I find playing with them and doing activities like crafts and games in the garden is a great mental break and allows my brain to switch off.

I also make sure I do a workout every day; whether that’s a Joe Wicks workout with the girls in the morning, or simply going for a walk.

I also read every day and love to watch TV when I have the chance – I’m currently watching Gordon, Gino and Fred the Roadtrip which is hilarious and Money Heist on Netflix.

What advice do you have for other people newly working from home?

My biggest piece of advice would be to try to be disciplined and create a space that makes you motivated – that could be ensuring that it’s as much of a ‘work atmosphere’ as possible. For instance, if you’re used to working in a suit and that motivates you, put on a shirt and trousers. Why not?

Or, if your desk in the office looks out the window or you like being outdoors – sit near a window at home or work outside for while.

Whatever gets your ‘work mindset’ going, do that. It could be as simple as taking regular breaks, for example, or sticking to your normal work hours if possible.

For me what’s worked is creating a working schedule, taking the right breaks and making sure every day there’s a new challenge. But do what works for you.