18th March 2020
‘Schools will shut from Friday’. That was the headline all us teachers took from Boris’ speech. Little did we know that 7 ½ weeks later we would still be attempting to teach from the comfort of our own homes. That initial statement was met with a sense of thrill from pupils, and dare I say it, from teachers. While acutely aware of the severity of the situation there was still a little part of us excited by the prospect of a few weeks of lie-ins.
Although schools saw it coming, mine (and I am sure others) were still heavily unprepared. We launched an online learning environment about a year and a half ago which some teachers had got to grips with but others hadn’t. Pupils’ use was sporadic to say the least. Cue two days of manic training, policy writing and general confusion.
The first three weeks involved a lot of experimentation both with work setting but also pastorally. As a pastoral lead, my job suddenly seemed simultaneously much easier but also much more difficult. An oxymoron I know but let me explain. Life as a pastoral lead is unpredictable, you spend your days reacting to the events of the day, never knowing what will be thrown at you. But it is also incredibly personal and rewarding, you solve problems, offer support, you are a shoulder to cry on. Suddenly in lockdown this role feels impossible. My life is easier in that there are fewer (if any) occasions each day where students seek me for support, no friendship issues, no run-ins with teachers etc. However, I feel completely helpless in supporting my year group through this difficult time which is presenting challenges for the pupils far beyond what we ever imagine and we are wholly untrained to support them with.
Our school policy ensures that each family has contact from school every week. This has been brilliant, allowing us to keep tabs on how families are and the provisions they have for working from home. We have been able to source (all be it limited) laptops, dongles and even musical instruments to keep pupils busy and on track. But every so often you hear the inevitable, ‘he/she isn’t coping’, ‘we can’t get him/her out of bed’, ‘he/she has no motivation anymore’.
Nothing prepares you for dealing with those suffering from the virus directly. How do you support a child who’s parent is on a ventilator? How do you support those who have lost a grandparent? How do you reassure those who have the virus themselves? Then there are the children that you can’t manage to contact. Where are they? Are they safe? These are just a few of the questions that run through your head constantly.
Yet we are all still going. The support we receive from parents is wonderful, they are understanding and grateful for everything we are trying to do. My message for students is to communicate, teachers want to hear from you. The best part of our job comes from the reward of seeing you learn and develop, something we aren’t getting at the minute. A little message to let us know how you are getting on goes a long way and I guarantee, the response you get will lift your day as well.
To other teachers, persevere and be hopeful. Be hopeful that students might return to school with a different spring to their step. Mocks may become meaningful again now that they have seen how important they have become to this years 11/13. For a while, they may not take their friends for granted, they may not take us for granted. There might be a new sense of community as they realise what they have missed.
We are writing history at the minute and I am proud to say, that I will not be ashamed of my entry. I don’t think any teacher will be. We are trying and just as we tell the pupils, if you have done your best, that is enough.