TEACHING DURING AN EPIDEMIC

Walking around the corridors there is a sense of uncertainty. The fear of the unknown is a powerful weapon that spreads like wildfire in a school environment. As mass gatherings are banned, sporting events postponed and drastic measures are enforced to disrupt congregations of more than 50 people, schools remain open.

My school, like many others across the UK is over populated and provides an education for over 1,200 pupils.  It is a safe haven for young people. A commonality in times of upheaval. Provides meals, warmth and comfort. Most importantly, it provides them with opportunity and possibilities. But as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold, more and more pressure is being placed on teachers and facilities that were already being stretched to breaking point.

Members of staff who are pregnant and have underlying health issues have been sent home. Anyone displaying possible symptoms, following UK Government guidelines are self-isolating for 14 days. Less and less children are arriving for lessons, as parents strive to keep them safe. We cannot get enough supply teachers to cover the absences. Senior members of staff are covering lessons in the hall. Classes are having to be merged putting one member of staff in charge of 60 pupils.

The first aiders are being inundated with pupils who are coughing and ‘feeling really hot’ so they can be sent home and avoid school for 14 days. Parents are becoming frustrated with phone calls and last minute childcare arrangements because, legally if a child states that they feel unwell or have a cough, we have to take that seriously and remove them from the premise with immediate effect.

Behaviour management is very challenging as the children are not focused, they are, dare I say it, excited about the prospect of two weeks off school. Young people who identify as SEND are struggling with the change to their routine, suffers of anxiety are overwhelmed by the current situation and displaying behaviour that as teachers, we don’t know how to accommodate. TA and SENCO are working tirelessly to reassure and provide emotional support to our most vulnerable pupils.

GCSE pupils are incredibly anxious about their future. At what is already the toughest test they have faced in their lives so far, they now face the uncertainty of sitting the exams and gaining the qualifications they need to take that next step. We don’t have the answers and cannot reassure them. It is distressing to see the worry on their faces and the hope fade from their eyes.

The hard work can’t be for nothing?

I feel terrible for my colleagues and other KS4 workers, who have given so much time and effort on behalf of GCSE children. Blood, sweat and tears for the last two years, to prepare them for the exams. The emotional investment in ensuring these children suceed, no matter what. Cruelly taken away from them at the last minute.

What will happen to those current year 10 pupils who may be expected to sit their GCSE’s next year but have missed how many weeks of education?

We don’t know.

Yet despite all of this, thousands of teachers are waking up early, arriving at school 2 hours before their first scheduled lesson and delivering lessons with as much passion, enthusiasm and optimism as possible. We try to answer pupil’s questions honestly, whilst masking our own fears to protect them.

Thousands of children are also turning up to school, putting their best foot forward. Amongst all this chaos, when you’re working a ‘tough crowd’ in the class room and everyone is avoiding eye contact because now there is only half the kids, the chance of you being called upon to share an idea has increased, they can still produce moments of pure joy and laughter. This is why I love teaching. Children are amazing and exceptionally resilient. They ask the questions we haven’t thought of and say the first thing that comes into their mind with innocence and naivety.

Much love and respect to the teachers who are really tired by this point in the academic year, and keeping going. You are doing a great job and making a massive difference, even though it might not feel like it. To the children, thank you for coming to school and being your funny, lighthearted, thoughtful selves – I am a Mother to 136 pupils plus George! Your health and safety has always been important to me, but more so right now and it is weighing heavily on my mind.