Best of both worlds: Estelle’s journey in a pioneering role - November 20

Author: Estelle Ashman, Curriculum Content Developer

Just keep swimming!

November 2020

Two months into the school year, how are schools coping with the challenges of teaching during a pandemic? The press would have you believe that schools are anywhere between running normally, completely chaotically or that they are full of lazy teachers trying to avoid doing their job but what is the reality? In this months Best of Both Worlds I'll share my experiences of teaching over the last couple of months.

Firstly, let me make it clear that this is my experience in a single school on the south coast of England and that other teacher's experiences may be very different.

The last few months have been tough for everyone. At first, we (as staff) were wary and super careful - we didn't know which of the children sat in front of us could potentially be carrying the virus, but as time has gone on that wariness has decreased as we have come to realise that teaching cannot always be done while 2 metres apart. Children need to feel that their teachers are interested in them and you cannot do that while keeping a constant distance. The reality of this is that, although we try to keep 2 metres away most of the time, keeping that distance is not always possible. This means that if a student in our class tests positive for Covid 19 their teachers may need to self isolate too - this is unavoidable. I think I have written before about how teaching cannot be done in a silo and despite our attempts to avoid too much social interaction between staff, there is some inevitable mixing, meaning that if a member of staff tests positive for the virus the impact is even bigger. Not only will students need to self isolate but other members of staff too and this is when the pressure really starts to build. This leads to my first experience of teaching in a pandemic - loosing your PPA time.

A month ago a whole department was taken out due to a member of staff testing positive - this led to pretty much every member of staff at school giving up some of their PPA (planning and preparation time) to cover members of staff who were isolating as there were simply not enough cover teachers available to buy in. Teachers don't get a lot of time in the school day for planning and preparing lessons (generally 4 a week) so loosing this time is a huge blow. Yes, the isolating teacher was still technically taking the lesson - virtually - but the reality is, having someone teach remotely doesn't mean that you can sit in the corner to mark that pile of exam papers. This means that teaching staff are tired - that pile of papers doesn't go away - it follows you home and the concept of work-life balance goes out the window.

My second observation is that teachers have become nomadic - normally most teachers have their own classroom and the students move around from class to class. Right now it is the teacher that moves between the year bubbles. This means you have to plan really well for the lesson and make sure you have all your print outs ready but also means that you don't have the advantage of being able to change your plans when your students don't understand a topic as easily as expected or when technology fails (as it inevitably occasionally does). I don't think I truly appreciated the advantages of having my own classroom and having my resources to hand as much as I do now.

My final observation is that I miss the opportunities to run extra curricular activities. I think our students really miss it too. There is something magical that happens when the school community gets together outside of lesson time and year group to share something that they enjoy doing; be that the school production or chess club.

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