LIFE ON HOLD

By Brandon Holmes

It’d be easy to imagine that with smaller numbers of students in our schools, teachers are enjoying a much gentler pace of life during the lockdown. As part of this special report, I spoke to several teachers in North Yorkshire and found that teachers are busier than ever. Their hectic schedules are accompanied with fears and anxieties about the social wellbeing and education of their students.

Most teachers I spoke to, mourned the loss of their teaching role, missing particularly the time spent with students and fellow colleagues. What was clear was that teachers had formed bonds with their students, the teachers’ role and occupation was more than teaching subject matter. Mr C explained that he missed “The daily interaction with groups of students and the never being quite sure what will happen in your lessons”. Alike Mr C, Mrs P explained “I miss the conversations with all the pupils and staff and how you all make me laugh”.

One anxiety shared by many teachers was the negative effects on pupils’ learning as was voiced by Mr C – “Psychologically, there is a constant fretting about how this is going to affect my students”. Unlike at school, there is no guarantee that students are completing the set work and as one teacher told me, there is little teachers can do if pupils do not complete work. Furthermore, teachers explained their frustration at not being able to help students when they don’t understand their work and worry that they may be falling behind. There are a lot of concerns about children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds – the education gap is feared to widen as more advantaged parents are better equipped to make sure their child has a stable education due to having better means of technology and better ability to support education.

Further concern during lockdown is for children classed as vulnerable (living in unstable homes). Teachers or other members of staff are now less able to spot the signs of child abuse and support children at risk. As was explained to the BBC by teacher Mollie “The ones I would ordinarily worry about, that’s magnified. I can’t make sure that, between the hours of nine and three, they’re in safe and happy environments”. Schools are open for the most vulnerable children though attendance has been low.

There is a particular concern for current Year 10 students who will sit their GCSEs next summer. One teacher said “The Y10s who are missing too much important work and will suffer for it.”. Even with the return of students soon, distruption is likely to last as there is a possibility of staff shortage due to some still self-isolating. People who are training to become teachers will have had their progress interrupted meaning in the following academic year, there’ll be fewer qualifying teachers than usual. It is not clear how the Government will help train teachers to avoid shortages.

Teachers are working hard to limit educational distruption and enhance social wellbeing. They are helping students by emailing work to them and sending workpacks to their home. This is so that whilst students are not attending school, they’re receiving work of a similar quality. Teachers are in regular contact via email and over the phone; assisting with work and student welfare. Social media has been used by schools to get students to do fun challenges and video or photo link with teachers. These provide a bit of connection with students through lockdown as well as much needed motivation. Teachers throughout the UK have demonstrated extraordinary creativity, commitment and hard work to engage pupils and spread joy. One example of this is when an assistant head teacher in Grimsby called Zane Powles delivered food and homework by walking the streets of Grimsby, giving him the chance to check on vulnerable children. Teachers such as Mr Bluff have taken to Youtube to offer free online lessons, for younger children, nursery teachers have taken to social media to read stories. At the school that I attend, the PE teacher has posted fitness videos on social media and we have been entertained by teachers’ TikTok creations.

Despite the teachers’ heavy workloads, many have joined the ten million adults are selflessly donating their time and volunteering to help the most vulnerable (including the elderly). Mr E told me “I have been volunteering for the food charity “FareShare” in Hull. I have been driving their vans from Hull to deliver surplus food to food banks, charities, community groups and schools all over the East Riding and North Lincolnshire.” Mr E continued “I have also been looking after the old people who live near me, by picking up their click and collect shopping, gardening and doing home maintenance for them.”. This demonstrates the selflessness of people willing to help those in need during the lockdown.

What is obvious is that teachers have had to adapt to new routines and have stepped right into it. It is astonishing how quickly the teachers as well as everyone else has had to adapt to a new kind of “normal”. Another thing that’s abundantly clear is that teaching is not just a job involved in providing knowledge but also about caring and being part of a community.