Teaching through Covid 19
By Ms Cunningham
It is Friday 27th March at 10.32am. This time two weeks ago I was about half way through a titration practical with my year 11 triple science students. How times have changed. I now sit at my temporary ‘school’ work station in my flat in West London composed of two exam desks, a mini whiteboard, my visualiser and my laptop. There is not a student in sight.
In the week running up to school closures, Boris’ announcement at 5pm became the pinnacle of our day, when schools across the country heard their fate for the first time. Bombshells were dropped during these messages, ‘exams are cancelled’ , ‘schools will be closed’ but sometimes more surprisingly ‘schools will be open’. As a leader within the school, my team and my students looked to me for guidance and stability. I continued as normal until period 5 on Friday 20th March in order to maintain a safe and stable environment and fulfil the duty of care to my students.
This week my job changed massively.
On Monday I was a dinner lady, helping prepare the free school meals for the disadvantaged students in my school. With 55% of our students being pupil premium, when the ‘school closure’ announcement was made teachers were concerned as to what they could do to support this group during this time. Consequently, my headteacher asked a small local business to hand deliver approximately 500 recipe hampers (https://www.chiswickschool.org/1287/free-school-meals) to individual students’ homes each week. I have never been so proud to be a part of my school community.
On Tuesday, I taught my first online lesson with 23 year 11 students. Throughout the lessons the students routinely asked: ‘Is this in the exam Miss?’ or ‘is this in paper 1 or 2?’ Given that exams are cancelled and I would be awarding their predicted grades, I was unsure whether this was failure to accept the new reality or a deeply engrained habit. I answered all the same.
On Wednesday I became a self appointed Instagram influencer. Following conversations with my headteacher, I decided to support as many science students as possible whilst also ensuring I would not slowly go insane being trapped in my flat for 3 weeks. I started posting science clips and live streaming lessons on social media. I gained 200 followers in under 24 hours.
On Thursday I held my first online department meeting through Google hangouts. Every staff member logged in and was present in the conversation. We discussed ideas that we never had had the time or space to even think about during ‘normal’ term time, coming up with our vision and planning our 5 year curriculum. What usually would have taken 3 hours took just over 25 minutes.
On Friday I was informed that the science department goggles were being sent to local hospitals to protect NHS workers. It was strange to think that these were the very same goggles that were being used during the titration practical by my year 11s only a week ago.
Among colleagues and friends we discuss if this pandemic will prompt any change. Will public sector workers be respected more? Paid more? Valued more? Teaching has only been seen as a profession rather than a vocation over the last year. Parents and carers regularly write about their home-schooling struggles on social media with the realisation that teaching is more than just long holidays and 3pm finishes, but instead a learned and practiced skill that takes years to accomplish.
I come from a family of ‘key workers’: my two sisters are doctors, my mum is a retired GP and my dad is a consultant. The reality of the frontline is that children in schools are scared and uncertain about their future and in hospitals beds are full, cases are rising and patients are younger than the public realise. The public sector and key workers remains resilient, positive and united, so in return please listen to their one simple request:
Stay at home.