Like most of my teaching colleagues I never envisaged having to teach during a global health pandemic. None of us has been trained for this so we are making it up as we fight our way through it. Every single person in education including cleaners, welfare staff, teaching assistants, site staff, teachers and leaders are all working at maximum capacity to keep children in school and to keep everyone in school safe. Here’s how we’re doing it at our special school.
Bubbles are the new buzzword on the tip of everyone’s tongue. All schools have them, the only difference is the size of the bubbles. We have gone for 2 classes per bubble. Keep in mind we average 12 children per class plus 4 staff. This works well for us as it means that if we lose a staff member from one class for any reason other than Covid, we can move a staff member from the same bubble to that class. All our children have Education and Health Care Plans, (EHCPs) many are for complex health reasons. For this reason we are carrying out enhanced, stringent hygiene measures in order to safeguard the children’s health. For example, door handles are cleaned every time someone enters or exits the room, chairs and tables are wiped down several times per day and there is no sharing of pens, pencils, mini whiteboards and other equipment. Children have named equipment, named handwashing bottles and are seated a safe distance from their friends. There is little or no movement in the corridors and no-one is allowed to enter a bubble for any reason. Sections of the playground have been cordoned off for the different classes and the bubbles are not allowed to mix. This is by no means an exhaustive list but gives the reader a flavour of the measures in place to avoid cross contamination between the bubbles.
Children at our school are very resilient to all the changes we have had to make. It seems that the children are coping better with class bubbles than the staff in many cases. Most of our children are simply happy to be back in school with their peers. For staff it is not quite so simple. Breaks and lunchtimes have traditionally been sociable times when staff could gather together and discuss their day. Teaching ideas would be bandied around the staff room and staff could support each other with new strategies. As staff are required to stay within their bubbles the social aspect has largely disappeared and teachers and TAs tend to stay with the children for most of the breaks. This is no great hardship as everyone understands the need to stay safe.
The next buzzword is Zoom! We are zooming staff meetings, zooming leader’s meetings and in some cases we are involved in zoom teaching. I am scheduled to teach Wellbeing and Circle Time in a class outside my bubble each Tuesday afternoon and the only way I can do this is to zoom in. The children who are all aged 12 years absolutely love it! They have really risen to the challenge of zoom learning and I actually think they concentrate better. As I am not there in person and am talking to them through a huge screen they police themselves and instruct each to be quiet or to concentrate. They are very well behaved and from a teaching perspective I too am enjoying it.
Remote teaching, home learning or blended learning is also a new challenge for us. We are providing links to our teaching plans on the school website for any child or young person who is isolating, recovering or shielding at home. We don’t want anyone to fall behind due to being ill so we have embraced this new way of teaching. At first it seemed like it was going to be yet more work for our staff who are already performing at capacity. However, once again, teachers have shown that they have the best interests of the children at heart and have mastered this new way of teaching. It adds a little more pressure to the working week but it is worth it to keep all children learning.
The pandemic has also made me realise how much teachers are required to act as social workers for our children and young people. We are always there to hear their fears and calm their anxiety if they aren’t able to talk to their parents. Parents are also opening up more to teachers as the pressure of having children at home for so long during the lockdown and the subsequent summer holidays became too much for some families. In cases of family breakdown where there is no actual social work involvement parents are turning to teachers for support. Once again we are happy to help where we can but we are often completely out of our skill set. This half term, the first one post lockdown has been exceptionally hard for those in education. We have embraced new technology, new ways of teaching and been all things to all people. It has been very hard not seeing the rest of the school and all the other children and staff. Education staff are actually exhausted and in need of a break at half term. We need to remind ourselves that there have been some good things to come from this pandemic. For example, there is a happy buzz around the school because the children are just so happy to be back. They love their school and we need to remember that and keep it at the forefront of our minds when we feel exhausted. There is also a bit of a Dunkirk spirit around school, we’re all in this together and the camaraderie amongst staff and children is wonderful. Let’s see what the new half term brings.