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Learning to Teach in a Pandemic

In March 2020, Jenny Ross was so close to completing her teacher training, then the first Lockdown was announced and everyone’s world was turned upside down.

Jenny found that, like everyone else, she had to just wait. She was just thankful her own children were home, safe.

Forest school ice Jenny R

After having my own family and working with children and families in various roles for 8 years, I embarked upon my teacher training in September 2019. In January 2020, I prepared for my second placement as part of my scheduled training programme. I was excited to spend 6 weeks in a very different school, temporarily stepping away from a 2-form entry primary school with 14 classes, to a small rural forest school with split year groups and 4 classes. Little did I know that this would be the last full ‘normal’ term that I would experience. 

I completed my assigned 6-weeks and returned back to my placement school after the February half-term. As I returned back to the classroom, the news became more and more focussed around COVID-19. I watched the news tentatively (along with the rest of the world) and wondered what this could mean for all of us. 

As the news developed, we could see other countries going into full lockdowns, which included school closures. As a student teacher, I couldn’t help but reflect on how we would continue to support our children academically at home. However, as a mother, the feeling of having my children safe at home replaced the unknown about their immediate education. I was fortunate enough to belong to a group of trainee teachers working for the same academy trust and we had all become a great support for each other. Messages began to fly on our messaging group – what will this mean for our training? If schools close, will we still be able to qualify this year? Some people questioned their future, they were single parents and needed to pass this year to start working – they couldn’t afford to have their training year extended. Truth was, no one really knew at this early stage what was going to happen, we just had to wait and see.

I will never forget the emergency meeting my Headteacher held in the staff room after lockdown had been announced. The huge whiteboard that was wheeled in from his office clearly showed a detailed plan of action. We all faced new and uncharted territory, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the strategic planning of the Senior Leadership Team. Having to juggle the needs of 400 pupils and members of staff, not to mention the families, was, without doubt, an onerous task. 

One thing that did become very apparent was that we were all in the same boat – whether you were a teacher of 20 years or a trainee teacher like me, we all had something in common, we were all heading into the unknown and we were all anxious about what that might be.

In the 4th term, I was offered a position at the placement school I had attended in January, this was a very exciting opportunity and I considered myself lucky to not only secure a role with a wonderful team and class, but also lucky to have a job at all! I knew people that were struggling after being made redundant from their jobs and here I was starting in a brand new position. I never took my situation for granted and felt very blessed that I was on a salaried teacher training plan. In addition to starting at my new role in April during the first lockdown, I also started my Master’s Degree with Exeter University in Educational Leadership. How little did I know when I signed up for the course that leadership within education would face a challenge like no other. Needless to say, it provided opportunities for reflection that I could never have imagined. 

I found it really interesting when others mentioned a lack of ‘normal training’ for trainee teachers and what we had missed out on. Personally, I think we experienced a far superior training experience. The first 3 terms were as scheduled – 90% of university days were attended, the second placement was completed, the 5 nursery/secondary/SEN placement days were all concluded, 14 formal observations were accomplished and 2/3 evidence bundles were complete.  Yes, elements to the scheduled plan had changed but we experienced so much more than we ever could have imagined. 

Upon starting my new role, I worked within the KS1 bubble with 3 different year groups, as well as developing online lessons for the children in my class. At this point in my training year, I had now worked at 2 different schools, with 3 different year groups and one key stage bubble.

As the year progressed and my training year turned into my NQT year, it was evident that COVID was going to be here for the long-haul and that teaching would become a very different experience from the one I had started the year before. As time went on and December 2020 approached, I felt overwhelmed by the ever-increasing worrying news, my own family needs, and my additional studies. I called Exeter university explaining that I felt I needed to pause my MA. I was met with the most reassuring response and told that the majority of other people on the course were also working full-time in education and were feeling the same pressure. I am pleased to say that I continued with the unit, passed with a merit (still not sure how) and I am now halfway through to completing the course. 

Educational professionals have always remained a figure of reassurance, professionalism and responsibility in my opinion. However, after this last year, I have even more respect for the profession and the individuals working within it. I am proud to be part of an industry that has continued to put its community first, even in times of huge trepidation. I am in awe of the dedication, planning and care that remains at the core of everything we do. If my training and NQT year is anything to go by – this is going to be the most poignant career I’ll ever have!

stories with Benny Jenny Ross 1

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The author

Jenny Ross teaches years 1 & 2 within a small rural forest school in Kent. She has a BA Degree in Early Childhood studies, is currently completing an MA in Educational Leadership and has worked with children and families for 10 years. Jenny is passionate about parental engagement in education and has previously held the position of Chair person for a parent council within a ‘requires improvement’ school. Due to the successful recognition of the council, our story has featured within various publications including; ’The Mentally Healthy Schools Workbook’ by Dr Pooky Knightsmith and ’The Four Pillars of Parental Engagement’ by Justine Robbins and Karen Dempster.

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