Looking back on Lockdown.
Adam Watkins recalls what preparation and the first few weeks of remote learning were like. He’s thankful it’s nearly over because he misses his class and ‘normality’.
As the Coronavirus pandemic struck the UK and Lockdown began, hundreds of thousands of teachers like myself were busy preparing to take the classroom online. I recall it being one of the most stressful weeks of my career preparing home learning packs, printing usernames and log in details, reassuring pupils, parents and staff that everything will be OK! Never did I ever imagine this would happen in my lifetime. A few years ago I remember talking about the future of schools and if they would ever become virtual? Perhaps I jinxed it.
As home time approached on that Friday, it dawned on me that this could be the last time I see my class this year and as parents came to pick up their children, I was inundated with gifts, cards and well wishes as though it was the last day of the school year. It was an emotional end to an emotional and stressful week. I am not an overly emotional person but I struggled to hold it back. It was hard seeing Year 6 pupils leave the school gates, cheated of the lasting happy memories of their time at primary school, the end of year show, transition project, residential and leavers ceremony!
I must admit it took me a while to get used to working from home as I was out of my normal work routine. It felt bizarre assigning tasks to pupils online and not being with them to work through it or to challenge them along the way. In a profession such as teaching it is a strange sensation to be teaching from home. How do you do it? Hats off to any stay at home parents out there- it’s my turn to ask the question- How do you do it?
I had to lock myself away for a few hours during the day to get anything done. There is nothing like two toddlers climbing all over you when you’re trying to send a professional email to the Head! I did however really enjoy spending more time with my wife and children and they loved having daddy home to join in with arts and crafts.
As a staff, we quickly adapted to the situation and worked as best we could online, there was a strong sense of everyone pulling together and helping out. We had meetings via Microsoft Teams and although it was a bit strange and the connection failed once or twice it was comforting to see and hear everyone and it was still the same smiling, friendly faces, just the virtual version and the fancy dress meetings really boosted morale.
Going from seeing colleagues who have become friends every day; the banter of the staffroom and the emotional support a team offers to not being ‘allowed’ to see them due to Lockdown restrictions was hard for some staff to deal with so it was important that we checked in with each other regularly and instead of lending a shoulder to cry on it was an ear on the other end.
One of the highlights of working from home was when we did regular telephone check-ins with parents and I spoke to most pupils over the phone. It was so nice to hear their voices and they were so happy and positive telling me they were enjoying the online tasks and reading my comments. Many parents would comment on how they were struggling to motivate their children and complete work. My advice was the same every time- don’t fight it. It was more important to me that the children were happy and healthy instead of doing hours and hours of home learning, this was a difficult time as it was.
Staff who were not isolating were added to a rota system where we supervised children in the hub school. This was difficult at first as we were working with staff from across the cluster of schools and supervising children we didn’t know. It reminded me of a time on supply where you don’t know what you may be walking in to. All of this anxiety was soon put to one side when I realised the importance of being upbeat and positive for everyone’s sake. These children’s parents were key workers, many of whom were frontline NHS staff so we needed to make their day in school as happy as possible in order to distract them from what was going on outside. We soon bonded and built positive relationships in no time- it amazes me how quickly we’re able to do that with children. It’s a superpower!
As well as assigning weekly online tasks, checking in with families and catching up on admin tasks I joined the Swansea Virtual School PLC Team. This was a great honour and privilege to be part of a team committed to producing excellent quality lessons and resources for pupils to access at home. This project soon caught on and in just over two weeks there was over 40 hours of online lessons watched. It inspired many other teachers to get involved and share their expertise. It just goes to show how we all pull together at times of crisis for the needs of children and families.
As much as we have kept calm and carried on providing online materials and supporting learning from home nothing will ever beat having a class full of enthusiastic learners. The experience of working from home wasn’t long although it may have felt it at times but it is certainly something none of us will ever forget, the time to think, the memories we made and the things we learned about ourselves.
It will be interesting to see what happens next in the world of education. Will we work online more often? Will schools be prepared for future global emergencies? Will all home learning become digital? How will our classrooms look long term to abide by social distancing regulations? It will be an exciting silver lining to the black cloud we faced. I for one will never complain about having a large class for the rest of my career- I would take 32 busy primary children over a laptop any day!