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Teaching in Lockdown – what have I learnt?

Schools shutting came with little warning. The last few weeks were a frantic battle to sort as much as possible. Exams were cancelled, key workers’ children had to be catered for (once we knew what key workers meant) along with some many other things.
Fast forward a few weeks and teachers are trying to teach and support their students from home. Hannah has found it hard, lonely and a lot. Will things change after COVID-19?

I write this for the incredible Nexus Community, but I also hope that it reaches further. I hope it reaches the people who think that teachers are not pulling their weight and I hope it reaches further afield to those who continue to leave us in a state of flux. But I mostly hope that it makes you smile in these very strange times that we live in.  
As a History teacher, I do, very often say, ‘Well… I told you so’ when it comes to what is going on in the world. Although, I must admit, I very much went along the lines of @ICT_MrP when this all started. 
Perhaps it was denial, or false optimism, but this whole thing came as a bit of a shock. I teach Medicine Through Time at GCSE, so in my head we had eradicated life changing diseases, cholera, smallpox, TB all things of the past. Yet, here we are, teaching from home. I am not ashamed to admit, I had a bit of a cry on the last day. Year 11 and 13 robbed of their proper goodbye, their proms, their exams that they have worked so hard for. I was angry for them. I was also angry that I would have to be away from the people I love for a period of time. My family, boyfriend and friends who are going through so much seemed very far away. I still don’t believe that our government fully comprehends what it is like for those on their own. I also felt, as I’m sure we all did, frustrated at how we seemed expendable, ‘Teachers’ are less likely to catch coronavirus’ is something I have heard frequently. Why does that mean that we should expose ourselves and our loved ones to this disease? 
The last week before the closure was hard on us all, the lack of guidance and care for those on the frontline was brought into sharp focus as it continues to be so. Teachers, again, may not come out well from this. I was particularly disappointed to see this article in The Telegraph in which we were accused of unionising and not prioritising children, this all from a former teacher. Articles with this misleading headline, implying we don’t have courage and are fighting against the government will only add fuel to the fire that teachers do not work hard and only want to protect their pay and themselves. We want to get back to our students, any teacher worth their salt does. But, their safety as well as our own and our families is paramount. I admit, I have not signed the NEU petition, because I trust in our government to do the right thing. But, to say anything else, is purely to produce click bait, selfish and unjustified. If social distancing is to be observed, then there needs to be deeper thinking into how this is going to operate
However, as I am in lockdown on my own, rather than dwell and obsessively refresh the news, which is no good for our mental health I have decided to be productive. In this, I have found myself reflecting on what this process has taught me about teaching and why we should latch on to it. Perhaps the Department for Education and the Education Secretary themselves will have the opportunity to do the same. 
The Struggles

  1. The students not doing much

There has been a lot of debate on how to engage students in learning at home. There are some useful resources online, for example the BBC are providing packages for parents, however, what about the older students who aren’t doing a lot? 
I am worried that students in Year 10, don’t realise that we are not going to have this time back next year. I am doing everything I can to engage them, quizzes, emails. But, I do not know every students’ situation, are they caring for younger siblings? Caring for parents?  It is hard to get the balance right. I have found sending an encouraging email is helpful, even if it is just for evidence that you are trying to support them. I am also finding that parents are contacting saying that their child has done everything, when nothing has been handed in… Unfortunately, we do have to protect ourselves in this situation. Hopefully, we will find parents more supportive when we go back.

  1. How much is too much?

Then, there’s the question of, how much is too much? I have been setting a lesson for the week for KS3. A lot of our students will be struggling with the current situation, so I expect them to be spending an hour on my work across the week. I set extensions for those who want to push themselves and I have put together a list of historical films for them to watch. Encouraging other forms of learning. For KS4, it is of course slightly different, I am expecting them to do more. But, I am mindful of over burdening them. 

  1. What about the technophobe’s?

I thought that I would be fielding IT questions from staff, however, it seems that the students are far more technically flummoxed! It feels like I have spent more time answering Google Classroom related questions and explaining why students don’t need to request editing a presentation, than looking at their work. The struggle to not sarcastically reply, ‘Have you read the instructions?’ Then copy and paste them is getting harder to resist by the day! Not that students seem to know what this concept of copy and paste is…
What have I learned?

  1. My pastoral role is more important than ever

The most amount of contact I have had with students has been on a supportive level. Some are struggling with the lockdown, whilst others are just missing the daily contact of their tutor. I look forward to the emails that I get from my tutor group, telling me what they are doing, they really do make me smile. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone as Joni Mitchell says! I had always steered myself towards the department focused TLR’s, I had underrated my role pastorally and forgotten how much I enjoyed it too. 

  1. ITT – how else to support students

As well as our students in school, some of us still have to support our ITT students. With the help of the fantastic @UoNSoEHistory I have been given a new insight into the world of the PGCE. I will be recording a session on the Non-Examined Assessment, reminding me how important it is to expose our trainee teacher to this aspect of teaching. We can be reluctant to let our exam classes go, but it needs to be done. I have also had to write the PGCE student’s profile far earlier than anticipated! Making me reflect on how we grade and judge our students. Are you judging what they should be, the progress they have made, or the progress you expect them to make?

  1. You don’t just have to teach your subject all the time! How else can you support students?

As I stated earlier, I have been considering other ways we can support our students through this time. One of those ways has been to provide them with a list of historical films, podcasts and other forms of media they can use to engage with their learning. I have had a few film reviews and some ‘HER’story projects which have been fantastic. 
I am also conscious of the VE Day 75th anniversary. I still want students across the school to engage with this, so I am in the process of putting together activities for the students to choose from that hit different curriculum areas. For example, fashion of the ration for textiles and the impact of Bletchley Park for maths. 
It has been nice to think about enrichment. For the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I was far too focused on what the students were doing, plus answering their tech questions. Now, I am thinking about how I can engage them with History on a wider level. Would I have had the time to do this before lockdown? Who knows?
What I hope everyone else will learn.

  1. Exams aren’t everything

Exams have been cancelled. SAT’s, GCSE’s and A-Levels will all now be based on teacher judgement. Does this undermine them? Perhaps, that is not my place to say. But I can confidently say that they are not everything. The pressure that we put on our students is ridiculous. By cancelling them, it demonstrates that it is not the be all and end all of school. Appraisals will need to reflect this, Ofsted judgements, news outlets, who are so ready to attack the school system for its ‘failings’. Yet now, it is teachers that are keeping children focused and working, with no exams in sight. It is teacher’s judgement that is being trusted, why can this not be the case when this is all over? We provide far much more than exam preparation. Perhaps, we will be seen more as professionals than the, ‘baby sitters’ we have been called in the past. 

  1. Our role is bigger than people thought 

Last week there was a flurry of Ofsted pictures floating around social media. 

We have had parents saying they can’t cope, I have had friends who have been trying to get parents to accept that their child is autistic, counselling the same parents with how to deal with their child. There are also the teachers trying to teach plus look after their own child. I hope that when our children return to school, parents will work more with us than against us. I hope that, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ Becomes a thing of the past. 

  1. How teachers support society 

Teachers have allowed the country to carry on. We support the families of key workers and we continue to educate the next generation. If we were not providing work, what would these children be doing? Teachers are crucial to the progression of society and I hope that our Education Secretary will acknowledge to work and sacrifice that we continue to make. 
I look forward to the fresh guidance from our government and the Department for Education. At the time of writing this, Mr Johnson has just returned to work. I hope that we will be treated as adults, not children and we will have a clearer picture of what is happening. One of the worst things for me was saying, ‘I don’t know’ to my students. I am the person that they look to for answers, please don’t put me in that position again. 
I hope you are all safe and well Nexus community! I would love to hear about what the lockdown has taught you. We all know that we need to stay home to protect the NHS but, we are not alone and the end is in sight. Until we meet again!

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The author

Hannah qualified as a History teacher in 2014 from the University of Roehampton. She has taught widely across the Humanities subjects and has held additional whole school responsibility. She worked in London for four years, before moving back to Nottingham at the start of September 2017. She has blogged for #WomenEd and is involved in various communities for her subject, aspiring Middle Leaders and the development of trainee teachers. She is involved in the Legacy 110 Project and is a mentor at the University of Nottingham where she started her Masters in Education in September. She is interested in development of the curriculum, training teachers and diversity in education.

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