Being a teacher naturally has its ups and downs. There are the great times when a child has that eureka moment in their learning. Then of course there are more difficult periods when children do not want to listen or learn, resulting in misbehaviour. However, just like so many other professions teaching has been greatly impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19. From the outside looking in it may not be obvious how this outbreak has changed schooling. However, this pandemic has forced our profession to adapt in ways we never could have imagined.
When rumours began to circulate that coronavirus would result in closures in school across the country, we as a staff began to prepare for any eventuality. What would normally be a staff training day where teachers came together to discuss curriculum matters, whole school development planning, and after school clubs was instead a brain storming session where we as a staff had to figure out the best method of transferring all our physical materials into an online format for home learning. This was a daunting task, particularly for senior members of staff who were less confident in technology. The very next day the UK government announced nationwide school closure leaving families across the country in a state of unknown regarding their child’s education.
Online teaching has its own unique set of challenges. When I was training to be a teacher one of the main emphasises was on the child/teacher relationship. Phonics, hand writing, practical maths skills, play, and socialising are all reinforced in a nurturing learning environment. Fostering such an environment in a home setting can be a difficult task for parents. Being separated by a screen with schools relying on caregivers to deliver daily lessons following a weekly guide meant teachers were often left wondering about each child’s ongoing progression. As the UK workforce transitioned to working from home, parents had to assume the role of both caregiver and educator. Unfortunately, this duel role may have meant the child’s education took a backseat to prioritise financial stability in these uncertain times. The challenges of home learning for the child were all the more evident when I received a photograph of a drawing from one of my pupils. With this particular child, we had worked very hard throughout the school year on their handwriting. While this child excelled in maths and art, they notably struggled with the reversal of letters. Thankfully by February through the child’s determination we had gotten to a point where letter reversals were a rarity. To my despair, through no fault of the child or parent, the lovely picture I received was signed with an entirely reversed name.
I recorded personalised messages to each child telling them to keep up the great work, I read a new book each week for a “virtual” storytime, and each child received a home learning certificate that recognised how amazing they have been during these difficult times. I am continually amazed at how resilient children are. On what would have been their final day in Primary Two, I visited each household to give them a goodbye gift (socially distanced of course). To see their faces light up upon my arrival at their doorstep reinforced my belief that school is not only a source of joy for children, but for the teachers as well. I was elated to see how they had grown, asking me to come in for a cup of tea, and introducing me to their pets. It was a reminder of how much I had missed teaching them.
For some teachers, online teaching was not the only new role during lockdown. Although schools were closed to the majority of children, ours remained opened for children of key worker families or those who needed support. This resulted in the unusual situation where teachers were in the classroom with pupils but were prohibited from delivering lessons. Rather we were there to provide childminding services while key workers continued to provide front line services. It was heart-warming to watch the children form bonds with their peers. Older children often assumed caring roles, including making sure the younger pupils felt safe, involving them in games while all being in an unfamiliar situation.
While we are now back to teaching in the classroom, the effects of COVID are still evident and will be for some time to come. Children are still catching up from the gaps in their learning during lockdown. We as teachers are currently striving to fill these gaps and the children are as determined as ever to learn. If there is one thing that I have been continually reminded of during this pandemic, is that children will always have the capacity to learn, be it online or in person. While COVID has undoubtedly made my job more difficult in many ways, it has been a timely reminder of why I became a teacher in the first place. To inspire the next generation to be the best they can be, to remind them to never give up no matter how uncertain life may seem, and that teachers will always be there to not only support their learning but also their wellbeing.