SecondaryHealth & Wellbeing

Life in lockdown – Teachers’ stories from the COVID-19 frontline

Anxiety, boredom, frustration – what mixed emotions have teachers been feeling amid these strange times? Anna Blewett shares some professional perspectives…

Anna Blewett
by Anna Blewett
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SecondaryHealth & Wellbeing

There’s a good chance that you’ll be reading this with half an eye on the latest breaking news, not far from a phone that’s buzzing with memes from bored relatives and a growing list of unread emails from overzealous parents.

In just a matter of weeks, the ‘new normal’ has given our professional lives an almighty shake-up – who among us thought we’d soon be attending departmental meetings while wearing slippers? – so we wanted to find out how you’re faring. Here are the lockdown perspectives that some TS readers shared with us…

‘Nothing’s ever finished’

Personally, I’ve been quite enjoying the whole experience. I like finding new and better ways of working anyway, because otherwise things get really bloody boring very quickly. What’s difficult is the constant trickling-in of things to deal with. Nothing’s ever finished; there are lots of administrative queries and lots of emails, with lots of chasing up needed. There’s never a bottom of the pile.

I’m entirely based at home, but as head of department I have an awful lot to do setting work for Y7 to Y10. I’m working at least the hours I would be at school, plus homeschooling three children, but my life’s easier than it was at the start of this, and I’m certainly not miserable. I’d find the whole lockdown situation much more difficult if I didn’t have a purpose. I like to throw myself into my work.

Madeleine Thompson – head of maths at a grammar school in Kent

‘I enjoy the extra flexibility’

Routine is one of the things that keeps us plodding along quite comfortably, so a sudden break really throws you off. This experience has pared down the teaching job to one of academic scrutiny. There are pros and cons with that; I really do enjoy the extra flexibility we’ve had, because it means I can give varying degrees of attention according to what’s required.

I was feeling upset for my form group – all their pastoral support had vanished – but we do a virtual form catch-up every morning via instant messaging, so that we can check in with each other. Some of the students really need that to start the day.

Alex Williams – English teacher in London and president of the Humanist Teachers Network

‘There’s only so much you can do via Zoom’

I’m finding it challenging to plan a curriculum without physically being able to work with my colleagues and exchange ideas. There’s only so much you can do via Zoom. However, one benefit of all this is the time we’ve gained to improve subject knowledge and plan high quality resources for when we go back to school.

My school has a one week on, two weeks off rota for staff to come in and look after those students who are in school. Very few members of staff have been called in – I personally haven’t yet, as I’ve been self-isolating. Overall, I don’t feel that my workload has been significantly added to.

Zameer Hussain, head of RE in East London

‘Transition is a headache’

Safeguarding the kids is always a priority, and with around 140 vulnerable students on our list, the picture for us is perhaps more complex than in other schools. Before the crisis we were in Ofsted mode and the pressure was on, but as soon as that went away, we were able to focus on prioritising the children.

Transition is a headache – how we get Y6s to a point when they’re ready to come in – but as far as the rest of the school is concerned, I’m really hoping that the kids return with a new appreciation for education. At first, if you monitored social media in this area, you’d often see comments along the lines of ‘Well, they can’t make us work any more‘ – as if education was something being done to them, and not for their benefit. It’s only when it gets taken away that everyone realises just what a good thing education actually is.

Simon Garnham, senior leadership at a coastal academy in Essex

‘If I was full-time I’d be having a nervous breakdown’

I feel lucky to work in a state school; friends in private schools are having to be present via video link for every single lesson of the day. That just wouldn’t be possible for me because I’m looking after my one-year-old and four-year-old kids. I’m with them from six in the morning until seven at night, seven days a week, and then do school work in the evenings. It’s really full-on, but I’m lucky that I’m part-time. If I was full-time I’d be having a nervous breakdown right now.

If I didn’t have such young kids I’d probably be doing a lot more – finding more resources – but I can’t magic away my kids. It’s a relief that the whole nation is in this together; it means I don’t worry that I’m doing a bad job, but instead know I’m just surviving a really difficult situation.

Modern languages teacher based in Suffolk

‘Things need to go back to normal’

At the moment I’m enjoying the break. I’m catching up on lots of jobs around the house and spending proper time with my own children, rather than rushed weekends where I have to do all the washing, cooking, cleaning and marking before Monday morning.

I’m a single parent with no help at all, so for me this situation is much more manageable than normal life. But I know from my own teenager that things need to go back to normal as soon as possible, for the mental health of the children.

Science teacher based in South Wales

‘I asked for a sabbatical – be careful what you wish for’

I normally hate Sundays – I’m always thinking of what Monday will bring – but now find myself having a glass of wine, feeling relaxed. The autumn term is always a struggle, but this year I’ve found spring term just as tough. I said to my line manager, ‘I’m absolutely worn down, getting into school at half seven and finishing at half six. I just wish I could have a sabbatical.’ I thought it’d never happen. Be careful what you wish for, hey?

I’d like to get back into school before the summer holidays, and hope that someone higher up than me is thinking of a plan to get the current Year 10s motivated for next year. I know that some of them are sitting at home doing no work; how on earth are we going to address that?

Science teacher and head of Y10 at an upper school in Bedfordshire

“A reset button’s been pressed”

It’s interesting to see how quickly things have changed. What’s been a bit galling is how some colleagues have said ‘I’m really sorry, I’m completely out of circulation – I can’t do anything at all.’ Phoning around their tutor groups, for example. There’s been some not very helpful behaviour from some, but a great deal of goodwill from others – staff driving resources out to students without internet access and so on.

My own workload has dropped considerably, and colleagues in the department have said how wonderful it is not rushing around. My head of year emailed me, saying ‘I can’t remember a time when my thoughts were this clear.’ Our headteacher was previously quite seriously ill with stress; suddenly he’s like a different person. I feel like a reset button’s been pressed that takes the hurry out of everything. So in some ways, it’s actually been lovely.

Business studies teacher from a secondary in Wiltshire

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