Still teaching.

I’m surrounded by two types of teachers at the moment. Those that are still going into their schools to work and those who are working from home. But let’s make this clear, both of those groups are working. And they’re working hard.

Let’s go back a few weeks to what seems a lifetime ago. Living in NI I’m very aware of the date of the 17th March. Paddy’s Day. A day usually filled with silliness and probably a few pints. Not a bank holiday for the rest of the UK but often marked with fun activities for the children and a bit of craic at the weekend. This year was one very different to any I’ve known. I was at school at an emergency governors meeting. I was putting together strategies for my own classes and supporting Early Years leaders who were trying to risk assess their settings to keep it safe for attending children. Decisions had to be made on how we were to proceed for the rest of the week, our country was moving into lockdown.

First priority was the children. Second the teachers. Children always come first and that was clear from teachers responses. Whatever had to be done would be and sleepless nights proceeded for all of us. Since then, my usual insomnia and routine of flicking online throughout the night, has shown me that teachers across the nations are restless. They’re up reading educational posts in the early hours, putting together plans before the sun rises and worrying about how to continue to support the individual needs of pupils.

I’m speaking from my own personal experience, but everyday I not only work with my own team but learn from others across all of the education sector. The consensus I’m finding is that these professional individuals are designing a vast range of exciting and creative resources so that we can continue to engage children from the early years right up to adult education. Educators collaborating with others to enhance opportunities. Most online courses take months, if not years, to put together and yet every time I flick online I see a wealth of new ideas and resources being shared to engage classes in a love of learning and to show pupils and students that we are still there for them, no matter what.

That part is crucial. The care and responsibility that is felt towards them. Those sleepless nights are not just down to trying to work out this new style of learning but also the worries we have of the individuals we work with. Are they ok? Are they worried? Have they got everything they need? Strategies being put together on how we can connect with the community we’re very much a part of. Parents and families missed just as much as the children. It takes a village to raise a child and now we have had to look at new ways to keep our village connected.

I’ve seen the children who are still at school. Their smiles when I arrived brought me joy. Teaching assistants were leading social distancing PE style games out in the playground, a teacher was making a water butt with a couple of children and teaching them some science facts, a headteacher asked how my children were and showed me how much she cared about them, teachers were working on resources in their empty classroom to send out to pupils. A window was vastly decorated with an array of rainbows to beam out onto the road. I sat and reflected in the car before I returned home, when would I return to this car park and not feel such a vast range of emotions as I had over the last few weeks.

Reflecting as a parent, I’ve seen the love that teachers have shown to my own children and I can not tell you how glad I am of it. I’ve been able to nestle my children in a bubble and they seem to be getting on ok. There’s ups and downs of course but that’s mainly my own worries. Teachers have put together work that is personal to my child and want to share in their experiences in this time. They want to have my children back in their classroom and I’m so glad they do, as it’s those individuals who will lead to my children progressing in education successfully.

And you know what? We’re human. We have our own fears and responsibilities through all of this. We are teaching whilst worrying about our families and friends. Some of us trying to home school our children, some of us incredibly lonely without our usual interactions, some are sadly dealing with the loss of loved ones. We are learning from media on a Friday night what decisions are being made and our leaders are frantically putting together information to reassure staff and families. Schools opened over Easter break to provide care to our children. We are thinking about the next stage, how do we bring our children and staff back without the usual closeness that we are used to within our buildings.

My own classes? Well, I really miss them. I miss the debates, I miss hearing their stories, I miss the corridor chat as I wander from one room to another. Today I spoke to my year twos and we’ve planned celebrations that they all want to return to before they move to work or higher education. We have no dates for these but we won’t let their achievements and friendships pass without acknowledgment. I’m gutted for them and online can’t replace those particular aspects of college life. I’ve been the reassurance when I’ve felt I need reassurance. They know we are in this together and I’ll do all I can to give them the support they need as they go into their next phase. We all have had to use courage to continue in this new world we find ourselves in and what we’ve managed together has been pretty amazing by my standards.

I’m not a journalist. I’m reflective and observant. Yes many of us are at home, yes many of us are faced with a range of other responsibilities. I’m in awe of our NHS and Social Care Sector who are doing truly inspirational work at the moment to protect us. Teachers want to get on with our routine and be left to it but please don’t insult us with articles saying we aren’t working. We’re doing our jobs, as we’re meant to and I reckon we are doing a fine job at it too.

Twitter: @ColeFey

Facebook: Mrs C’s Early Years Education Forum NI

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