Every Saturday this month we will feature some of the best articles by young people from our SOUK workshops on Political and Media Literacy. Today’s article is by Brandon Holmes, discussing teachers’ individual responses to help students during the lockdown.
It’d be easy to imagine that with smaller numbers of students in our schools, teachers are enjoying a much gentler pace of life during the lockdown. As part of this special report, I spoke to several teachers in North Yorkshire and found that they are busier than ever. Their hectic schedules are accompanied by fears and anxieties about the social wellbeing and education of their students.
Most teachers I spoke to mourned the loss of their teaching role. In particularly, missing the time spent with students and fellow colleagues. What was clear was that teachers had formed bonds with their students. The teacher’s role and occupation means more than teaching subject matter. Mr C explained that he missed, ‘The daily interaction with groups of students and the never being quite sure what will happen in your lessons’. Like Mr C, Mrs P explained, ‘I miss the conversations with all the pupils and staff, and how you all make me laugh’.
One anxiety shared by many teachers was the negative effects on pupils’ learning, as voiced by Mr C who reflected that: ‘Psychologically, there is a constant fretting about how this is going to affect my students’.
Unlike at school, there is no guarantee that students will complete the set work and as one teacher told me, there is little teachers can do if pupils choose not to work. Furthermore, teachers explained their frustration at not being able to help students when they don’t understand their work, and the accompanying worry that they may be falling behind.
There are plenty of concerns about children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The education gap is feared to widen since wealthier parents are better equipped at ensuring their child continues their studies. Wealthier families have greater resources to support education.
Further concerns during lockdown arise for children classed as ‘vulnerable’ (living in unstable homes). Teachers or other members of staff are now less able to spot the signs of child abuse and support children at risk. This was explained to the BBC by one teacher, called Mollie: ‘The ones I would ordinarily worry about, that’s magnified. I can’t make sure that, between the hours of nine and three, they’re in safe and happy environments’. Schools are open for the most vulnerable children though attendance has been low.
There is a particular concern for current Year 10 students who will sit their GCSEs next summer. One teacher said: ‘The Year 10s who are missing too much important work will suffer for it’. Even with the pending return of students, disruptions are likely to continue with possible staff shortages due to the need to self-isolate.
As for the people training to become teachers, their progress has been interrupted. For the next academic year, there will be fewer qualifying teachers than usual. It is not clear how the government intends to help train teachers to avoid these shortages.
Presently, teachers are working hard to limit educational disruption and enhance social wellbeing. They are helping students by emailing work to them and sending them work-packs. This is to ensure that in the absence of schooling, students continue to receive lessons and assignments of a similar quality. Teachers have been in regular contact via email and over the phone, assisting with work and student welfare.
Social media has been useful here. Many schools have been getting students to do fun challenges and video or photo link with teachers. These options have been invaluable in helping teachers to connect with students during lockdown, providing some much needed motivation.
Throughout the UK, teachers have demonstrated extraordinary creativity, commitment and hard work to engage pupils and spread joy. One example of this has been when Zane Powles, the assistant headteacher in Grimsby, delivered food and homework in person — giving him the chance to check on vulnerable children.
Then their are teachers such as Mr Bruff, who have taken to YouTube to offer free online lessons for younger children. Nursery teachers have taken to social media to read stories. At the school that I attend, the PE teacher has posted fitness videos on social media, and we have been entertained by teachers’ TikTok creations.
Despite the teachers’ heavy workloads, many have joined the 10 million adults who are selflessly donating their time and volunteering to help the most vulnerable (including the elderly).
Mr E told me: ‘I have been volunteering for the food charity FareShare, in Hull. I have been driving their vans from Hull to deliver surplus food to food banks, charities, community groups and schools all over the East Riding and North Lincolnshire’.
Mr E continued: ‘I have also been looking after the old people who live near me, by picking up their click and collect shopping, gardening, and doing home maintenance for them’.
Such kindness demonstrates the selflessness of people who are willing to help those in need during this difficult time.
What is obvious is that teachers have had to adapt to new routines and have risen to the challenge. It is astonishing how quickly teachers and everyone else have managed to adapt to a new kind of ‘normal’. Another thing that’s abundantly clear is that teaching is not just a job involved in providing knowledge; it is also about caring and being part of a community.