Life lessons – a day in the life of a teacher during a global pandemic

At Hopscotch, our thoughts are very much with all schools at this uncertain time and we are keen to support educators in light of the nationwide school closures. Each week we'll be posting a blog, direct from a teacher on the front line, about their experience and challenges they're facing. Below is the fifth in the series written by Paul Bateson, a primary and secondary school teacher in West Yorkshire.

The traffic on my usual commute is non-existent, meaning I make it to work in half the time. In the traffic-light queues made up of just me and a few white vans, we cast glances sideways to each other, both thinking ‘Are you an essential’? The primary school car park - usually packed full of people and the entrance normally a scene of drop-offs and kisses on foreheads - is empty.

As the battle to beat COVID-19 continues, and social distancing becomes the norm, most people are adapting to their new way of life. Whilst many people are working from home or furloughed, key workers continue to be needed to serve our health service, food production and postal provision. These children, for whom the school gates are still open, are of course joined by the many teachers who are still teaching on the frontline.

For the past month or so, I’ve been working in both my primary and secondary schools, delivering the curriculum through a dramatic pedagogy to the children. It has been strange, a little worrying, quite challenging, but overall, very uplifting.

Today there are twelve students, five from EYFS & KS1 and seven from KS2, out of a school population of 400. Me and another teacher split the day between us. There are six staff, including teachers and office staff, caretaker and cleaners. Colleagues keep tight to the sides of the corridors as we pass and children look worried in the hall, wondering which of their friends will turn up. As teachers, it is our job to be super positive - these are very little people with very big worries, and it is our job to support them.

First lesson of the day: Joe Wicks.

A lot of schools are turning to his daily PE videos to fill a gap, and it goes down well with staff and students alike as the movement energises us to start the day. With young people all over the country engaging very sporadically with online work out of school, the situation is very much the same in school. We’ve found that the children are wary of ‘normal’ lessons during this abnormal time – so instead we plan days of fun activities, with curriculum elements sprinkled in.

There is even a school dog (our receptionist had to bring him in!) who raises spirits no end.

This morning, I’m teaching early years. One child is so small; he can’t reach the door handle. The assistant head whispers, ‘He’s three’ and I immediately change the lesson in my head to accommodate him. I show them a picture of a beautiful park, ask them if they have heard of Percy the park keeper, and to ‘tell me something’ about the park. And suddenly, without them realising, we have started our adjective, noun and verb learning.  We draw the park and the paths, we choose what animals live there, we colour the flowers and fix the signs for the visitors because Percy is over 70, at home, and can’t come out to fix them himself. By the end of the hour we have covered literacy, numeracy, science, geography, art and community. We are looking after each other.

In the afternoon, it’s poetry with eleven-year olds.

I share wonderful poetry examples that I found on Twitter and we start to make sense of the strange times through our own words. Once the pupils have written some sentences, I tell them it’s a poem. They smile. We then do some work on poetic devices, line breaks and similes, alliteration and assonance. The work is beautiful and hopeful - as only children can write. It feels cathartic, as we continue to work together to express how we feel.

As the days and weeks go on, the worries seem to lessen. Washing hands is the norm and no one really talks about the C-word anymore. Teachers and students are focused on working hard and being kind and careful – which is how school should be all the time.

One thing I’ve learnt from these young people is that schools are more essential than ever and that, post-corona, schools need to change. The things that have brought us together during this pandemic – community, kindness, creativity, arts and action – must be woven into our curriculum always, not just in times of crisis.

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