On Monday afternoon, I huddled around my interactive whiteboard with two of my colleagues listening to our Prime Minister and his instructions about what on earth we are going to do now the whole world is facing a pandemic. 14 days of isolation if anyone in our household gets symptoms. The idea of social distancing and becoming more and more isolated from each other. I received texts that night from friends, basically saying, ‘see you later’ and ‘make sure you’ve got plenty in.’
It felt kind of distant from me. I saw it on the news of course and read about it in the media, but it wasn’t impacting me at that point. China, Italy, Spain, France. They’re all so far away from my door step. Maybe I just didn’t understand the severity of it. Or maybe I just didn’t want to. I look back to two days ago and remember thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got a job to do and that’s it really.’ I’ve done that but today it’s changed. If only doing my job was that simple.
We are living in incredibly difficult and strange times, there’s no doubt about it. The media is full of chat about the big C. Social media is full of it too. This is bordering on too much. It’s creating anxiety for everyone, especially when we consider the more vulnerable amongst us.
Two days later, we have an announcement that schools will be closing. For me, it’s about the students in front of me. They’ve worked so hard. We’ve changed their mindset, gave them hope and resilience. This is all very much a work in progress still. They are young people after all. But, today standing in front of my classes showed me that the young people are confused and scared. I’m just as worried and I don’t have any answers to make it better. I feel just as lost as they do. I keep saying, “It’s business as usual kids! Let’s do this!”
My team and I are still teaching normal English lessons. We have a curriculum to deliver, a curriculum I’m passionate about and have spent three years creating. Year 7 and 8 are reading non fiction, Year 9 are looking at a modern novel, Year 10 analysing unseen poetry and Year 11 focusing on preparing for their GCSE exams. I think now about the things we should be covering in the next few weeks, the incredible books we’d be reading and the writing styles we’d be experimenting with.
I’ve had emails from worried Year 11s who are self isolating desperate for work. How do I reply now? What on earth can I say to them? The announcement today means their Year 11 experience and their school days essentially end on Friday. There’s more questions than answers. The need to protect them, lioness like, stirs deep within me. I could cry.
Currently the emails are left unanswered because I just don’t know what to say. I have a class of Year 11 tomorrow. Who knows if they’ll have any motivation left to turn up. How do I know that I won’t just burst into tears when I see them? How can I safeguard their futures? More importantly, for those most vulnerable students, how do I know that they’ll be ok now, without the safety of our four walls around them? Questions. No answers.
Despite this turmoil, I’m really overwhelmed by people at the moment. The kindness in supporting the older generation at supermarkets. The camaraderie on the streets. Doing everything we can to help our colleagues in the NHS who are working tireless to keep people healthy and safe. We really are pulling together to support each other. I truly believe we show our best in times of great need. I knew this day would come where we would have to close. I just didn’t quite realise or process everything that meant. Teaching is my whole life. My students are everything.
Amongst this utter chaos and desperation, I’ll be on the ground tomorrow with my fellow colleagues, reassuring the students in my care. Despite the clichèd rollercoaster of emotions I feel, we have to be calm. Our young people are worried about their education, their families and their own health and well-being. It’s our job to reassure them. Likewise for my team who will be worried about their own families and friends.
To the rest of the world, stay safe. Talk to each other. Send messages. Read something you’ve always wanted to read. Visit open spaces and breathe in the spring air. Have we even noticed it’s getting lighter? Check in on those vulnerable people around you. Take up a new hobby. Do the jobs at home that we’ve been sat on for about three months. Regardless, we are all in this together. This. Will. Pass.