“This is not what I signed up for” – extract from a text message to my husband earlier this week.
Our jobs, as teachers, has changed beyond all recognition in the last few weeks. We’re used to wearing many hats – teacher, first aider, social worker, mediator, counsellor etc. but the current way we are working is completely alien to us. Ask a roomful of teachers what teaching is about, and I guarantee ‘relationships’ will be the resounding answer. Keeping those relationships going during lockdown and remote learning is tricky.
Trickier still, are the practicalities of remote learning, with many primary schools running a rota with some teachers at home delivering online learning and other staff in school to oversee the online learning for keyworker and vulnerable children. Many schools and households are finding that their internet service cannot cope with the additional demand. Teachers are complaining of sore backs and eyes from being hunched over computers all day every day. And what if you share a house with others who are working from home? There is a finite amount of space in each home and not everyone has an office or study; in fact I would be labelled as ‘vulnerable’ if I followed the DfE’s guidance, as I don’t have a quiet place to work.
The absolute chaos caused by the return to school in January only to be told later that day that schools would in fact be closed (to non-keyworker or vulnerable children) with immediate effect, was a less than desirable start to a term. A term which for school leaders had already started shortly after Christmas, having only come up track and trace duty on Christmas Eve.
Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, further upset the profession by announcing just two days later, that parents who felt suitable remote education was not being provided should complain to Ofsted – a statement which allegedly Ofsted had no prior knowledge of. A staggering 5,000 emails of support for schools and complaints about the performance of the DfE were received by Ofsted within just 48 hours.
Recent surveys have found that almost half of parents feel that primary schools are expecting more work than in the first lockdown and feel far more stressed about home learning this time round. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why schools might be expecting more.
In an attempt to clarify expectations, Ofsted announced that is was an ‘unhelpful myth’ that live lessons were the best way to deliver remote learning. Just days later, Gavin Williamson undermined this stating that we should encourage as much live teaching as possible as it was ‘the best’ way of delivering lessons.
Live lessons of course are only viable if every child has a device and internet access at the time the lessons go out – something pretty tricky in large families and in disadvantaged areas where cost implications often rule this impossible.
In some schools where live lessons do happen, SLT have already started doing drop-ins, something Ofsted have recently announced they will also be doing during their virtual inspections. One might be forgiven for thinking that this additional pressure is unhelpful and unwarranted during this extremely challenging time.
Primary teacher, Sophie Bartlett, asks a pertinent question, “If teaching regularly involved having each child’s parent standing in the classroom watching, I wonder how many people would want to do the job?” – essentially describing the current everyday situation for many teachers delivering live or recorded lessons.
For many teachers, however, the bridge too far has been the sudden bombardment of apps and programs used for online learning. I am one of those teachers – a digital immigrant as opposed to a digital native (terms coined by Marc Prensky back in 2001, and now in the Oxford English Dictionary).
As a digital immigrant, I have been slowly feeling my way along the ever-expanding technology highway, and when I say slowly, I mean it having only got my first smart phone in 2016!
However, I’m not a technophobe, but I will admit to being completely stunned by 3-D printing – possibly more by the way in which it was just casually accepted with barely a murmur. Come on, it’s straight out of sci-fi!
In the last 12 months, I have started using several apps and websites I’d never heard a year ago, for example Zoom suddenly became the word on everyone’s lips in the first lockdown.
It seems I am not alone. In a recent Twitter poll, 65% of teachers said they had never had training in the apps/programs they are currently using for online teaching. Yet, despite this, only 36% claimed they did not feel confident. Are they my digital immigrant counterparts? How can we be supported?
To be honest, it’s not even just understanding how to use the apps that’s the biggest problem in many instances; it is little things like having to sign in again with one of numerous passwords because I’ve moved to the living room and am using my small laptop on my lap. Little things, but it’s often the little things mounting up that breaks you.
The constant notifications on numerous devices from different channels:
- social media
It’s widely recognised that this hyper communication can cause tremendous stress and for many FOMO means that every time that ping goes off, they have to look. The lines between home and work are often been blurred for teachers, but now many are working from home there are no lines, no parameters or end to the working day.
This is not what we signed up for. None of it. Yet, we have risen to the challenge (with less than 24 hours to prepare) like only teachers could. No, it isn’t perfect. Yes, there will be tweaks – hopefully building in some screen free time for staff as well as pupils.
The way the teaching profession has risen above the numerous obstacles, navigated the U-turns and kept the children at the heart of everything, has been breath taking and I am proud to be a small part of it.
However, I worry about the future. I have already seen a far higher number of head teacher posts advertised in my area and have heard from colleagues around the country that it is true in their area too. Teacher retention prior to the pandemic was a cause for concern. Are special measures now required to keep teachers and school leaders in the profession?