What do I miss most this term? My colleagues

No one but our colleagues can understand what it's like working in education right now – and they're out of bounds, says Sarah Mullin
12th November 2020, 1:20pm


What do I miss most this term? My colleagues

Two Wooden Figures, Enclosed By Separate Bubbles, Try To Touch On Another

School staff entered yet another challenging half term last week. Worries and anxieties continued, as the number of Covid-19 cases continued to rise. 

And, as Friday afternoon drew to a close, there were no whoops of joy as staff enjoyed a get-together down at the local pub. There was no adrenaline rush, as staff headed off for a friendly game of five-a-side. And there were no sighs of relief, as school staff popped over to their teacher mates' houses for a much-needed coffee and catch-up. 

While school staff are committed to educating the nation's children during these challenging times, the truth is that we really miss being able to offload, unwind and relax with our edu-buddies in the ways we used to do.

Coronavirus: Losing the best resource we have in education

Without a doubt, the best resource we have in education is the skill and experience of one another. Teachers and school leaders could not carry out our duties effectively without the support of our brilliant teaching assistants, administration staff, caretakers, cleaners and cooks. 

Whether we are observing good practice, sharing resources and tips, or reaching out to our teacher friends for advice and support, educators need social interaction with their colleagues. 

Covid has changed the educational landscape significantly. We may be in the same buildings, we may be attending the same virtual conferences, and we may be communicating with our teacher friends over social media. But, while we know we need to stay apart so that we can stay safe, we really miss spending time with our colleagues in person. 

With increased duties, and teachers covering lessons for absent colleagues, days - and even weeks - can pass without staff seeing one another in person. And, when we do see each other, at a safe two-metre distance, there's no handshake, no human touch. Even those genuine, beaming smiles are hidden behind our face masks

Those little interactions that used to make us smile

Teachers can no longer enjoy a cuppa and cake together in the staffroom as we proudly chat about a lesson that has gone well, or take comfort in offloading about that last-minute cover lesson that really did not go to plan. 

We've lost those little interactions each day that put a little smile on our faces - whether that's a coffee and a chat in the kitchen before school, or a warm, comforting hug with a colleague going through a difficult time at home.

We can no longer have a birthday meal together at a favourite restaurant, and there's no sounding off about the stresses of school life over a glass of Pinot Grigio. 

With the country now navigating a second national lockdown, staff Christmas parties are looking increasingly unlikely. So there'll be no chats about picking party outfits, no conversations about which options to select from the festive dinner menu and no uncomfortable discussions about who might be the designated driver. 

And there's no more jumping on the train to attend an edu-event at the weekend, where colleagues can have a good giggle while learning about the latest pedagogical approaches. 

Oh, how I miss the squeals of excitement and big bear hugs at the start of a Saturday-morning session. What I would not give for the opportunity to take more selfies with my social-media buddies, chat with my edu-heroes and head home feeling utterly energised by the new connections and opportunities made?

The need for human contact

Teachers and education staff are humans. And, as humans, we know that having a strong support network is conducive to positive physical and emotional health

That said, we're also incredibly creative and resourceful. We've managed to find a whole host of innovate ways to reach out and support one another during these worrying times. 

There have been virtual get-togethers via Zoom, online book-launch parties, edu-bake-off challenges, support groups taking place remotely. And teachers have even shared quizzes, challenges and TikTok dances to spread a little joy and positivity with their fellow educators. 

But nothing can quite replace those in-person interactions that promote that strong teacher collegiality that is an essential part of school effectiveness and teacher enhancement.

Teachers cannot operate in isolation

Times are tough for all those working in education right now. We are experiencing unjustified and unfair public criticism, when we all know that education staff are doing the best they can during exceptionally challenging circumstances. 

Not even friends and families can fully understand what it is like to be working in education right now. And so, when teachers return home after a long, tiring day at work to see so much teacher-bashing online, it only adds to increasingly soaring stress levels. 

With many teachers reporting high levels of anxiety and early signs of burnout, we really do miss those in-person teacher interactions we need for support, guidance, wisdom and friendship. 

Teachers cannot operate in isolation. Collaboration and connection not only help us to grow and develop as professionals, but they help us to survive and to thrive in the jobs we love doing. 

And, as much as we love to talk to our teacher friends in a WhatsApp group chat, or to see our colleagues online in a Zoom breakout room, we just cannot wait until the world is a little safer - until we can put the Prosecco on ice, ready for a real-life get together once more.

Sarah Mullin is a deputy headteacher and doctor of education student. Her book, What They Didn't Teach Me on My PGCE, is a bestseller on Amazon. She tweets as @MrsSarahMullin

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