Teaching during Covid is like an SAS endurance test

We're running a race in full kit with no end in sight – but our comrades' support will see us through, says Sadie Hollins
15th January 2021, 11:08am
Sadie Hollins

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Teaching during Covid is like an SAS endurance test

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/teaching-during-covid-sas-endurance-test
Teacher Wellbeing: Being A Teacher In The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Like An Sas Endurance Test, Says Sadie Hollins

In the TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins some of the most brutal physically and psychologically challenging exercises involve a run or hike carrying weighted packs, with the recruits having no idea how long they have to run for.

Normally, when we undertake a fitness challenge or exercise class, we tend to break up the task in our minds so that we know how much we've done, and how much we have left to do.

This helps us to divide the task into manageable chunks and pace ourselves, both physically and mentally. But when you take that option away, even the fittest can struggle, no matter how good their endurance is.

Coronavirus: A gruelling challenge with no clear end 

We don't currently know for sure how long the pandemic is going to last, or how many "waves" there might be before we can start to return to some form of normality or freedom.

I felt I started the first lockdown quite positively. I had a routine in my day, and made it work as best as I could. It very much felt like that buzz you get at the start of a race or a new challenge.

You've slept and eaten well beforehand, you've got all the gear, you're hydrated and have a solid race plan - so when you set off you aren't thinking too much about the pain that will come a little later on...

Uncertainty for teachers

Many teachers in different countries have experienced ongoing uncertainty for coming up to a year now, and we continue to understand that this is simply something that is completely out of our control.

We plan to start teaching in person, and then a week later, just as term is about to begin, we find out that we are going online for two weeks…. two weeks pass and things aren't any better so maybe this gets extended a little further, maybe another two to four weeks before it will be reviewed.

Before you know it, the whole term has been online, or you've had to pivot and offer hybrid learning along the way, and then maybe even returned to online teaching again.

The race has consistently been made a little longer, and then even longer still.

Change in routes 

The course you thought you were running has been changed; there are more hills on the new one, and you've been given a heavy rucksack to carry… they also failed to tell you that at different checkpoints they plan to keep adding more weight to it, just for good measure.

The positivity you felt at the beginning has started to wane a little, and with the knowledge that all of these race factors have been changed with little or no notice, you're not sure how fast you should run and how positive you can be.

You lose the ability to pace yourself. The refuelling stations along the way seem to keep moving further apart.


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Pace yourself

In times like these, we all need a pace-keeper - actually we need a team of pace-keepers. We need to find people who will push us uphill when we're starting to fade.

We need to find people who will take our backpacks for a while whilst we catch our breath.

We need to find people who will stop and walk with us for a moment, or simply listen and commiserate about how awful this damn race is.

You don't need to be the fastest or the strongest to be a good pace-keeper, you just need the desire to cross the finish line, and the determination to help others you started with do the same.

Pulling together

Indeed, in the TV show mentioned above, the recruits who fare best are often the ones who look outwards and find ways beyond themselves to dig deep when they need to. The ones who feel both a sense of belonging to, and responsibility for, their team members.

It's the communities that we are a part of - the people who matter to us and who we matter to - that will help to get all of us, teachers and students, through the pandemic.

If we can keep a positive mindset, we can go at whatever pace we need to in order to get through to the finish line.

Sadie Hollins is head of sixth form at a British-curriculum school in Thailand, and has been teaching internationally for two years.

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