Henry Hepburn

Teachers' can-do attitude will get schools through this

The lockdown will be tough – but the vaccine and teachers' determination give us hope, says Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus and schools: Teachers' determination offers us hope in lockdown, writes Henry Hepburn

There has been an overwhelming sense of déjà vu this week: January 2021 feels an awful lot like March 2020. Once again, we’ve seen a rapidly escalating sense of crisis, drastic ramifications for those in schools and other education settings, and dawning awareness of the profound implications all this could have on pupils – and those who teach them.

When Nicola Sturgeon essentially announced Lockdown II, anyone would have been forgiven for feeling a sinking sensation. After the Herculean efforts of last spring, here we were back again where we started – or so it felt. In truth, for better and worse, the situation is in many ways quite different this time around.

On the downside: there’s still a lot to learn about the health threat posed by the new Covid variant; faith in the response to Covid from government (local, Scottish, UK – take your pick) has been stretched beyond breaking point for many; and there has been another swell in ill-informed digs at teachers and nonsensical ideas about how they should do their jobs (from people who think face-to-face teaching should keep going at all costs, even if it means bundling into draughty churches and rickety marquees).

There are positives to hang on to, however. Above all, let’s not forget that, a few short months ago, it looked like it could be well into 2021, if not beyond, before there would be a mass rollout of vaccines. Now, there is some light flickering through the tunnel. As the first minister said on Monday, locking down now is about buying time to administer vaccines before Covid gets out of control. The situation is bad – very bad – but at least we all have something in sight to aim for.

And this lockdown is starting about two and a half months earlier in the year than last time. There is more time to respond and everyone has experience under their belt. All the preparation for remote learning that was supposed to start last August – before the Scottish government U-turn just as schools were breaking up for the summer – can now be capitalised on. As one secondary teacher said to students on Twitter on Monday: “We teachers are much better equipped to offer you engaging digital learning than we were in March. We’ll make this work.”

And back in March, exams were cancelled just before the Easter holidays, little more than a month after they were due to begin – and we all know how well that panned out. There’s no guarantee a similar debacle won’t happen this time but at least – since Highers and Advanced Highers were cancelled on 8 December – schools and colleges haven’t been preparing for two parallel realities, where the usual end-of-year exams may or may not take place.

But let’s not get too Pollyanna about it all – the next few weeks are going to be hard. Remote and blended learning are tremendously difficult for all sorts of reasons.

You’ll struggle to find a teacher who would prefer to be hunched over a laptop in their kitchen instead of working with pupils in a classroom. One of the most ridiculous tropes of this entire time of Covid is the idea that teachers live it up at home, idly tuning into Teams meetings while bingeing on Quality Street and The Queen’s Gambit. Teachers desperately want to be in classrooms but they also want to return to school safely – both of those statements can be true, whatever the more unhinged critics of teachers suggest.

In any case, as another teacher said on Twitter on Monday, while awaiting details of the first minister’s announcement: “Let’s not panic … Education will go on!” Just as religion is not confined to a place of worship, he reasoned, so education is never confined to schools and other places of learning.

That’s the sort of can-do attitude that teachers and other educators have demonstrated in spades over the past 10 months or so – and it will be on display once again in the coming weeks.

Henry Hepburn is news editor of Tes Scotland

This article originally appeared in the 8 January 2021 issue under the headline “Teachers' can-do attitude will see schools through this lockdown”

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