The world has paused. Yes, we are busy as usual: setting work, providing feedback and staffing schools. However, in the midst of all this change and turmoil, there has been time for reflection; a chance to get to know myself better.
Self-awareness in coronavirus isolation
Here’s what I’ve found:
1. I have massive brawny forearms like a blacksmith
This unfortunate discovery was made during the first Teams meetings during lockdown. Foolishly, I thought I could minimise my chin count by placing the webcam at a jaunty angle – slightly above eye level – favouring my best side. But as soon as I switched on my camera and joined the meeting, the screen was filled with my burly arms. This was a shock. I’ve been aware of the unphotogenic nature of my hands, thanks to the visualiser in my classroom (even before that, during my teenage years, my mother pointed out "You’ve got hands like your Grandma Ledger …": and before I could be fooled into thinking she was wantonly dishing out compliments, she added "… strangler’s hands". It’s harsh but true.) The sudden appearance of my hands – like a pound of best pork links – on a whiteboard screen has been enough to startle a nervous Year 7 and distract an entire class from my modelled examples. But I hadn’t realised my arms were also so meaty.
You’ll be relieved to know, I’ve worked out a better way to position the camera for meetings – it’s on a stack of books above the laptop screen and far away enough to avoid a close-up that makes me look like a female Bond villain. I’ve also learned not to lean over and adjust the camera while wearing a V-neck top. My capacious cleavage may be welcome on some websites, but probably not during a middle leaders’ meeting.
2. My attention span is minimal
I’d like to put this down to the bizarre conditions we find ourselves in, but I suspect that this has been the case for a while. In real meetings, I sit next to my friend Simon and when I lose track, I ask him what’s going on. He’s very patient about it. Now, unless I text him – and, obviously, he’s the kind of person who keeps his phone switched off in meetings, so that’s no use – I’m easily lost. Having said that, muting myself and turning off my camera so no one can hear me tutting or see me rolling my eyes is of benefit to all parties. I’m currently building a small cubicle for meetings when we return to keep my unfiltered non-verbal opinions hidden from view.
3. No one is as interested in my dogs as I’d like to think they are
My Patterdales are loving lockdown. They have the sofa all to themselves while I work at the kitchen table and as many walks a day as there are furious people who need to get out of the house before they murder each other. Ideally, I’d like to begin every Teams meeting proudly showing off the dogs (Fenrir shakes hands for a biscuit … and Tiger’s cute little tail … adorable). But, actually, nobody gives a blithers. By the same token, I’m not as interested in other people’s dogs, children or bookshelves as I thought I might be: you’ve seen one carefully arranged shelf of unopened Tolstoy biographies, you’ve seen them all. I’d mention cats, but during lockdown, cats are notable by their absence. My own cat has taken up position on the lid of the wheelie bin glaring sternly through the back door in the hope that’ll we’ll be intimidated into going back to work. I’d post a picture but I know – and completely understand – that you don’t care.
4. School dinners are the best
Wednesday, round our way, is roast dinner with all the trimmings: stuffing, veg, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. I like to sit at a table crammed with my Year 11s, tucking into a proper Cumbrian farmers’ dinner and listen to the chat about their day. Sure, I can have kale and brown rice stir fry at home – heaven knows, I’m trying – but it doesn’t come close to Alison’s chicken dinner and company of lads and lasses in my year group.
5. It really is all about the kids
There have been times on Inset or unexpected school closures when we’ve chuckled to ourselves how much we get done when the children aren’t around. But, oh my God, being away from them so long is hard. I’ve been head of my year group since the end of Year 8. They were about to finish Year 11 when we closed. I miss them. I miss assembly, I miss lessons, I miss dealing with the unspeakable things they’ve written to each other on Snapchat, I miss their clatter on the corridor, I miss the moment when they get it, I miss their daftness, I miss their kindness and I miss their wit. For 30-odd years I’ve worked with humans at their most energetic and vibrant. Being without them is like having the lights dimmed.
I really can’t wait until it’s safe to go back.
Sarah Ledger has been teaching English for 33 years. She tweets as @sezl