On 22 February we heard, at long last, what the government’s roadmap for exiting lockdown would look like. It’s nearly a year since I was obsessively refreshing the BBC News site waiting to be told that schools were closing. We left the college on 20 March 2020 and didn’t return until the end of August.
Since January, I have been into work every Thursday and working from home the rest of the time. At the moment, the office feels eerily like the final week of summer term – very few students about, teachers holed up in staff rooms trying to get admin done. Last week they cleared out one of the vending machines of crisps, chocolate and drinks that were approaching their sell-by date – usually a treat reserved for the first week in July.
I am very keen to see the students again, but it’s still not the same. They come in with face coverings, they don’t linger in one place and they tend not to stay on college premises once their lessons are over.
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This is such a far cry from what the office is usually like – gangs of students deciding to come and see me because they’re at a loose end, hovering around the snack table like seagulls and casting their eyes over my desk looking for a pen or some Post-it notes they can scrounge. Students used to come in just for a chat and a sit down, but now they stand at my desk behind the perspex screen, state their business and are gone. I never thought I would say it, but I miss eating my lunch over the space of three hours because students keep coming in to see me.
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When classes commence again, we will be running Covid testing centres at all of our sites, and some students are being recruited to work there at £10 an hour, which is going down very well. They can then apply to get the vaccine as a frontline NHS worker, so it’s likely a number of students will be vaccinated before their teachers are. I have just entered my forties, so I've got some way to go before I’m called up for the jab. I’m tempted to put a shift in at the testing centre on a Saturday to bump myself up the list.
I will not be doing my normal group sessions. I have decided it’s a better plan to do intensive one-to-ones and see the students in their other classes, where I’ll be doing some team teaching with those who are either catching up on work missed over lockdown or needing a bit of stretch and challenge. I usually have a progression curriculum at this time, but I am finding a lot of students are unsure about the next step. University applicants are gearing up to applying for accommodation and the news reports of students being locked in their halls of residence to contain the virus don’t seem to have dissuaded them. Probably because they don’t watch the news.
Overall, I am excited to get back into a routine. My "home office" can go back to being a dining room that I don’t use for dining. I am tempted to delete WhatsApp for a while and force colleagues to keep their work interactions to a time when I’m actually being paid for it. I might keep the routine of going for a walk during lunch, and it will be nice to know definitively whether a student is asleep in my lesson or not. I will miss the occasional interruption by a cat or dog in a meeting, and being able to turn off my camera and have a quiet breakdown in the middle of a training session.
Bring on Easter term – may it be extremely uneventful.
Kirsty Walker teaches at a college in the North West of England