Coronavirus: 4 lessons from a self-isolating teacher

When teachers self-isolate, they need to set work that will their help colleagues, argues this self-isolating teacher


Coronavirus: How to cope as a teacher who has to self-isolate

It started Friday morning with a cough.

“That’ll be coronavirus, sir” came the immediate call from a beaming Year 10 student. So far that week everything had been due to coronavirus. I rolled my eyes. 

By the end of the day that one cough had become consistent and dry. My hands had become clammy and by the evening I ached and was shivering with a fever. Darn. 

Read more: Coronavirus: Your complete planning guide for closures

Read more: Coronavirus: 8 tips from closed international schools

Read more: Coronavirus: Heads call for clarity on exam disruption

My first thought was about school on Monday and what I was going to need to do. 

Over the weekend I felt unwell, the cough stayed, my head pounded but the temperature soon went down. 

Coronavirus: What it's like to self-isolate

Did I actually have coronavirus? Perhaps it was just a nasty sudden cold. I have certainly gone in to work feeling worse than I did then. 

But the advice was very clear: if you have symptoms, however mild, just self-isolate. 

Indeed, the news coming out on Sunday was that the police were to be granted special powers to arrest anyone out in public displaying symptoms. Like it or not, I was spending the week at home. 

Teacher guilt

This internal battle is the same for most teachers whenever we are ill. Stay home and avoid passing on whatever you have, or go in and avoid passing on the burden of your classes, your cover, your work. Whatever you do, you’ll feel the guilt. 

At the moment of writing this, Monday morning, schools are open but the advice is for anyone showing symptoms to stay home and this puts schools in a very tricky position. Day-to-day, they’ll have no idea of which staff are going to be in. Come down with a cough one evening and the teacher is out for a week. Any kind of advance planning for school leaders becomes almost impossible in these situations. 

I am not especially concerned about missing lessons with my classes at the moment. They are really well prepared and a week without me, or a few weeks if the school closes, is going to have very little lasting impact. My concern is more for my colleagues who are still working to cover any absences. 

Tips for setting cover

I am more than well enough to set cover work so this is what has been forefront of my mind.

  1. Set work that can be done anywhere. Things are clearly going to change this week. Lessons in computer rooms may end up with classes collapsed together in the hall. Pupils may not have quick access to specialist resources or to be able to just grab a textbook. 
  2. Set work that doesn’t need photocopying. To be honest, this is a good rule whatever the situation. There is nothing worse than someone sending in cover work with the instruction “could you please just run off 30 copies of X”. Doing this when the school may have a skeleton staff is just cruel. 
  3. Set work that is based on what pupils already know. Learning new things without a well prepared specialist teacher is unlikely to work well. It is why we employ well-prepared specialist teachers. I am trying to avoid setting work that involves pupils covering anything new. Instead, I’m using it as an opportunity for reflection of what they already know, practice of what they have been taught and for finding links between different topics. 
  4. Set work with feedback in mind. Feedback is a vital part of the learning process. There is no point in pupils practising something wrong over and over again. Build in instructions for them to check their own work at regular intervals, flag up where they can look for support and, if you can, give models just as you would in the classroom.

When and if schools close, possibly for months, we will need to think carefully about how we set work for pupils. It may not be possible to hold off trying to teach pupils something new in these circumstances but for a week’s self-isolation I think we need to be realistic about what we are trying to achieve. 

This article was written anonymously by a secondary school teacher and head of department


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