No one will forget 2020 in a hurry, that’s for sure. All of us, we adapted, we changed our approach to daily life. Then (finally) came a vaccine and the end was in sight – until the past few days happened...
But, as teachers, let’s not be too hasty to condemn 2020 to the annals of history just yet. Instead, let’s see what we might have gained from the past year.
During March, we had to start working from home. Across the world, an army of teachers took to Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom and Zoom in an attempt to provide a learning experience that would substitute for the standard classroom environment. It wasn’t easy – and it wasn’t a level playing field either. Despite what society might think, not all teachers are tech whizzes. Yes, we can answer emails, create PowerPoints and knock together booklets on Microsoft Word, but this new reality required an entirely different level of technical wizardry.
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Yet, it happened. As long as internet access was not an issue, young people continued to learn through the medium of digital technology, attending live-streamed classes, watching pre-recorded lessons and accessing materials posted electronically by their teachers. This sharpened teachers’ IT skills, something I have personally heard being discussed with real enthusiasm and excitement by staff since returning to school earlier this year.
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Equally positive are the ways in which online learning has made it easier for teachers to more effectively engage with parents and carers. For some of us in teaching, it feels as if a barrier has been removed: the gap between home and school now feels like much less of a distance. Yet, all of this was (and is) dependent upon a young person and their family having access to the internet. Without it, they were effectively excluded. This is something that teachers continue to be incredibly concerned about.
Post-lockdown, what about when schools reopened fully to all pupils during August? It was a contentious decision, to say the least. But we returned, both excited and nervous: excited to see pupils return to our classrooms, for normal learning to resume and for the face-to-face contact we had missed so much when teaching in front of computer screens; yet nervous about everyone’s safety – how could it be that the virus would not spread in a school environment? The reality of school during Covid continues to be frightening, both for secondary teachers faced with the logistics of students moving every 50 minutes along crowded corridors, and for primary teachers dealing with the difficulties of social distancing and class "bubble groups".
So, what, as teachers, should we take from 2020? If nothing else, this year has confirmed that we are members of an adaptable profession which, despite the challenges of Covid and the criticism we often face, managed to endure.
Teachers should stand tall as they move towards the end of the year (provided they have the energy left to do so) and reflect upon the difference they have made to the lives of so many young people this year. I am thankful to every teacher, in every school, in every country. We made it to the end of 2020 – and we should re-emerge in 2021 stronger than ever.
Paul Hamilton is a teacher of history and legal studies at Clydebank High, in West Dunbartonshire, and a university associate tutor. He is based in Glasgow and tweets @_PaulHamilton