It’s always tricky to explain to non-teachers why teaching is so gruelling isn’t it? Even those who are sympathetic to our cause often don’t really understand what can be so exhausting about the profession. The coronavirus pandemic has done nothing to alleviate the pressures we already face daily, and it has absolutely meant that we have had to show ourselves as the highly trained and adaptable professionals we are. The mental energy required to do our job at the moment is staggering.
Nothing up to this point has shown morale in the teaching profession to be quite so fragile as it is now. Increased cover for absent colleagues (through no fault of their own) means even less time to prepare and mark and, actually, less time to help deal with the fragility of the student body, too.
There has clearly been an impact on attendance and student mental health. Imagine: we see it as good practice to give students an overview, the bigger picture, every time we start a new topic and until a couple of days ago we couldn’t even tell them if they’d be examined at the end of the year. It makes us feel like we are lacking: why would our students understand that we are often just as confused and troubled as they are at the moment?
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Not only that, but students look to the adults in their lives for the answers; they want to make sense of the world around them and we help them do that as classroom teachers. They just don’t understand how they can sit next to their pal in class but they can’t hang out with him after school; why they can take their masks off in the classroom but not in the corridors; why the adults are all so stressed about it when "no one’s really dying anymore".
Actually, a lot of their arguments show sound reasoning on the surface. It’s up to us to set the tone and send the message that we need to play by the rules, even if we don’t fully understand them. But, this appears to be a difficult concept for the world at large to grasp, so it’s little wonder that teens are struggling to accept it.
I wonder if anybody understands the responsibility we feel when answering these queries to say the right thing, to give balance and yet to give the students a chance to explore their ideas and thinking too – oh, and to teach the curriculum, of course. There are the mask battles, the incredible (yet necessary) amount of cleaning we are expected to do (and ensure the students do) while still keeping the high standards of non-Covid times.
It’s not easy to manage behaviour when many of the strategies you used to use are out of the window. I feel trapped at the front of my class and my mask hides expressions used to comfort, cajole and reprimand. It’s not the Google Classroom that has me frustrated, it’s the lack of range in activities we can use now in school, and I know colleagues feel that stress too.
We haven’t "gone back" to school as we know it. We’ve jumped head first into a situation that’s similar but just that bit more difficult, for us and the students. And from what I’ve seen, we’re doing incredibly well but being incredibly hard on ourselves. I’m lucky to work in a place where there is a sense of camaraderie and we look out for one another. I hate to think about my colleagues who don’t have that support.
Sam Tassiker is a secondary teacher in Scotland