I'm angry, I'm frightened – but I'm going in to teach

As teachers, we know the value of keeping schools open – but it doesn't stop us from being scared, says Sarah Ledger

Sarah Ledger

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I’m angry. I’m not sure who exactly I’m angry with. 

That’s no good. Unfocused anger is dangerous; like firing a pistol in a small room – the bullet ricochets off the walls until it finds flesh to embed itself in. Without focus, the only person my anger is hurting is me.

There are candidates…obviously. A prime minister who turns up two and a half hours late to explain to us what we all dread, through the medium of incomprehensible PowerPoint slides we wouldn’t accept from an A-level student. A national leadership who appear not to have seen this coming, when – blimey – even Morrisons was ahead of the game with a 10 per cent discount to school staff because it knew and we knew that schools would be open while the rest of the world stayed shut. The people who’ve been gathering illegally, unmasked, undistanced, hands unwashed, telling us we’re all stupid to be afraid. A tiny virus that’s cheerfully doing what viruses do best: spreading, multiplying and mutating.

Most of all, I’m angry because I’m torn. All my life I’ve worked in education. There have been times – and we’ve all been here – when, to the detriment of my own and my family’s wellbeing, education and the children I educate have come first. So, of course, I agree that children should be in school. 

Coronavirus: Keeping schools open

In school, children are safe, accounted for and, above all, learning. Much as the idea of online teaching appeals, we all know that the kids who need it most are the ones who miss out. Attempts to close those gaps have been hampered by broken promises about laptops and a grave lack of understanding about what it is to a be a child and to be poor in 21st-century England

Those of us who’ve spent the half-term marking Year 11 assessments know how much work there is to be done. We’re either preparing them for summer exams when some of the course has been taught online and therefore – even with the best will in the world – unevenly. Or – in the event of disruption to external exams – we’re building an evidence base for a cohort who’ve had limited opportunities to complete work under controlled conditions during key stage 4. Time for them is running out. Imagine the disaster of losing daily face-to-masked-face teaching?

But I’m scared. I responded angrily to an encouraging tweet – from someone who does not work in a school – extolling the advantage of schools remaining open as the job they do is of “immeasurable benefit”. Yeah, mate – we know. But it doesn’t stop us being frightened.

The infection rate among teenagers and young adults is growing. There is evidence that younger children might not suffer from the effects of the virus but that they do spread it. And school staff are right in the middle of this.

The virus is creeping closer

What Johnson’s government needs is the advice of a resourceful school leadership team, who can adapt and implement before lunchtime, and review and reform by the following day. 

Like headteachers and SLT around the country, my leadership team has been amazing – creating a new environment and culture to meet the safety demands. We have "bubble groups", face coverings, sanitiser and clear procedures about keeping safe.

But the virus is creeping closer: it’s no longer affecting friends of friends or in-laws of in-laws, but those we work with and socialise with closely. The spread across communities is clear to see.

Really, there is no dilemma. Like all of us, I’ll be back at work this week. Teachers, on the whole, do as we are told.  

I’ve gathered all my work-wear face coverings from the bottom of my school bag, from the glove compartment, from the dog basket – face masks are her new favourites, after socks and bras – and they’ve been through a rigorous boil wash. I’ve stocked up on hand sanitiser, and I’ll put on a brave face. 

And yes, I’m scared; I’m angry and there has to be a better way, but – and I’m not quite going to say it’s all worth it to see the smiles on their little faces – we work with children because…we believe that working with children matters. That, perhaps, is what will get us through this. 

Sarah Ledger is an English teacher and director of learning for Year 11 at William Howard School in Brampton, Cumbria. She has been teaching for 34 years

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