Am I selfish not wanting to spend Christmas isolating?

A Covid case in school in the last week of term will throw everyone's Christmas plans up in the air, says Louise Lewis

Louise Lewis

Coronavirus and schools: Is it selfish for teachers to worry about having to self-isolate over Christmas, asks Louise Lewis

Welcome to the twilight hour. Here face masks are commonplace, remaining distanced from others is second nature (well, for most people) and Christmas has suddenly become a contentious issue

In the latest announcement from Number 10, we have been informed that changes to social restrictions over Christmas do not require any children to be taken out of school prematurely. Therefore, most will remain open until five days before Christmas. 

But are social restrictions really enough? Not according to official Office for National Statistics figures, they’re not.

There has been endless conversation around the opening and closing of schools: sometimes it can feel like we are trapped in a permanent revolving door of conversation. 

Coronavirus: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Throughout the pandemic, schools, teachers and support staff alike have done their utmost to provide care and education for children. As a profession, we are on our knees. And so are our students.

So, let me play the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and take you on a guided tour of that last week of term. 

It’s bitterly cold. The windows are open, and so, too, are the doors. Your head is pounding, you are on your second bout of laryngitis since September, and one child is sobbing because they are just so tired. 

You hear the sniffles, the delicate groan of a winter illness and then the murmuring of a distant cough. Once. Twice. Right, I’m worried now.

“Are you feeling OK?” 

“It’s just hot, isn’t it, Miss?”

No. No, it isn’t. So, with all the calm that can be mustered: “Let’s pop to the first-aid room.”

And this is where it snowballs. A child sent home, a test booked, an anxious wait, and then it comes. The email none of us wants to receive: “We have a positive case.”

School staff in quarantine

The ramifications are obvious. Every child is sent home to isolate for 14 days, which stretch far beyond 25 December. Their family plans are crushed, regardless of rules of six or however many households are allowed to mix. 

It doesn’t matter. They’re no longer part of the mainstream. They’re isolating. 

“Yes, but they could contract the virus anywhere.” Of course. But just take a look at the consequences. The people affected, the lives changed. The turmoil for parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. 

And then it comes to us. What are the consequences for teachers? Are we really selfish to be worried about this? 

Self-isolation could hit us at a moment’s notice. Is it really selfish to be constantly worried that everything you touch, every breath you take could lead to a loved one becoming ill? 

Is it really selfish to worry that the Christmas break, which is normally the only work-free holiday of the year, could be plagued with illness, with no time to recuperate? 

So, enforced or decided, Christmas is not going to be the same. You cannot afford to take the risk. Meaning that Christmas is spent in quarantine, away from your loved ones, alone, with only the prospect of a special edition of your favourite TV show to keep you company.

You see, we are not like other professions: we cannot take annual leave at our will. We don’t have a choice. We have to be at school, and that’s exactly what we will be doing. 

But please don’t tell me we are selfish for not wanting to be isolated at Christmas. Please don’t tell me we are selfish for being worried about our loved ones. 

And please don’t tell me we are selfish to need a break, to recharge, recuperate and ready ourselves for term two of the year of Covid. 

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis 

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