What's it like teaching in Manchester right now?

Teachers and pupils in Greater Manchester feel trapped and isolated – but we have to keep going, says Haili Hughes

Haili Hughes

Coronavirus: Teachers and pupils at schools in Greater Manchester feel trapped and isolated, says Haili Hughes

Working in a school, it can sometimes feel like you are in your own little world of safety, where what is going on in the outside world has little effect, as we just keep on going and get on with it. 

Yet in Greater Manchester even the most resilient and stoic of students and staff are getting anxious about what the new restrictions will mean for them. With more than 500 schools having confirmed cases of Covid, and now students and staff being subject to stricter rules with little financial support, today seems a little bleak.

Yesterday, just before Boris Johnson announced that Greater Manchester would join Liverpool and Lancashire as a Tier 3 area, my lessons buzzed with talk about what it would mean. 

One boy spoke about his grandma, who has been shielding since March as she is vulnerable – the only glimpse they have had of one another is through the window on her birthday. Another has been unable to see his dad, as he has diabetes and, with so many positive cases in schools, they’ve decided that it just isn’t worth the risk. 

Coronavirus: The impact of restrictions on schools

Unfortunately, missing family is not the only worry as we head into Tier 3 restrictions. There are financial implications for so many staff and students also, as relatives of both own pubs, play centres and gyms, or work in the hospitality industry. 

Here in Oldham, we have been subject to tighter restrictions than most of the rest of the UK since July. Tier 2 seemed like a ray of hope and a slight relaxation for us, which has now been dashed. 

I have been unable to see my parents and siblings for months – even missing my stepdad’s 50th birthday this week. My toddler has changed so much since she last saw her grandparents that she is like a different child.

Working full-time with two children, and no support network, life has been tough. And, like many teachers and school staff in Greater Manchester, not being able to see my family, yet mixing with more than 1,500 families a day in school, has been a difficult pill to swallow. 

Fears for student mental health

Perhaps the most worrying effect of the new restrictions will be on students’ mental health. At my own school, Year 11 have just returned from a period of isolation.

One girl I tutor found out that she was going to have to isolate, because a teammate at netball had tested positive for Covid, only three days after she had come back to school. She was understandably heartbroken. Now she will miss school again, as well as the socially distanced walks she had planned in the park with her friends over half-term. 

It may seem trivial to some, but that human contact with peers is so important. And now households aren’t allowed to mix at all – indoors or outdoors – so many young people feel trapped and isolated.

Perhaps one positive outcome of these new measures is that students are becoming fiercely political. For the first time in my career, I am hearing pupils debating current affairs, and the unfairness about the lack of support their parents are receiving. Like their parents, they feel abandoned. And, perhaps unfortunately for the government, I can’t see it being something that they will forget. 

Now, more than ever, it is important that teachers use the language of optimism with their students, when some of them are feeling so lost. For many of them, school is the safe haven of rules and routines that they need, where they know they will be greeted with warmth and a friendly smile

But, like always, schools in Greater Manchester will just keep going and doing what we do, regardless of the hurdles we face. 

Haili Hughes is an English teacher at Saddleworth School in Oldham, Greater Manchester. She tweets @HughesHaili

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