'No one has the answers – we're in a state of turmoil'

Will my school close? Will my bubble collapse? Will my students sit exams? Not knowing is exhausting, says Louise Lewis

Louise Lewis

Coronavirus and schools: The uncertainty for teachers is exhausting, says Louise Lewis

According to the proverb, there is nothing certain but the uncertain. Never has this been more true. 

Prior to this academic year, the buzz of uncertainty was what added flavour to the profession. Each class with its own personalities, each day a fresh challenge. Enough to keep the spark alive, but not too much to make it uncomfortable. 

And then 2020 hit.

Having taught for the best part of a decade, I really thought I was nailing this thing called teaching. My subject knowledge is pretty good, I have a sound grounding in pedagogy, and any changes were about improvement, not reinvention.

I could spend my PPA, evenings and weekends honing my craft, reading and, as far-fetched as this sounds, actually relaxing from time to time. 

How things have changed.

Coronavirus: A perpetual state of turmoil

We are living in a world of constant upheaval; we do not know what the job will look like from one day to the next. It is the same feeling I remember from training and NQT year – except, this time, there is no mentor there to assuage any doubts. No one has the answers; it is a perpetual state of turmoil. 

We all know we could walk into school tomorrow to be faced with a bubble collapse. The whole school could be forced to close. You could be told that you have to isolate or teach online, at the drop of a hat.

And, with all this buzzing around, inevitably we end up having to answer questions – “But, Miss, what if X happens?” – without a single idea of the appropriate answer. So, with a warm smile, sounding as confident as ever, we reassure them that they are not to worry: worrying is our job. Which, of course, it is. 

And worry we do. We worry for all our students: for what they have missed out on; for what they are facing, thanks to this pandemic; and for what is yet to come. Because we just don’t know what the future holds

Are we going to wake up on Monday morning to an announcement of exam cancellations? And, if we do, what then happens to our students? Are they going to be motivated to continue learning? Will they have the same opportunities as their predecessors? 

Teachers distracted by constant change

As educators, we know that paying attention is the currency of learning; minimising distraction is imperative. Yet we are distracted by the constant change after change after change. And our students are distracted, too. 

So where are we left? With constant firefighting, and a gradual but increasingly rapid deterioration of our internal resources. Tired, lacking energy, running on caffeine and nervous energy. 

And they know – the children, I mean – they know we feel this way. They pick up on it. They feel it, too. Which is really bloody sad, don’t you think?

School should be the best days of their lives (and, if we are honest, ours, too). But this isn’t. It is exhausting. Waiting for the inevitable, but not really knowing what that is, either.

If you are reading this and thinking, “She sounds panicked,” it’s because I am. Just as many, many other teachers across the country are, too

My only hope is that the words of the Nobel laureate chemist and physicist Ilya Prigogine come to fruition: “The future is uncertain…but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.”

Because there must be a silver lining to all of this. There must be. 

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

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