As a teacher in the early days of my career, I am still experiencing a series of firsts. It’s an inevitable part of the job, and the ability to be adaptable and resilient is an important skill for any teacher.
During my first snow day or first IT outage, as two examples, the experienced staff who had been through it all before were on hand to provide advice and support and, usually sooner rather than later, normal school business began again in a quick and orderly fashion.
It has become clear in recent weeks, however, that those challenges were in no way comparable with what we are facing with the Covid-19 outbreak – it is a first for us all.
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Colleagues with decades of experience have commented on the uncharted territory we are entering, with not just the scale of the disruption, but the potential length of it as well.
The coronavirus impact on schools
In recent days, school has become an increasingly more restless place to be. I find it harder to concentrate on teaching my lessons and I am in no doubt pupils themselves are struggling with the focus required to perform to their usual standards.
Staff are apprehensive but we are prepared, and last week was much more controlled and calm. Towards the end of the week we had made extensive preparations to close and begin to teach online, as I’m sure many schools across the country did. It was a challenge, but one that was met head-on with a sense of togetherness in response to the current climate.
However, since this week began the feeling has most definitely shifted. As we learned that we would remain open for now – while we watched countries around the world close not just their schools but their borders – there was a feeling of uncertainty about whether the correct approach was being taken.
This was worsened with the confusion over what those people in vulnerable groups should do. Some teachers received clearer guidance than others (depending on employer) in relation to what approach to take for self-isolation as a precaution, with some being asked to make a decision independently.
Of course, the right call is to prioritise health, but it is a tough call to make when one of the greatest tools we have in a situation like this is our sense of community and teamwork, with no one wanting to let anyone else down.
Pupils themselves are, of course, worried about what a long-term school closure could mean to them. The impact of disruption to the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) exams is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, with pupils asking questions we are not yet in a position to answer.
We are doing what we can to provide reassurance, but when things have changed so fast in recent days that reassurance starts to wear thin fairly quickly – and it isn’t just exams that they are worried about.
While pupil and staff health take priority, many pupils are starting to recognise the impact that this event will have on their school careers. School trips postponed and social events cancelled: not the most important issues at this time, but for many these are experiences that shape their teenage years.
Many young people are slowly coming to terms with the true extent of what this health crisis will cause them to miss – and it won’t just be a few days of school.
The writer is a secondary teacher in Scotland