'Teachers have more than earned a rest'

As exhausted teachers head into half-term, they should be proud of what they've achieved, says school leader Susan Ward

Susan Ward

Coronavirus and teacher wellbeing: School staff have more than earned their half-term break, says Susan Ward

Whether your October holiday has arrived or it is still just a glint on the horizon, the majority of this first term is now behind us. And what a term it has been. We approached it with intense trepidation, not really sure what it would be like trying to return to school life after such a long separation from the bells and bustle we know so well.

Children and young people returning to us after five long months brought many delights and challenges. We marvelled at those that had grown inches, shed baby teeth, grown or chopped their hair. We noticed the maturity of some, the new interests, the shy become bold or the previously bold become less so. Lockdown left its mark on all of us and it felt like no one was quite the same as before.

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Re-establishing routines and expectations of behaviour  those two standards of the first few weeks of any new session  took ever so much longer than before. The exhausting process of relentlessly insisting, firmly and politely, that something happens in the agreed way, each and every time, is the keystone of any successful classroom. Lockdown and all the uncertainty and chaos that went with it worked against us and some children really struggled to recalibrate to the school environment.


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Add to that new Covid restrictions everywhere, a recovery curriculum and a raft of new routines for doing almost everything, and it would be fair to say teachers have had a tough gig this term. No one could blame you for flopping face-first into this holiday and not resurfacing until the school bell rings again in a week or fortnight’s time.

But before you do   or even if you already have   let’s do a quick stock take. Yes, this term has been exhausting and frustrating on pretty much every possible level. But look what you and your colleagues have achieved. You have breathed life back into your school community. You have welcomed children back, made them feel safe and happy. Helped them make sense of the frightening new world they have found themselves in. Used learning experiences as a common currency for re-establishing peer friendships, a way of helping young people open up again after spending so long locked down. You have listened to worries, opened snacks and dried tears. You have received more than one tight hug around the middle (I see you over there, infant teachers).

Your patience and empathy have helped to calm the choppy waters for each child, each family you work with. Presented as a whole, the hard work and commitment of you and your colleagues has shown your school community that things are OK, that we will get through this together.

You have done all this and so much more, all while worried for your own loved ones.

A powerful force for good

With news headlines bleak and the graphs all going in the wrong direction, it is easy to lose hope. Who knows what we will face next term and where we will be by Christmas? Sometimes it feels like our actions are a tiny flame against an overwhelming darkness.

As you sink into this holiday, remember to look over your shoulder at all you have achieved this term. Because doing your best is an incredibly formidable thing, a powerful force for good that has helped reignite your school community.

Scottish education stands together in its commitment to do the best we can and together we will keep the flame burning for our children and families. I wish I could promise you next term will be easier, but you know I can’t. But I will promise you that we will square our shoulders to whatever is coming next and face it together.

Rest now, teachers and school leaders  you have more than earned it.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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