Covid-19 lockdown day 8: learning to prioritise balance

It may have taken eight days, but Sarah Simons is now settling into lockdown life – with dog dancing and online learning

Sarah Simons

Coronavirus: Eight days in lockdown has taught me to appreciate balance, says college teacher Sarah Simons

I like routine. Having a fairly comprehensive idea of what will be going on in my life in a week, a month, three months from now makes me feel secure. But waking up this morning, knowing that following our second week of self-isolation, will come at least another two weeks of the same, gave me a surprising sense of calm. I have no idea what will happen. Neither does anyone else. So I have leaned into lockdown and I’m finally ready to start enjoying it.

It’s taken me a week to embrace the idea that having more time might not be a bad thing. Lack of time is, after all, the biggest barrier that most of us teachers face. A barrier to our own learning and development, a barrier to physical and mental health. Now that barrier has swung wide open and it’s time, at last, for the work-life balance to fall on the side of life, or life at home anyway. And all it’s taken is a global pandemic and state-enforced closure of public society.

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Before I started enjoying it, I needed to check on family. My mum’s staying with other older relatives in the countryside for the 12-week isolation, so I don’t have to worry about her. My dad, however, has a bad cough lingering. I’m worried. What if he gets worse? Should we go and kidnap him to come and stay with us for the next month? Unsure of the most sensible, safest thing to do, I called 111. It took about 30 minutes to be answered, which, in the current circumstances, I thought was brilliantly efficient. The medical adviser told us that we should finish our quarantine, and then reassess. If he’s no better, we should go and get him. She warned that only one of us would be allowed to travel, as returning with three of us in the car would be classed as a public gathering. Wow. I didn’t think of that. It all suddenly sounds a little bit the Republic of Gilead.

Coronavirus: Getting the priorities straight 

The Prophecies of Atwood, and dad worries aside, I decided I would buck up and crack on with some hobbies. Obviousl,y teaching Walter to dance was a priority. Our massive rescue hound has been with us since last July and I’m besotted. He is calm and highly affectionate at home and a total nutter when he goes for a walk. And though he’s a gentle boy at heart, he is also about 7 stone of muscle with the teeth of a T rex, so it’s important to at least try some training.

Unlike Betty the Whippet, who is a great beauty but not a gold star pupil, Big Walt is a clever lad who learns quickly and by the end of the day we got one dance move down. I shriek "Round in a circle! Round in a circle!" like an alarmed parrot, while twirling bacon over his head AND HE TURNS AROUND IN A CIRCLE. Crufts – here we come. 

One of my other hobbies is the Open University. I’m on my last course (advanced creative writing) towards gaining a BA Hons. As I began my OU learning during the Victorian era, I’ve been able to see course deliveries develop. They’ve gone from a huge tower of books and CDs arriving by Royal Mail, popping your essays in an envelope and posting them off to your tutor, to current methods. Now that is blended learning.

An excellent weekly online guidance system of directing you through which elements of coursework should be completed, with loads of resource links, plus student and tutor group forums, alongside text books, reading lists and face-to-face tutorials (paused for the moment). This sort of framework for learning has added a wonderful element of structure to my life for years, even more so in these structureless weeks.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if, from this terrible crisis, more thought, time and effort was given to how we can all work differently, whether that’s creating a better balance, remote learning or developing structure?

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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