Like for many of my colleagues across the FE sector, the end of the Easter holiday (which, admittedly, now seems approximately 400 years ago) brought a full-time return to campus.
After the initial horror of sourcing less forgiving, but appropriately formal workwear from the area of our home resembling gravitational collapse in an H&M, which I refer to as "my wardrobe", I looked forward to my return.
I think we were all aware that the step would not be without its own unique challenges. I fully empathised with varying levels of apprehension, from both colleagues and learners, and uncertainty continued to dampen our enthusiasm throughout the preparatory weeks of lateral flow tests and replenishing of sanitation stations.
Should we be listening to the internet and panicking about "lost learning"? Would the learners socially distance? Can I physically secure their masks over their noses if I use a non-toxic adhesive?
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Even before stepping over the campus threshold, I realised I had misplaced much of this trepidation, as there were, in fact, far more pressing concerns that I had not accounted for.
Covid and colleges: An unexpected adversary
I paused before the entrance and let my eyes rest contemplatively on my first unexpected adversary: the door handle. The metal winked in the morning sun, inviting my freshly sanatised hand to rest on its microscopic cataclysm of infestation.
Well I am no fool, potentially Covid-ridden door handle! I silently scowl as I clumsily wrestle my coat sleeve over my hand to karate chop the hilt. I land a swift blow directly on target and immediately swell to bursting with self-assurance. Nothing happens, of course, because the door also requires some forward force to be operational.
OK. No problem, I tell the door handle. I am a coordinated being. I can often be found wandering the aisles of Aldi, where I have popped in for milk and milk alone, but am now laden with a vast array of snacks and garden furniture, balancing items precariously around my person as I fumble in my ridiculously small lady-pockets for my debit card as I navigate children and trolleys en route to the tills. Oh yes, putrid door handle, I have been training for this moment my entire adult life.
I rearrange the straps of my rucksack to free up some extra sleeve coverage, place my latte gently on the ground and assume my most menacing stance. I bring the karate chop down with force and at the exact point of impact roundhouse kick the door, which ricochets inwards. Marvellous! I swoop to gather my coffee and straighten, set to stride victoriously past my defeated, contaminated challenger. Instead I recoil sharply as an arm appears from behind me. The hand, safely cloaked in a disposable, surgical glove, props open my bested opponent whilst the owner of said hand smiles at me a little sympathetically.
I blink, my inflated confidence faltering momentarily. It takes me just a single beat to realise that I hold the environmentally-friendly high ground and I breeze into the building.
Hands-free door opening techniques
I have since developed a wide portfolio of hands-free door opening techniques. There’s the shoulder shuffle, which can resemble a nasty rugby tackle if you happen to be in a hurry. There’s the bum bump, definitely the least subtle of my techniques and so best reserved for when both hands are visibly occupied (eg, carrying weighty loads of snacks to replace the 17 small meals a day we are all now used to).
There is also the option of hovering around the door area until an unsuspecting colleague passes through. This method relies greatly on mastering the fine art of pausing long enough to maintain a safe two-metre distance, and sprinting Florence Griffith Joyner-style to make it over the threshold unscathed.
None of these techniques are likely to go unnoticed, of course. Although, in the grand scheme of things, appearing through doors like something from a Monty Python sketch remains the least of my aesthetic concerns. I’ve noticed with a mixture of admiration and contempt (fuelled by envy) that there are people in the general public who are remarkably coordinated. They pass by, a vision of pandemic-chic loveliness, with face masks crafted to pattern-match dresses, ties or head scarfs, while I scuttle, a chaotic silhouette of unkempt hair and crumpled face masks fished from the bulk box of disposables.
All of these unexpected, but ultimately inconsequential, hazards aside (apart from the crucial-to-all-existence-as-we-know-it environment, of course), it has been a delight to welcome back learners. The buildings, and the staff, have a different energy in their presence. The laughter that reverberates around the corridors is an uplifting reminder of the everyday moments we can now begin to practise gratitude in.
Gratitude for human connection, for our health and our happiness. Gratitude for the opportunities we are gifted to make a difference. Gratitude for stationary door handles that can’t fight back.
Laura Kayes is an advanced practitioner and performing arts lecturer across Luminate Education Group's FE and HE provision