Last year, I was coming up on a professional goal I had set when I started teaching in 2010: by 2020, I wanted to be a faculty head. I was getting restless as a classroom teacher, and, as I live in a rural area of northern Scotland (about as far north as you can get without walking into the North Sea), these opportunities don’t come about often.
By chance, the perfect opportunity arose: faculty head of literacy and humanities in a small school just over an hour away. As I’m dual-qualified in history and English, I felt I would be in with a good chance.
I got the post in December. We negotiated an Easter start so I could get my seniors to exams. It seemed a good shout – time to get my head around things, relearn the English curriculum (I trained in Australia, and have only really taught history since moving to Scotland in 2014). And I would be starting during study leave – lots of extra time for a calm, productive start.
I’ll pause here so that you can laugh at how wrong I was.
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By the end of February, it started to seem like I may not have quite the peaceful start I was hoping for. We were still being told the UK was fine, but we started to really hear about growing case numbers here, and of school closures in Italy. We were on course to be as bad as Italy, but our schools wouldn’t close, right?
By mid-March, I knew I would be starting my new job at a distance. I began madly preparing for a very different handover at the school I was leaving. I got my senior student farewell pack presents made up early so I could hand them out the second that announcements came through. I created take-home resource packs for all of S1-2, to make my old faculty’s life easier. I cried with seniors I had spent so many hours with, making sure they were ready for their exams – exams that now aren't happening.
Switching schools in the coronavirus crisis
My farewells were very different – there would be no staff dinner and drinks. Not great for me, but worse for my colleague who had worked at the school for over 20 years and who was retiring this summer. Yet schools may be closed until then – so was this her retirement, too? She and I agreed: our last day was both underwhelming and overwhelming.
I continued to teach classes for the final week of term before the holidays. I then spent most of the holidays recrafting S1-3 programmes to be more student-friendly when working from home. PowerPoints were "chunked", video tutorials made, classroom assignments pre-scheduled until the summer, so that my replacement had fewer things to worry about (having twin boys under the age of 1 at home is surely enough on her plate!).
The worry about the new job didn’t really set in until the second week of the holidays. What would it even look like? How do you manage people remotely? Let alone people you’ve only met once?
However, I will say: I’m in an incredibly privileged position. Every one of our students has their own Chromebook. We have organised internet access for staff and students who did not have reliable connections. I do not have children of my own and my timetable currently has no S1-3 classes, so I am doing no "teaching". And yet my first week was…a lot.
I cannot count the number of emails and virtual meetings I have had. I have run staff ICT training over Google Meet for those not comfortable with technology, or who had little to no training in it (some had no home internet prior to the shutdown). I had to chase SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) estimates and results – but had no idea what to do with them as, at the time of writing, before the latest SQA announcement, we still don’t know how to report them.
New information for teachers is out every other day – hats off to those of you teaching with your own children at home. I cannot imagine how much harder this has all been for you.
However, my new faculty and the management team have been incredibly understanding and supportive. I’m looking forward to meeting them properly after all this. I’ll maybe even bring in some banana bread (no one will be sick of that by then, will they?). I’ll also be getting my new classes next week – students who have never met me, nor I them. With a week to learn a curriculum on top of the usual madness, I’m sure it’ll be fine…
This isn’t exactly how I wanted to start – but it’s a small price to pay to help keep our community safe.
Caitlin Morrison is a secondary school faculty head in the Scottish Highlands, who has just started a new job. She tweets @MissMozDog