Why my class and I will miss lockdown

This term hasn't been easy - but for some students, the anonymity of online learning has allowed them to thrive, writes this teacher

David Murray

Return to college: Why my class and I will miss lockdown

I will miss lockdown, I really will. 

Let me clarify: I will not miss the long grim days of cold, where the statistics on the media brought only more news of doom. I will not miss being stuck within the confines of my own few rooms. 

But what I will miss is the way that, for some of my students, the lockdown of this term became an opportunity for them to really come into their own. While some (often the loudest and most brash in the classroom) disappeared into the shadows of online lessons, other, quieter students often found themselves able to emerge from their shells thanks to the anonymity of a lesson on Google Meet. 

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With their cameras off, I could only see myself. Teaching has never felt so solipsistic. At times, any observer may well have surmised that the isolation had clearly got to me as I chirruped cheerfully at a screen filled only with letters encased in brightly coloured circles.

The social pressure of the classroom

Every microphone but mine largely remained resolutely muted, but the chat function was made for these days. For students who live their lives via typing on screens, this was their natural milieu, and freed from the social pressure of the classroom, many of my students grew. They produced work of a far higher standard than they managed in the classroom; they flew.

It is easy to forget that a college or school can be a big, bright, brash environment in which some of our students struggle, even at the best of times. Stripped of the distraction of having to navigate a difficult social world, some of my quieter students became vociferous on the faithful chat function. So it was no surprise, perhaps, that some of them were frankly disappointed when they heard that lockdown was coming to an end.

I'm sure every institution had its share of lockdown students who logged in from bed only to roll over on top of their phones to continue with their slumber. We have such students slumped in seats in our classrooms too, but I am proud of how most of my students have responded to this lockdown. The news stories often don't tell this side of the tale. 

Students have scaled new heights

That is why I will resent the inevitable headlines that will no doubt accompany this year's results in the summer. Grade inflation will be the buzzwords: teachers are too generous, and colleges' self-grading doesn't work, they will say. And no doubt teachers' integrity will be called into question again: I can see it all now. 

But our college will be rigorous in its application of moderation processes this year, as we were last year and as we always are. Grades will have to be evidenced, and I know my students, I know the evidence they have produced during this lockdown has been the best work some of these young people have produced for years. They have truly scaled new heights, and I challenge anyone to look at that work and say these students don't deserve the pass marks they will get. 

We underestimate our young people. Yes, these days have been hard, very hard. We will all know students who have faced tragedy this year, but, for some of our students, a normal day trying to fit in and cope with the frustrations of life is a hard day.

The challenge for me now is how to carry the benefits of these lockdown days back into the classroom, because even with their microphones off and their faces hidden, some of these amazing young people have found their voice during this lockdown. Now it's my job to help them to roar.

David Murray is an English teacher at City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College

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