How does it feel to be a shielding teacher right now?

I feel lonely and jealous – and like I've dropped my colleagues in the middle of a mess, says Heidi Drake

Heidi Drake

Schools reopening: How does it feel to be a teacher shielding against Covid at home?

Schools are now fully reopened, and my colleagues are back in school. But I’m not there. And I’m feeling awful about it. 

My shielding letter took a while to catch up with me, so this will be my first lockdown teaching from home while my students are in school. It feels like the worst possible time for this to happen. I feel like I’m letting my students and my colleagues down. 

I have exam groups in Years 11 and 13, and I know how important those final face-to-face sessions can be in the run-up to exams in a normal year. This year is far from normal. 

Schools reopening: 'I feel like I'm letting down my students and colleagues'

I am a key stage 4 coordinator for my subject, and it feels like I should be in school, overseeing the preparation for teacher-assessed grades. I have at least managed to leave a full set of GCSE papers photocopied and ready to use, but there is a nagging feeling that I’ve dropped my colleagues in the middle of a mess and left them to do my job for me.

And it’s not just the admin. Someone will have to sit with my classes while I loom large on the projector screen, like Big Brother. I worry about putting yet another demand on the time of people who are already overloaded. 

My students have had so much of their learning time disrupted already – they need and deserve my support in the coming weeks.

Their attitude over the past two academic years has been fantastic. They have thrown themselves into online learning, and have done their best in a variety of circumstances. Not being in school now feels like letting them down as we approach the final stretch. True, I will hopefully be with them again in April, but it feels odd and not quite right to be at home at the moment.

A bit lonely and jealous

I also feel a bit lonely and jealous. My colleagues will be in school, and occasionally able to talk to other adults who aren’t in their family. It was a small joy of last term, but it made a huge difference. 

I know teachers who have been shielding since last year, and I honestly don’t know how they’ve managed it. The lack of contact with colleagues has been one of the worst things of the past term, and I am envious of those for whom this is over. Enjoy it. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. 

And, yes, I also feel guilty about being home, wrapped in cotton wool, while my colleagues return to school with no additional safety measures. I worry as well about what others will think about why I’m not back. I worry that this reflects badly on me. After all, I’ve had my first vaccination, and most teachers are still waiting. 

However, before I was a teacher, I worked in the NHS. I know how awful and overloaded it is, even in a normal winter. I can’t imagine how dreadful it has been over the past year. As someone who would be at risk of needing extra help, I need to take care. I have a family, who I need to be here for. And I need to be fighting fit for my return to school in April. 

In short: I’m feeling everything right now. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so conflicted. It’s a highly emotional time for everyone. The best we can do is look after each other – and, for some of us, that means staying home. 

Heidi Drake is deputy head of English at Colchester Royal Grammar School

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