For those of us teaching remotely from home, the rhythm of the working day has been very different since 4January.
From 8March, it will shift again, as we prepare to go back into school for face-to-face teaching.
I may be speaking for myself here, but with only a daily dog walk and the occasional click and collect appointment to take me out of the house, my standards of personal maintenance have eroded remarkably swiftly. The dress code for dog-walking is pretty minimal; my own ensemble features a very comfortable holey jumper and a pair of walking boots mainly composed of dried mud.
As this has been my sartorial high point since New Year’s Day, the two-week notice period is just what I’ve needed to make myself presentable for public life again.
Schools reopening: Let's start with bras
Let’s start with bras. As the much-missed Victoria Wood said: “Once you’ve found the right bra, everything falls into place.” For me, until lockdown, a robust foundation garment that lifts, separates and transforms a slackly held together bag of bowling balls into the shape of a woman was essential work gear.
But at home, there’s not the same urgency for rigorous underwear. The slide from precisely boned engineering to what’s known on the loungewear section of www.fatbirdsclothing.com as “comfort tops” (no word of a lie there) has been as rapid and inexorable as an avalanche.
My work bras have been buried at the back of my knicker drawer since December, but I’ve dug them out, unfurled them and I’ve set the alarm 15 minutes earlier to allow time to practise putting them on in readiness for work on site.
I’m also training my bladder to go for longer than 20 minutes before being emptied. The utter luxury of being able to go to the toilet whenever I feel like it will not be understood by anyone who’s never had to hold it in from assembly to home time.
I’m taking it slowly – building up my capacity in five-minute intervals, so that by the time we get back I’ll be able to breeze through a double lesson, and maybe even a year-group briefing, without having to make an abrupt exit. Of course, the ready availability of hot beverages at home is very different from the two sips of cooling tea I usually manage at breaktime, and I’m hoping a reduced intake of liquids will make this ordeal easier.
Hair: Allowing nature to take its course
There’s nothing any of us can do about hair until 12 April at the earliest. My current coiffure is a cross between Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein in All the President’s Men and a promising 1970s first division midfielder whose pay cheque has yet to arrive.
Still, I’m allowing nature to take its course. Those dog clippers look tempting when I’m confronted with that wild greying tangle in the mirror, but confidence is key in the classroom. Looking as if I’ve fallen victim to a catastrophic bout of ringworm will do nothing to boost self-esteem.
And anyway, even with a steady hand and multiple mirrors, closely cropped hair requires an elegant bone structure and dramatic eye make-up for the Servalan effect. Most of us on the receiving end of a Number One guard risk ending up looking like Phil Mitchell – who, in turn, resembles a human Weetabix. If backcombing extravagantly doesn’t do the trick, I’ll channel my inner Miss Jean Brodie with tortoiseshell barrettes.
Meanwhile, my dog and I have become overly bonded. With confinement to barracks, I’m never less than two feet away from a Patterdale terrier. If I leave the room, she cries. And if there’s a prolonged departure – taking out the bins, for example – she sits on the middle stair and howls.
To prevent the RSPCA being summoned by anxious neighbours once I leave the house for work, I’m preparing an evidence-based proposal to my headteacher outlining the benefits of a Year 11 therapy dog. What could be more motivating for my students than a pretty little terrier sitting obediently at her mistress’ feet, or joining in with a Year 11 kickabout on the top yard? Or just, you know, seeing a dog?
One of the chief advantages of the vast unregulated ocean of the internet is that if I look hard enough I’ll find someone, somewhere, with letters after their name, who can back up my claims with data.
I’ll throw together a convincing bar chart, book a slot at the next SLT meeting, and the job’s done. With any luck, by the summer term, Ms Tiger Lily Bingo will be key stage 4 motivational mentor – and who knows? – this time next year she could be presenting her paper, The Tail Wagging the Dog: Optimising the impact of canine pastoral intervention on attainment, at ResearchEd. Stranger things have happened.
Whatever we think of it, though, it’s happening. It’s time to be tauter, tidier, tamer and focused, in time for 8 March.
Sarah Ledger is an English teacher and director of learning for Year 11 at William Howard School in Brampton, Cumbria. She has been teaching for 34 years