My college has now closed to students and the last face-to-face lessons were on 18 March. Attendance before the announcement of closure was down dramatically as many students were already self-isolating, but, amazingly, many of them came in for their mock exams in maths and English.
I have heard every excuse for absence from "my key broke in the lock and I’m trapped inside" to "my dog is being cremated" in the past, but strangely a lot of students were still coming in, and some students rocked up whom I thought had moved abroad (it’s been so long since I’ve seen them). There was already a rumour, before the announcement, that GCSE grades would go off mock results, so maybe that was the reason.
The rumour mill before education secretary Gavin Williamson’s statement was running rampant. Does so-and-so have the virus? Have teachers been given a vaccine? Is it true that you are immune to the virus if you have good attendance at tutorial sessions (I might have started that one myself)?
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We had a new register mark of "V" for "virus" as part of our efforts to make sure that students who were off because they were isolating still get their bursary. Marking that on a register felt like something out of an apocalyptic movie. I am most concerned about those students who get a meal a day here throughout the year, and even come in on days they are not timetabled, just to eat, and those students with autism spectrum disorder for whom the change in routine will be really difficult.
Staff are visibly run down. In the progress hub where us pastoral staff work, we all have intermittent headaches and are stress eating our way through about 50 cakes a day. Plans are in place to move everything online though I am slightly worried about the capability of my 10-year-old personal laptop, which makes a noise like a bassoon caught in a steamroller when I try to send an email. I have a college iPad which is very similar to one in the Apple Museum of Antiquities and a Google Nexus phone which is the newest of my devices at four years old.
All of our usual progress discussions have gone out of the window as the country as a whole begins to shut down. Have you been to any university open days? No, because the universities are closed. Have you done any work experience? No, because all the businesses are closed. Have you got any leads on where I could get bread, eggs, or milk? No, and stop asking.
Attendance monitoring is now obviously irrelevant. My normal tutorial curriculum is pretty much suspended and now boils down to questions about which household pets can be safely eaten and saying “I don’t know” to more or less every query.
What I have told students is that they can contact me at any time on my work email and my work phone, and that I am still supporting them even when I am not physically there. Most students seem quite upbeat about the prospect of an early holiday. Our MS Teams feeds are about 90 per cent Spongebob memes. Pray for me.
Kirsty Walker teaches at a college in the North West of England