Newly qualified teacher Shaun O’Hara explains how one diocesan primary school, St Gregory’s in Lydiate, has responded to the shutdown.
It is fair to say that this is not exactly how I saw my NQT year playing out. Only a term and a half into my first year of teaching and I, like all teachers, have faced a problem that no training course can help you with.
It was on Wednesday 18 March, that confirmation came. Earlier in the day, it was announced that all schools in Scotland and Wales were to close, so it was assumed that we would follow suit. Later, at prime minister Boris Johnson’s 5pm press conference, what had seemed inevitable became fact. Fortunately, Wednesday is the day of our staff meeting at St Gregory’s, allowing us to have our very own Cobra meeting in preparation.
In that afternoon meeting, we discussed how to help our pupils and we shared resources that could be used for home learning. We made several ‘educated guesses’ at what home learning would look like and, ultimately, decided on a weekly project for each year group incorporating the main skills from all of the different curriculum subjects.
We then went our separate ways to create our learning projects, before regrouping again at 5pm to watch the broadcast together. It was a strange sensation for me. I was anxious but, strangely, excited. This whole experience felt significant, like we were a part of history. I will probably never forget where I was when we heard the news that we would be closing. As the prime minister uttered the words ‘until further notice’, it became apparent very quickly that this was going to be a marathon and not a sprint.
However, the most important task was still to come. We still had two days left with the children in school and, as always, they were our priority. For those two days, we were able to provide some structure and normality for the children before their whole world turned upside down. My school dealt with the initial upheaval superbly and all staff have worked tirelessly since, providing home-learning support as well as supervision of the children of key workers who are still coming into school. A rota has been put in place with several staff members per day coming in to provide this supervision.
As for the children, they will no doubt be scared, unsettled and confused (as we all are) but you would never know it. They have brought colour into a dark world with their beautiful drawings; rainbows adorning the windows of every street. They, alongside their parents, deserve a huge pat on the back for all they have achieved so far. We have been keeping in touch over Google Classroom, allowing them to interact and share news of their home activities. They can post whenever they want, and we teachers then comment on their activities and respond to their questions.
I have been setting my pupils challenges around Music and Art mainly, so that parents always have activities at hand to keep their children busy. While this does not make up for the time I have lost with them, it is comforting for all of us – and their continued desire for new learning is inspiring. It is nice to know too that, even when they are away from school, they sometimes still need their teacher’s help!
I have no idea when I will return to work, nor do I know which class will be staring up at me on our first day back. But I do know that we will come back with a stronger sense of community than ever before. It is important to remember that the brightest of rainbows follow the darkest of storms. The children have known that all along.