In the first of a series of interviews with teachers to hear some first-hand experience of the realities of working in education this year, we met (virtually of course!) with Primary Teacher Jack, who has taught Year 6 in Newham, East London for the past five years.
Prospero Teaching Interview London Primary Teacher Jack
How much of an impact has Covid-19 had on your day-to-day life as a teacher?
To be honest, I feel a bit guilty saying this when so many people across the country have had a very difficult year, but I feel really lucky to be a teacher right now. Whilst multiple thousands of children and their teachers are self-isolating, ill themselves or affected by poverty and disadvantage, my situation feels quite good under the circumstances…’
We’re pleased to hear of a more positive experience despite this year’s difficulties! What makes you feel lucky to be a teacher?
The stress and concern for some of our students and the families at our school has been really tough of course, but personally I think for those working in schools, we’ve had a relatively ‘normal year.’
For all of my friends who have said they’ve struggled with the lockdowns, the challenges have come from the disruption of their routine and because they’re not interacting with people face-to-face anymore. I’ve been much luckier in this respect as I’ve been in school all year teaching my classes. It’s given me routine and purpose, and stopped me spending too long reading the news! I chat with staff first thing in the morning and at break times, and I have a bit of a laugh and a joke with my class during lesson times. Our morning staff briefings are really productive, with everyone willing to be on board with the challenges of the day, and you’ve always got people around you just to talk about what’s going on, which makes it all a little less scary.
I was always passionate about teaching and making a difference, but I’ve never felt like such a vital part of society in the way that I have this year.
[During the first lockdown in March, Jack was in school teaching children of key workers. For a time he was teaching in the nursery due to staff shortages, but since then he has continued with his Year 6 class.]
[Working in the nursery] was quite a crazy few weeks being out of my comfort zone, alongside juggling preparing work to be sent home to my year 6s who were learning from home. However I also found it useful to work in parts of the school I wouldn’t normally be able to experience, and to build relationships with the staff, students, parents and carers involved there.
Have there been any other positive outcomes of the situation in your school?
Because of this pulling together to meet the demands of staff who are ill or self-isolating or classes being changed around, we do feel more together as a staff, perhaps more of a community?
I think it’s the same with the families and parents of our pupils. There are lots of parents who I’ve seen drop their kids off and not really engage with us for years but who are now more in touch with us; even if parents just popped in to say thank you for being there, I have experienced some really nice moments. Myself, and the teachers in my department, do feel really appreciated by the families in our community. It’s a great feeling and a great motivator to keep making everything work in the best way possible.
What has been the most challenging aspect of teaching in 2020?
Keeping on top of assessment and tracking progress has been most challenging from my perspective. It’s difficult when some lessons have been missed, and when we couldn’t physically mark books or give written feedback. [Teachers were unable to come into direct contact with student books due to Covid-19.]
However, we’ve adapted to giving much more verbal feedback in the lesson to encourage students with their understanding as quickly as possible. Luckily, we had the first term as normal, so as a primary teacher we’ve already built that understanding with our students – they know us and know we’re here to look after their learning and push them on. The normal start to this Academic year was lucky and I think really helpful for us.
How long-lasting do you feel the impact of this year may be on the wellbeing and learning of your class?
I may be a little too positive about these things sometimes, but I really feel like we’ll pull through this stronger than before. For parents who have come to me because they’re really worried about their children missing learning opportunities, or fearing that their children will be forever tainted by the Covid-19 experience, I’ve done my best to reassure them that it’s going to be okay! We know what we’re doing in terms of bridging gaps in student attainment. The children are so adaptable, and know they need to work hard too. We’ll get them all to where they need to be.
We’ll need to make sure that primary schools are even more thorough than usual in communicating with secondary schools about the students that will be starting in Year 7 I think. I’m making sure I have loads of assessment data ready to go to the secondary schools my class go to next year. We’ll watch this space on that one.
Jack is currently teaching from home for two weeks as a child in his class has tested positive for Covid-19, but is looking forward to a well-earned winter break.
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