Local Member Speaks: Experiences of a stressed-out teacher

A second local member has written about their experience as a teacher in inner-London during the Covid pandemic. We’d like to thank them for their contribution, and for their dedication working on the front-lines of education!

Experiences of a stressed-out teacher

I am a secondary school teacher in a inner-London borough and have two young children. We have life set up to run much more smoothly when we’re all at the places we’re supposed to be; our schools and childcare settings. So when I say schools are best off shutting for a bit to stop the spread, trust me. I’d prefer the daily disruption to the alternative…

At my school, we had our first positive case of a student having Covid-19 on the very last day of the Sept-Oct half term. As my colleagues acted quickly and proactively, utilising protocols that our Head’s risk-assessment had outlined, we contained that student and no one had to isolate. Relief all round.

Fast forward a few weeks and suddenly my classes started having empty chairs in them. Swathes of students were having to self-isolate. The staff absence list was getting longer and longer and then colleagues I worked more closely with were getting the virus.

The penultimate fortnight of term started to get unnerving. The weekend of 5/6th December was stressful. The emails from my colleagues I share a (socially-distanced) office with, were pouring in at quite a rate; 5 out of 12 colleagues now positive. Still I’m not required to isolate. I’ve played by the rules. Work for me that week then. Apart from I was feeling really anxious about going in.

Clearly schools are not capable of being ‘Covid- safe’. No one is vulnerable in my household but I didn’t want the virus as I didn’t want my family to get it and I didn’t want to spread it in my family members’ bubbles. I had a mild symptom by Sunday evening (or was it just in my head) so I got a test. It came back on Monday with a positive result. By Monday evening I had full blown symptoms and two days later my partner had symptoms and was also confirmed as covid-positive.

The next two weeks at my school (seen through the lens of emails and what’s apps group threads) was full-blown chaos as attendance rates dropped as parents resisted sending their children in to a school that clearly had a significant covid outbreak, teachers couldn’t come in, year group after year group sent home and remaining students still in school were under patchwork supervision. PHE and Department for Education forbid my head to close the school until the last Wednesday of term. Just like the Secretary of Education forbid London boroughs to switch to remote learning to stop the spread, threatening court action for the informed and logical decisions of council leaders.

The government’s experiment of keeping schools open without proper support for heads and councils to manage the risk properly, coupled with the new strain, have seen students and teachers led to the slaughterhouse. This in turn impacts our communities and families. My closest colleague’s dad is in critical care with COVID pneumonia having caught the virus off my colleague (they live in the same household). I genuinely worried more about who I would spread the virus to than worrying about myself. I am not a lazy teacher but I am pretty stressed about returning to work although I feel physically fine now. The past two weeks, the government – with their u-turns and illogical decisions – have done nothing to reassure me that they are thinking about my well-being or the public’s in general.

Secondary-aged children clearly spread this virus and the professionals working with them are not being listened to! The scientists are not being listened to. SAGE meeting memos show the government were told before Christmas that schools need to be shut to contain the virus. That is why I genuinely feel like the unions have my back – they are taking action, organising meetings (I’ve spent my holiday on two so far) and holding the politicians to account out of huge concern for teachers/students and our communities. They do this despite the right-wing press and government’s demonisation of them (and us teachers).

The government has prioritised capitalist endeavours in trying to save the economy above lives and communities. Of course people’s livelihoods, as does children’s education matter (obviously I think this – 10 years a teacher under Conservative leadership is not for the flakey!) but health is all we have. My school didn’t get everything right in managing the virus – but they were constrained by the pressure of still working to the exam schedule, of no extra money for supply or cleaning. Even when I was sick with the very unpleasant virus, the student expectations’ of remote lessons was no different – everyone feeling the stress of trying to maintain schools as normal in these very un-normal circumstances!

For the first time in over ten years time, I am seriously considering my options for this September.

 

Local Member Speaks: Thoughts from the Front-Line of Schools

In this post, Woking Labour welcome a submission from a local member who has written about their experience in teaching and the impact on schools over the Covid crisis:

 

Thoughts from the Front-Line of Schools

From ‘Another Whinging Teacher’

 

I am a teacher in a secondary school and I’ve been invited to write about my experiences since the COVID outbreak.  Before I continue, I want to lay my cards on the table. I -like many others- believe this pandemic has been very poorly handled.  I also feel strongly that schools have been central to this.  Teaching & learning face-to-face is infinitely more effective than through a screen.  However, there is much evidence now of a link between school attendance and rising COVID cases.  This will have led to more deaths.  I don’t think this was a price worth paying and I still don’t.  Witnessing it all at close quarters has been incredibly disturbing.

One of the reasons for this is due -in part- to the way the pandemic has been mishandled by the Conservative government.  We are now all familiar with the U-turns and poor messaging that Johnson, Hancock, Williamson and all have been responsible for.  This has led to understandable confusion and misunderstanding in the public.  There have been many common misconceptions related to the treatment of schools.

 

Common misconception #1:

One is that the government has been concerned about the mental health and general wellbeing of students.  They have cited this as one of the main reasons to oppose the idea of teaching moving online.  In reality, support for mental health, for general wellbeing and support for students with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), has been cut to the bone after years of austerity.  Child poverty rates -clearly associated with wellbeing- were also rising long before COVID.  The Conservatives didn’t appear to care much about these things before COVID.  Our profession finds it insulting that they’re claiming to care now.

 

Something about my experience over the last 10 months:  I am lucky to teach in a modern building with good ventilation and opportunities to keep students apart.  The students have been brilliant in adapting to the new regime (‘bubbled’ areas, hand-sanitiser at the doorway of each lesson, masks in the corridors etc), but in important ways, they have continued as if things were completely normal.  As has frequently been said- it’s impossible to keep teenagers apart.  They hug, high-five, gather together, share food etc. etc.  Policing this would have been impossible -hence the ‘bubbles’ strategy.  So, the virus came to our school and saw several whole year-group ‘bubbles’ sent home during the Autumn term.  Staff have been mixed in their response to the situation.  Some are terrified; having vulnerable loved ones at home, or worried about the impossibility of working at a distance to students (the situation has been particularly tough for TA’s who have to work 1 to 1 with students).  Other have found it easy to forget the distancing principles.  One reason may be because our teachers have to run the length of the school to teach heavier timetables.  It’s harder to keep disciplined about not being closer to students than 1 metre for 1 minute at all times, when you’re carrying a set of books and are late for your boisterous Year 8 class and their previous teacher hasn’t requested a replacement bottle of sanitiser…  Meanwhile we have had parents send children to school with symptoms.  Were they merely taking a risk?  Ignoring the rules? COVID deniers?  Our community reflects society as a whole, so there will always be a diverse range of behaviours.  So, teaching has been quite stressful.  Staff have resigned over fear of infection.

 

During the first lockdown there was a different type of stress.  I felt the same sense of powerless as many but was keen to help in any way I could.  My team and I spent the first few weeks of the outbreak creating PPE visors to take to care homes.  However, despite being hard-working, socially motivated, dedicated professionals, sections of the media continue to represent us as work-shy and negative.

 

Common misconception #2:

Schools -and I want to really emphasise this- were never closed.  Vulnerable students and children of keyworkers were in school from the start.  Online teaching was developed from scratch and with minimal, late support from government.  We have worked extremely hard to fill gaps.  Such remote teaching is not an easy option for teachers and requires its own skillset and planning.  Many teachers I know are also parents of young children and dread blending work and home schooling their own children as much as many other parents do.  In my twenty years of teaching, I have always been amazed at how low some people’s estimations are of teachers.  The idea that teachers want schools to close, leaves me feeling extremely low.

 

How else do I feel now?  Right now, I’m afraid.  I don’t want to be associated with an experiment in unnecessary virus spreading and virus mutation that could lead to more infection and death.  Going into school during this pandemic has gone against my core teacher instincts.  My career choice was motivated by a duty of care for individuals and for my wider community.  I also have a passion for encouraging students to think for themselves.  This should be applied to life-long learners (all of us).  Given the gaslighting and outright lies we have seen from this Conservative government, we need to be wary of the latest plan for schools to now become centres for COVID testing.  The idea that we will now successfully carry out what the government have failed to do is yet another insult.  At time of writing, the plan is to use this as a way of keeping students in school instead of isolating any suspected asymptomatic cases.  Lateral Flow Tests have 50% accuracy in picking up such cases.  Unless we are testing students very frequently, there is a real risk we will be seeing more of the disease in the student population – and into the wider community.  We still don’t know how the mutant strain will affect possible infection rates.  However …the public has been reassured that the army will be at hand to help out.

 

Latest Common Misconception #3:

1500 army personnel are due to be deployed to help thousands of secondary schools.  The implication is that this will be hands-on support, but the reality is that there will be some ZOOM training.  My guess is that this will not be the final insult.  I am looking forward to spending the coming year continuing to navigate such last-minute ill-thought-through, car-crash guidance.

 

However, despite lots of fence-sitting from Starmer, I need to believe that a Labour government would do a better job.  I want to resist the return to ‘they’re all as bad as each other’ apathy.  We desperately need an alternative and I’m planning to do all I can to ensure this happens as soon as possible.

 

Anon (another whinging teacher)