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.