Three weeks ago, I returned to full time teaching after 16 years of working part time. And what a time to have made my return! When I made the decision back in January, I couldn’t possibly have known what the circumstances would have been eight months later. The elation I felt at being told by my head of department in June that I would finally have my own classroom again, now that I was full time, was short lived. Gradually, the profession came to realise that despite the fact that the government wanted all students to return to school full time in September, the conditions in which this would take place would be very unfamiliar for most.
My school has taken the route down which many other schools have also chosen to go. Year groups are in bubbles and separate zones around the school. And teachers move to them rather than students coming to staff in their classrooms. Having been nomadic for the last 16 years, this filled me with less dread than I know it did many of my colleagues. However my nomadism had previously only been within my department. Not across the entire school site! Lockdown and remote teaching had taught me that despite my fears, taking on new challenges and getting to grips with and possibly even finding enjoyment in new practices was actually possible! So two weeks ago, on the Monday morning, faced with a five period day ahead of me, the new way of working began.
I won’t lie, I found it incredibly tough. Not least physically – the box which had served me well as I moved from room to room within my department now suddenly seemed much heavier and more cumbersome when I was faced with the challenge of moving it around between classrooms all over the school. By the end of the first day, my arms felt like they were going to drop off, and I knew I had to find a new way. A large holdall has now replaced the bag and leaves my hands free to walk around the site with much greater ease. However, now I have had a little time to reflect on my first fortnight, despite my initial fears about our new way of working, and I am still finding many aspects hard, there have also been some surprising and unforeseen benefits of working this way.
My form group and I have been allocated a food tech room for registration. Whilst this is a bit of a walk away from my base in the humanities department, this room is at a far-flung end of the school site. It is at the end of a corridor and no other children file past or even come particularly near to our room. As a result, I am beginning to enjoy our cosy 20 minutes each morning where we look out, past the ovens, pots and pans to woods and part of the school field. It feels less frenetic, more peaceful, and it’s providing me and my students with a much calmer start to our day.
Moving around the school site has also enabled me to strike up conversations with staff with whom I would not normally have the time or opportunities to meet with or even encounter! Food tech teachers and assistants, other departments and individual staff are now people I see regularly and have conversations with at break and lunchtime, as well as at the start and end of the day. The feeling of “we are all in this together“ means that we all have something to talk about in common. The “good luck” comments and “how is your day going?” as I pass staff in the corridor or staff toilets and the current shared experience seems to be making for a stronger staff team as a whole.
For a few years, now, I’ve been seeking to simplify my lessons, removing the jazzy nonsense and focusing on the subject matter rather than the resource. The occasional unexpected glitch with sound or slides not opening in some of the classrooms I’ve been in has reminded me of the fact that keeping it simple and relying on my expertise, explanations, questioning and diagrams drawn with a board pen or under a visualiser are all that is needed. Simple teaching works.
Lastly, and most importantly, the biggest positive for all of us is the simple fact that we are finally back in the classroom with our students. One of my biggest struggles during lockdown was the constant feeling as I sat at my laptop each day that no matter how much effort I put into the remote teaching I was delivering, it could never replicate what I knew was possible in the classroom. Our lessons may be slightly shorter to allow for staff movement, we may be more tired than usual, but we are back with them, in the room, able to interact with them and gauge for understanding in a way that was all too lacking last term.
How long we will be working in this way is impossible to tell. However, if we are to keep our heads above water and do the best that we can in difficult circumstances, trying to focus on the positive aspects of our day, however few and far between they may at times be, will help to ensure that we approach our roles with as positive a mindset as possible, which can only serve to benefit the students we have been longing to be back in the classroom with for so long.