Chaos rules ok in the classroom

In the latest edition of the distance teaching diaries, Secondary English Teacher, Ms. P, considers the highs and lows of teaching in the time of COVID-19.  

Chaos rules ok in the classroom as bravely the teacher logs on… (apologies to Roger McGough)

This morning, I’ve had a Zoom meeting with my teacher-training colleagues; spent 45 minutes trying to make a poem fit on a page that works on a mobile phone screen and answered 37 student comments on an app. I should have taught 3 lessons of Year 9 and though that would normally provoke a, ‘Triple Year 9, kill me now’ comment in the office to my colleagues, I would give anything to be there saying that. Everything now is just strange. People talk about the ‘new normal’ but given – at time of writing – we are only 3 weeks into lockdown, I don’t really feel that anything feels normal yet.

Maybe it’s worse for teachers. We are so used to being in our classrooms with our students that there is no real educational sense of ‘working from home’. Don’t get me wrong, we all work from home all the time: marking, planning, researching. The list is endless. But this working from home, right now, is something no teacher could ever really feel prepared for. One minute I was marking Year 13 coursework and the next I was at home wondering if that coursework would ever be sent.

So what’s changed?

In short: everything. And before we knew it.

The kids are gone, my classroom is empty and the timetable I once adhered to rigidly has been replaced with a temporary working rota that requires my attendance on site on a fortnightly basis.

The curriculum, we’ve been told, is suspended and yet schools need to provide some learning – but what does that mean? At home, I’ve tried to re-write Schemes of Work to adapt to the online environment and I left messages for my students on the homework app.  I’ve marked the books that students might not see again and I’ve religiously checked my inbox for news. I’ve received some cheery responses, a lot of queries about where the right folders of info are; and quite a lot of complaints that nothing makes sense without me to explain it.  And I can’t solve those problems.

My overwhelming feeling is one of helplessness – both in the face of Covid-19 and this new educational landscape. Whilst we have experimented with Zoom for meetings, we’ve got little hope of real online delivery to students via meeting platforms – let’s not start on the safeguarding required. And if we aren’t expected to deliver new content then are 9am-5pm online classrooms necessary?

The sheer extent of the input needed for anything technological is astounding.

Our network team has worked night and day to ensure everything is where is should be – including the folder someone accidentally locked the whole school out of for 24 hours – but we’ve still got students who’ve been unable to access anything online. And then there are those who simply don’t have the right equipment; broadband; capability of accessing things online. And it’s not helped by mixed messages from the media about everyone being ‘home-schooled’.

There’s a fantastic community of online support

#edutwitter has is a shining light in the universal darkness. For every tabloid headline demanding that schools re-open immediately, there’s an army of teachers sharing booklets and worksheets, posting links to fantastic CPD opportunities that we never normally get a chance to enjoy; or sharing practical ideas about how to gain ‘experience’ when you’re a trainee teacher worrying about how you will qualify. And I am so grateful for everyone who’s posted and shared, we really have been #bettertogether. But, again, it can be hugely overwhelming – especially if you work for more than one school or have more than one role, and even more if you’ve got your own children at home who are momentarily excited to have mummy as teacher.

Already there are the early Home School Uber mums who manage to get Joe Wicks done; complete the online learning worksheets and whip up a wholesome casserole before I’ve even got out of my pjs. And, although I am supremely thankful to all the wonderful teachers out there sharing amazing resources, I’ve had to limit my social media time for fear I’m failing on every level as I’ve only managed to upload a poem and some comprehension questions let alone complete 23 hours of Extended Writing CPD. I can’t be the only one hoping it all calms down a bit.

And that’s probably the key word – hope. We are all hoping this will be over soon. We are hoping that we can get through it safe and well and sane – and that’s going to be my focus. In the absence of any real guidance, thus far, from the DfE, all we can hope for is that we can do our best. To set the work we are asked to, to adapt and find new ways – just like we do every time Ofsted alter their criteria; or a new curriculum is thrown at us; or Year 11 decide they aren’t really feeling it on a Friday Period 5. It’s what we are best at, even remotely. So today, I’ll post a cheery message to my Year 9. I might even tell them that I miss them and I’ll worry less about preparing the perfect online lesson that caters for every ability, every learning style and every level of online accessibility. And I’ll hope that we’ll all be back to normal soon.

Ms. P is a Secondary English Teacher in a large comprehensive school in Essex. Working as a classroom teacher and Subject Trainer in English for a SCITT trainee course. PCGE qualified 2001. Mother to 12 year old and 8 year old.

This article features as part of a special distance teaching blog series by teachers and educational leaders, about life during the current global health crisis. We want to hear about your experience of school closures, distance teaching, wellbeing and everything in between. Please email if you’d like to contribute a blog.

One thought on “Chaos rules ok in the classroom

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    Totally agree, there are lots of mixed messages out there and, has become the norm, teachers feeling that whatever they do it’s not enough. Hope and do your best, that’s all we can do and it is enough.

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