This particular week in teaching is summed up nicely in a thank you message from one of our Year 11 students, ‘I hope you stay safe in these uncertain times’: Student turns teacher – we weren’t needed after all.
Perhaps young people don’t need a clutch of exam certificates if they can show such empathy and maturity at the top of this rollercoaster. Perhaps our work here is done, even though we feel totally short changed and would much prefer to cheer our students to the intended finish line.
Teachers and school support crew have been outstanding this week, but so too have been our students. We have learnt so much from them. For once we have had no words but have followed their fine demonstration of resilience and optimism.
For Year 11 and Year 13 students in particular, this week has been uniquely bonkers. Two years of preparation for their own personal Olympics and then without warning the Opening Ceremony and Games get cancelled. One minute we are waiting to collapse lower school years to prioritise these exam classes – the next it is game over as exams (and therefore lessons) are cancelled.
We pull assemblies together in hours, desperate to ensure that the young people we have been hounding, cajoling and teaching for the last 5 to 7 years, don’t feel that we have just hit the ejector seat button and walked away. Some students are already isolated at home so we don’t get to say goodbye even with a foot tap; sad because I have become quite adept at air high fives and ‘elbow hugs’ this week. Some teachers are now too vulnerable to be in school but speedily cobble together videos, raps and songs to be shown to their tutor groups and classes in a final assembly. They wisely pre-record their messages for ‘leaky eye’ seems to have become as contagious as Corona this week.
When preparing our Year 13 assembly, as a pastoral team we keep ourselves distracted from the reality by compiling a play list of Corona tracks. Police’s ‘Don’t Stand Too Close to Me’ is a constant in the Top 20 but ‘My Corona’ threatens to knock it off the top spot. We agree that it would be too irreverent to play this compilation as the students join us for one last get together before their longest ‘holiday’ begins; we realise afterwards that we have missed a marketing niche when the ‘Now That’s What I Call Corona Virus’ album starts trending on Spotify.
As ever, irreverence gets us through and the students seem to understand that it is only our weak humour and their banter that will stop their teachers, class assistants and support team blubbing uncontrollably in public when we really should be comforting them. We gamely sign their school shirts and they understand when we ask if we can use our own pen rather than their shared ones. (Now they decide to bring stationery into school. The irony is not lost).
You have to smile when the student you have tried to coax into lessons and detentions for the past two terms – without success – suddenly appears on site on the very day school closes, with a thank you card. For many of our students, having the structure of school as the one consistent in their life, has helped them get through. Moaning about forthcoming exams, homework and a ‘pathetic’ uniform policy has been a useful deflection from having to look too closely at their home life. Suddenly there are a lot of hours to fill each day and few people available to help you get organised.
It will be the same for us teachers; all the things we usually moan about – assemblies, marking, parent evenings, marking – will be the things we really miss for they have punctuated our days and calibrated the progress of our students. Kahlil Gibran, as ever, comes to my rescue and says it so much better than I can:
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight” – well, perhaps he did less marking than we do, but he is wise nonetheless.
I receive a card from a student who I thought hated school, and who particularly seemed to hate my English lessons, ‘Thanks for being so patient, Miss. I know I’ve been a challenge, but I really loved our lessons.’ Another student emails me for work even though he knows he will no longer have to sit an exam. ‘I might as well be doing something, Miss – even Poetry‘.
On Friday, I realise that food has clearly informed much more of my pedagogy than I have realised – this will come as no surprise to regular readers. Both some Year 11’s and a Year 13 student drop by – from a social distance – to give me some thank you confectionary. I receive a family bar of Dairy Milk from my year 11, ‘You must have spent so much money on sweets for us over the last two years Miss and we know you like the smell of chocolate but try not to eat it, so we thought you could inhale this bar now and then save it in case you need emergency rations for future self-isolation’.
From the Year 13 student I receive a bag of Jelly Baby Chicks (who knew??) for my office Jelly Baby jar; ‘Keep them in the bag Miss, as a key worker you won’t want random people dipping into your jar right now’.
She’s right, but then in isolation this week we have also all worked as one brilliant team and I think we will look back and feel so proud of our students and everyone who works in a school environment. We have conjured up lessons, assemblies and pastoral support both on site and from a distance and started to navigate towards an unchartered landscape. The students have kept us sane with their patience, humour and thanks. Kahlil would have been proud of the space we have forged in our togetherness. I will leave the last words to him even though he probably wasn’t anticipating social distancing becoming a ‘thing’:
‘Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”
We’ve got this everyone. Every day’s a school day.