CROYDON COMMENTARY: After the first full week back in the classroom following six months of lockdown, one locally based teacher* offers their thoughts on what life is like under the ‘new normal’
The sanitation stations with their alcohol-based gel are new, of course, and, so far at least, neither the Year 11s nor the teachers appear to have started drinking from them.
A week into the “new normal” term and, while there have been tears (shed mostly by members of middle management), the pupils are doing fine and appear to be happier to be in school than they ever were back in March.
From a teacher’s point of view, it is great to see the pupils again but strange to have to keep reminding them to give us two metres.
They are in “bubbles” and can mix freely within their year group, but we teachers are not, since we all teach across the year groups. If we get too close, we risk bursting their bubbles.
The dining room staff have adapted well. A dinner lady puts a cutlery set on to your tray as you queue for lunch and you thus avoid having to rummage in the deep plastic bins of knives, forks and spoons where a hundred hands have rummaged before you.
All this assuming, of course, that you are one of the lucky few who are on the complicated rota for a hot lunch today instead of a thick baguette with a meagre scrape of a filling, a packet of crisps and a Penguin. Theoretically, there is fruit too, but the fruit is, I think, only ever consumed by the teachers.
The baguettes, however, are provided to each bubble in a big cardboard box. There is cheese and tomato, ham salad, and chicken with mayonnaise. You watch as pupil hands dip in, lift up baguette after baguette, returning them until the preferred flavour is picked out. Someone somewhere didn’t think that one out.
I think we still have Healthy School status, but I doubt this will last for long. The regular consumption of huge brick-like baguettes supplemented by savoury snacks and chocolate-covered biscuits combined with a lack of inter-school sports will inevitably lead to a dramatic rise in teenage obesity.
Meanwhile, encouraged by management who have found a cheap way to appear generous, and a catering staff who understandably will not accept returns, teachers are hoovering up the leftovers at the end of each working day.
We won’t get fat, though. Whereas, in the “old normal”, teachers used to stay put and it was the pupils who meandered from classroom to classroom for their different lessons, now the bubble system demands that the pupils remain in their designated part of the school and we teachers take on the role of computer-burdened nomads, schlepping around the school buildings, hurrying to arrive on time to avoid the disapproving looks of our charges. The world has turned upside down.
And the lessons?
The lessons are mostly going OK. The pupils, so long confined to their own homes, are relishing the school experience and are inclined to engage well with the work, with each other and with the teachers.
Some parts of the school have been repurposed, though, and not always well. A colleague found that she had been timetabled to teach a group of 20 students in what turned out to be a stationery cupboard. Management apologised by saying that there was a problem with the algorithm.
I have been assigned a corner of the (now book-less) school library to teach all of my Year 12 lessons. There is plenty of space but I do not have access to a smart whiteboard or even a socket and I find I am speaking more loudly by the minute in order to avoid being drowned out by the verb conjugations being loudly vocalised by the French class in the opposite corner.
Today, we were reminded of the fragility of our situation.
The head of safeguarding reported on isolated cases of children with symptoms in nearby schools. We await, as they do, the results of their tests.
Outside of schools, young people are not necessarily sticking to their bubble groups. In school, all we can do is reduce the chance of infection, rather than remove it completely.
For my part, I will be sanitising at every opportunity and avoiding the baguettes like… well, like the plague.
* For reasons of schools protocols and protection, it has been necessary to keep the identity of the teacher, and their school, anonymous.
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