It’s been 26 days since my world shut down. It’s been far longer for others.
It began slowly. Back, in January, news of an unknown virus in China reached us here in Europe. I barely took any notice – SARS, MERS, Avian Flu, Swine Flu, Foot and Mouth, these things have happened before. But then, my friends in Asia began teaching online. Although it seemed extreme, surely it was nothing to worry about. It was just a precaution. Just for a week. Before long, a week became two, two became four, then exams got cancelled, and things became a lot more real.
The day we closed was surreal. News spread of an outbreak in Northern Italy, where some of our students had travelled for the February holiday and were self-isolating. Another school in the city had already shut. Initially, we were envious. How lucky those teachers were to get a week’s reprieve from the daily grind! We joked in the staff room about how much work we could do if we closed too. At lunchtime, an email came through calling an emergency assembly; we discussed the surprise email cautiously. What could it mean?
Later that afternoon, we stood in silence as our Head Teacher announced that school would close at the end of the day. Students were to collect their things and go. Just like that. Uneasily, they left the room. Some, of course, whooped with joy at the unexpected holiday – they wouldn’t be in trouble for that unfinished Maths project, or fail the next Science test. Most were shocked. The corridors emptied quickly, as they would for a holiday, but jubilation was replaced by anxiety, fear and palpable sorrow.
Keep Calm and Carry On
As teachers, we stayed behind for a briefing. Unable to avoid closure, management already had plans in place. Our instructions were to Keep Calm and Carry On – education first. Except we would teach lessons from home using all sorts of new-to-us technology. It was only for a week, they said.
Before long, a week became two, two became four, then exams got cancelled, and things became a lot more real. Last week we closed ‘indefinitely’.
Losing a Community
Surprisingly, days and weeks fly by quicker than they do at school. My classes are going well – unlike many of my colleagues, I enjoy virtual teaching. Attendance has been near-perfect, and my students remain upbeat. However, without face-to-face interaction, I can’t see how they are coping. I don’t know when they are struggling or need my help. What’s more, nobody can see when I’m feeling this way either.
Teachers don’t just teach sums and letters anymore. We are social workers, caregivers, advisors, mediators, and problem-solvers. We care about our students; how many teachers are floundering now that the very essence of their job has gone? I wonder how many students around the world are struggling without this vital support system.
Final year students and exam classes are anxious: when the initial shock wore off fear for their futures began. With exams cancelled, how will their grades be calculated? How will they get into the university they want? How meaningless to have nothing definitive to show after two years of effort. Teachers feel anxious too. How can we give our students answers that we don’t have ourselves? The exam boards might be quicker with their responses if they could hear the fear in the voices of young people whose futures seem so uncertain.
Not only that, but we miss seeing our students’ faces every day. We chose a career that thrives on social interaction – and we don’t like being divided by a cold, faceless screen. We know that we are lucky to be working at a time when others can’t – and like everybody else, we will do our part.
Still, we can’t wait for the day we walk back into our classrooms and life gets back to normal.