Secret diary of a pandemic teacher: 'Something more sinister has raised its head within this new school regime'

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An Irish primary school teacher shares her experience of the first week back in school


I find it hard to put into words, the atmosphere that engulfed the school the morning of the first day back. Before the doors burst open, there was an air of apprehension; however some masked that with their so called excitement. I like to observe people and I could tell by some of the school’s staff body language that they were nervous. They were nervous about problems they may encounter, problems they couldn’t have anticipated, they were nervous about the children’s safety and about their own safety.

Many teachers and SNAs have remarked that the buzz is absent from the school, the chatter among staff in the morning while fuelling up with coffee has disappeared

Being back just over a week now, I’m surprised at what changes have affected me the most. Before returning I was worried about disinfecting, entrances and exits, bubbles, pods and new policies and procedures. These are all the practical things that go hand in hand with this pandemic. However, I must say the reality of returning to school is a lot more complicated.

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Many teachers and SNAs have remarked that the buzz is absent from the school, the chatter among staff in the morning while fuelling up with coffee has disappeared. A once bustling staff room has now turned into a bare room with the bare essentials to get through the day. Gossip and stories at break and lunch time is no more, as staggered times means staff will zip in and out in quick concession, with some sitting alone in the chilly corridor if there are more than the required 6 in the main staff room. I realise that we are lucky to still have the use of our staff room as for other schools this luxury may have been sacrificed so as it can be turned into a classroom due to the impossible task to effectively socially distance within their original classrooms.

Something more sinister

Children who may not have been as resilient as others before this pandemic have been hit the hardest.

Although teachers and SNAs may feel detached socially now that bubbles and pods have cut us off from freely moving around the school, something more sinister has raised its head within this new regime. I have unfortunately encountered many children who have acquired a legitimate degree of anxiety due to the fears and worries they have about the virus. Children who may not have been as resilient as others before this pandemic have been hit the hardest.

The deaths and confirmed cases we hear about daily, are still very important to know but in my opinion are unnecessary. Being forced to be reminded about these numbers on every news bulletin is exhausting.

In my last column I mentioned how Covid-19 updates can’t possibly have escaped little ears over these past few months so it has come as no surprise, I just never expected it to affect some children so dramatically. I find myself trying to source information on how to effectively ensure them that everything will be alright while also being careful not to undermine their intelligence. Children need coping mechanisms, now more than ever in fact. Learning to deal with their worries and stresses is detrimental to every child’s development however I can’t help but feel that the media has to play a part in helping children and indeed young adolescents in doing this.

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The media was a helpful tool at the start of this pandemic in helping us learn about the virus, and it was a tool the government used to shock us into realising the extent of how fast this virus can travel. Now though, I feel the media is sensationalising. Maybe it has been a slow news day for the past few months and headlines need filling but does that really come at the expense of children’s mental wellbeing? The deaths and confirmed cases we hear about daily, are still very important to know but in my opinion are unnecessary. Being forced to be reminded about these numbers on every news bulletin is exhausting.

New rules and procedures

Bubbles and pods are inadvertently mixing and any school that disagrees is wrong

“Coronavirus is ruining everything” one child exclaimed on day 3. The realist within me was inclined to agree. However it struck me later on that evening, as I lamented on his outburst, that we could be raising a generation that feel unable to find joy and happiness, if the virus sticks around. They don’t lick it from the ground, as the old saying goes. As adults we need to stop wallowing in our own self pity, for the sake of the children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we need to wrap our children up in bubble wrap in order to protect them from the misfortunes of the world but I don't think we should let children muddle through this period with a negative attitude.

Dream as we may about a day when we can order a drink without a substantial meal, it is going to be a mammoth task

Overall, children are pleased to get back to school, into a routine they’ll never admit they enjoy. New rules and procedures are going well but many rules are broken unintentionally every day. It is impossible to ensure every interaction is met with 1m or every handle of a door is disinfected. Bubbles and pods are inadvertently mixing and any school that disagrees is wrong. We are however all trying our best. With the opening of “wet pubs” on the horizon and having spent a week in a big school, I can understand why the reins have been held so tightly on this one. Dream as we may about a day when we can order a drink without a substantial meal, it is going to be a mammoth task to control a situation whereby  alcohol is flowing without limit and patrons are giddy with excitement.

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In fairness, I shouldn’t compare children to revellers as one would agree that at least children have shown they can follow the rules.

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