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Diary of a pandemic primary teacher: ‘It’s hard to know what this academic year has in store’

24th Aug 2020

An Irish primary school teacher shares her hopes and fears ahead of the new school term

Every August, when the wind down of the summer is coming and the last of the holiday tan is fading away, I start to think of the upcoming school year.

Not surprisingly, as a teacher I’ll make a list of important items I’ll need to arrive to school armed with. This year however is somewhat different. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate hand sanitiser and a thermometer to be top of my list!

Returning to school during a global pandemic is stressful. The re-opening of schools is an important milestone for the country to achieve. I know we’ve complained all summer about the scramble to make reservations for a last-minute dinner, the mere 105 minutes we have to drink as many G&Ts as possible over a mediocre pizza or the sudden explosion of #staycation on Instagram, but I believe we’ve forsaken our social life for the greater good.

For me, getting back to school will be a step towards normalcy again. Being one of the major institutions in day to day life, I’m proud that our country is in a position to re-open our schools in September. 

My own journey though the pandemic was a rocky one. I started the year off in Sydney, Australia, ringing in the new year with fireworks and box wine. I had arrived with a backpack on my back and a 417 visa in hand. My plans were simple, to spend 2020 travelling around Australia, leaving my beloved twenties in style.

I had put travelling on the long finger for the longest time, convincing myself that a mortgage was the be all and end all. Fast forward four months later and I’m booking my flight back to Ireland, cutting my year very short, knowing in my heart of hearts that I will never return and see out the plans I had so wistfully made pre-Covid.

Once my two weeks of quarantine were complete, I had a fairly grim outlook on my prospects (social life, love life, financial, you name it). At that time, I was torn between the regret of leaving Ireland for a mere four months of travel against the fear of having left Australia, as the possibility of them dodging a Covid-19 lockdown at the time seemed likely.

I feel a lot of sympathy for the children. If I was to put myself in their little shoes, I think they would be feeling nervous and anxious.

Surprisingly, I am almost giddy with excitement to return to my predictable school routine, one of the reasons I ran away to Australia just nine months ago! My focus now lays on navigating my way through the unknown territory of physical distancing, pods, bubbles, hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and staggering in the school environment, all the while making sure the children reside in a safe space where Covid-19 does not impact their social skills and educational needs.

It’s hard to know what this academic year has in store; this is foreign territory for everyone.

They don’t train you in college on how to prepare for a lesson on returning from a global pandemic. I feel a lot of sympathy for the children. If I was to put myself in their little shoes, I think they would be feeling nervous and anxious. Little ears and eyes are always listening and observing so I can’t imagine what some children may be feeling when they hear the daily update on “confirmed cases” or “Covid-19 related deaths”, language that has become the norm in every household around the country.  

I’m not sure what to expect for this next stage. I’m hopeful for a smooth transition but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared. The school will be awash with new policies and procedures with the safety of all in mind. I anticipate school life will be different, but that’s ok, I have to remind myself that we’re moving in the right direction.

I want this to work, I really do, but can we really expect a class full of children to adhere to these strict rules?

Guidelines from the Government on the return to school outlines the main focus of return being to “Slow Down to Catch Up” — a welcome change from “Slow the Spread”. Wellbeing has been prevalent in our schools in the past few years so now more than ever is a time where we’ll need to put it into practice.

It’s important that the children have a space where they feel safe and secure, a place where their feelings can be heard and affirmed by their peers. Believe it or not, the children will need a crash course in social skills, sitting, concentrating and routines both old and new. 

This week I’ll organise my classroom (bubble) to ensure there’s enough space for two groups (pods), with each group sitting 1m apart. I’ll ensure there’s hand sanitiser in every corner of the room and the appropriate signage to remind children of hand and respiratory hygiene.

Ever the realist, I’m unsure how this will actually play out. I want this to work, I really do, but can we really expect a class full of children to adhere to these strict rules? What if the rules are inconsistent throughout the school?

One thing I do know is when we return to school, I’ll be thankful for how far we’ve come, even if the catch-up conversations revolve around our comparable Kerry holidays.

Feature image: Pexels 

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