"I’m still emailing parents at 8.30pm" - a teacher’s life in lockdown

I get them using things they can find around the house... I have to make it accessible for all.

Mollie knows not every family in her school community has access to a computer or tablet. So when it comes to setting lessons for her Year 1 pupils to complete at home, she has to think smart.

“I get them using things they can find around the house,” she told BBC Teach. “My class is learning to count in twos, fives and 10s. So I tell them, ‘go round your family and see how many toes there are. You can count each foot in fives.’ I have to make it accessible for all.”

Juggling the responsibilities of work and home life

With thousands of schoolchildren across the UK being taught at home as the Covid-19 pandemic brings the life we know to a temporary halt, Mollie is one of an army of teaching staff who are making sure our kids come out the other side of the lockdown with their curriculum knowledge intact.

Amanda is another. A secondary school maths teacher, she has to juggle the responsibilities of her work timetable with ensuring her own three children get their education at home too.

As part of a brand new family schedule, they get their outdoor exercise in before lessons begin for the day, “depending on which child is up for what,” she laughed. In a house of five, they consider themselves fortunate that each of them has access to their own computer (even if it means keeping a close eye on the wi-fi levels), but their youngest son, a Year 5 pupil, is finding the transition from classroom to home learning something of a struggle. "He won’t do the work without someone alongside him,” Amanda said, “so we have had to tag team working alongside him, my husband and I.”

Schools are not just places of learning

They’re also communities in their own right. Not every child is home schooling in the stable environment that Amanda’s family enjoys. As well as organising lesson plans for their classes to go through at home, teachers have to consider the welfare of the vulnerable children in their care when they are set to be off-site for some time.

For Mollie, this means keeping closer contact with children who need a more watchful eye, otherwise, it can be stressful. She said: “It’s the emotional strain of not knowing that the children in your care are safe or happy or learning. The ones I would ordinarily worry about, that’s magnified. I can’t make sure that, between the hours of nine and three, they’re in safe and happy environments.”

Families of children who are listed as vulnerable get regular calls to check on their welfare and members of the PTA have also been doing the rounds, delivering food parcels and supplies such as pens, pencils and paper to those who need them so that home lessons don’t suffer. Mollie admits that the pastoral side of her role has made her even more busy during the lockdown. She can still find herself emailing parents at 8.30pm, compared to a working day which used to run from 8.30am to around 5pm.

What about those teachers that are still going to school?

Research by education insight company EdComs found that 69% of primary teachers and 62% of secondary teachers are still dividing their time in the lockdown between home and school. Amanda is one of the staff at her school who is on a rota to go back on to the premises to teach the children of key workers. There are no more than 10 pupils on site at a time and their timetable is split into sessions. “It’s a strange situation for them,” she said. “They’re not WhatsApping or video conferencing like their other friends. They have two hours in the morning to do their work at a computer set up by the staff, and then another hour in the afternoon and also an hour in the library where they’re having their own time.”

Meanwhile her students based at home are in regular email contact with her. If the maths website they are advised to access is creaking under heavy demand, she gives them an idea of something else they can do. Amanda and her colleagues also have to consider what now happens to the students who were due to take their GCSEs this summer. Their teaching was complete and mock exam results may be used to decide a final grade, but there wasn’t time to sit the second round of mocks which could have helped form a more complete picture for each student. She admits to ‘having tears in her eyes’ the day the school was closed down, knowing the impact it would have on her pupils’ futures.

Don't forget the 'off switch'

Another side to being a teacher at home is having children who need help with their lessons. Amanda continued: “It is difficult, thinking you have to respond to your students, and then my kids saying they need help with something. My older two are quite self-sufficient but it is a strange environment for them. They’re not having that interaction with the rest of their class, being able to bounce off them. It’s not as easy being at home and trying to bounce ideas off Mum. If they ask me for help, I do find myself having to use Google sometimes.”

The ‘off switch’, where Amanda goes from being a teacher to being mum again is there, but she finds her eldest son struggles to stop working. Her daughter, on the other hand, has a regular appointment with an Instagram Live training session at 5.30pm to practise her football skills.

Keeping children safe and happy is the priority

Mollie’s class are not at an age where they can text or email. Correspondence goes direct to the parents, and videos are posted on the school website and the YouTube channel set up for each of the Key Stages where she and other teachers can say hello, discuss the weather, tell a story or even take a walk and offer some advice on wellbeing and mindfulness.

She explained: “Every evening, we post the next day’s home learning on the school website. There’s a compulsory task, a recommended task and an optional task, three sessions all cushioned by lunch and play sessions.”

She added: “Some parents say to me they haven’t managed to do all of today’s home learning. I say, ‘are your kids safe and happy? Because if they are, that’s my priority."

“The lockdown might strengthen the sense of community. My headteacher says he’s having emails from parents he’s never heard from before. They’re saying they appreciate everything he’s done.”

It’s a situation that has already sharpened Amanda’s view of life.

She said: “I’m appreciating time with my family. My mum is on her own and it’s important to have contact and keep conversations going on a regular basis. You can’t take for granted that you can just jump in a car and go and speak to someone.”

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