School Shutdown

My experience of the March 2020 school closure

Two weeks before my school closed, I was going about my days as usual - the only difference I noticed was a couple of people on the bus wearing their scarves up over their mouths.

One week before my school closed, we had been told that schools would probably be shut at some point but the hope was that we’d keep pushing on to make it to the half term break - 3 weeks away.

Two days before my school closed down was the most hectic day I think I’ve ever had at school.

Wednesday 18th March at 2.42pm. My school was declared closed.


How did that final week unravel?


Thursday 12th March

We could tell that there was a shift in the air that day. Concerned parents had started asking questions that we didn't have answers to and year group leads were constantly being called out for urgent Senior Leadership Team meetings.

After a somewhat normal day in class, our year group lead called an after school meeting to prepare for remote learning in the event of school closure. The small ask of us: Magically whip out planning and resourcing for 5 subjects for 5 ability groups for 10 days. Ideally by the end of the day tomorrow.

By my maths, that’s 5 x 5 x 10 = 250 lesson activities. Oh and you still need to teach your class AND do normal planning for next week.

Nope not possible.

We settled on creating 2 versions of the home learning work - one for our mid-high ability students and another for our low-ESL students. To further cut down the workload, we divvied out the responsibilities for planning and resourcing a subject between the 5 of us.

5 x 2 x 10 ÷ 5 = 20 each

Okay that’s possible.


Friday 13th March

Despite what the date might suggest, this day didn’t bring any unwanted surprises. Each of us worked individually on our subject resources - coming up with some original questions and prompts, but mostly jumping on the Twinkl bandwagon and making use of the ready-to-go resources on there.

I had to divide my time between working on this and getting my normal Literacy planning and resourcing done for the next school week. Barely denting home learning work, I conceded and kissed my weekend goodbye.


Monday 16th March

Carrying on as per the term schedule, we cracked into assessment week...such fun! Talk of doing writing moderation meetings after school was just a red herring for what the day would actually involve.

I was barely in class before being delegated the job of finishing off the 2 x 10 days of home learning packs and getting stuck into printing them. We were told that these should be ready to send home with our students at the end of the day in case school suddenly closed. Sorry, did you say today?

Goodness.

All of a sudden, I was under the pump to get through the 200+ pages of work and then get 74 of these packs printed. Maybe it would’ve been possible if the printers were available. The problem was...

EVERY year group in the school ALSO needed to print off hundreds of pages of work by the same deadline of 3pm.

So began the Printer Wars.

I’m not joking, I’ve never seen teachers turn so savage so quickly. Somehow it went from casual conversation about formatting documents to glares across the workroom at the person currently printing to a full on stand off for position at the printer outside the Head’s office. You had to fight for your spot and show no mercy. You thought cutting the queue in gridlocked traffic took guts. This took guts of steel.

Wolfing down my leftover stir-fry was the only two minutes I had to stop and breathe all day. Once we realised that we could use our light duty classroom printers to chew through the mammoth printing task, I ended up sprinting back and forward across the school monitoring multiple printers, restocking paper, editing the last few parts of Day 9 & 10 activities and trying to keep track of numbers of each home learning pack so that we didn’t print too many copies.

Well, with a backlog of jobs sent to multiple printers, we ended up with double the number of Day 1 packs than we needed and a big shortage of copies of days 6, 7 and 9. Absolute chaos.

Funny thing was that I was absolutely loving the adrenaline rush.

It’s amazing what you can achieve with a bit of time pressure.

With us teachers and teacher aides all working at our max but still so much prep to do, we had to recruit some Year 6 girls to help us. Because, did I mention that each student needed to have a zip-lock bag, pencils and workbooks to go along with their differentiated learning pack? Yep. Our Year 1 classes were combined in the afternoon and my classroom became a full on production line for spitting out these home learning packs. It was pretty efficient and quite a sight to see!

20 minutes until 3pm and I still believed we could make it. Cylinders all firing, heads all down and stacks piling higher, we were ladies on a mission. As increasing doubt over having the full set of work ready crept in, I thought I could at least rest easy knowing that we could send 5 days of work home today. Unfortunately not. Word came through that we had to send home 10 full days of work OR none at all.

So after all of that, we sent home nothing.

Even though there was no indication that school would close and that it would be ‘business as usual’ the next day, this was utterly deflating. I really believed that we’d make it.

Home learning packs

Somehow finding the energy to plough on, a couple of us stayed to try and finish off the job. By 6.02pm we’d managed to prep 62 home learning packs ready to send home with students. Calling it quits for the day, it was time to head home. To flop over on the sofa and watch tv? Pfffft that would be too easy.

It was my moving out day the next morning. Huzzah.


Tuesday 17th March

Up at the crack of dawn to gather my belongings together and lug what I could into school, I was lacking that rush of motivation from the day before. Time to start up the printers and continue from where we left off the day before.

There were noticeably fewer students in at school; 36 in total from the 3 Year 1 classes. Oh well, time for more testing because this is assessment week after all! The students were divided up between 2 classrooms and we pressed on with our days. The message throughout the day was still "If/when school closes..." and there was no guarantee that we would even close before the half term break.

We had to ensure that every student had their Bug Club/Abacus logins and passwords to access online reading and maths. That afternoon during pick up, we had to check parent phone numbers were all up to date for potential phone calls home. This was followed by a staff meeting going through "tech stuff", again, "in case school closed" and we had to work remotely.


Wednesday 18th March

This began with talks of differentiated activities for our students in at school. Sounded normal. An hour later, talk of just putting on a movie for the students was circling around.

We were called in for a staff meeting in the middle of the day. Although chipper at the start, sombre undertones suddenly swept through the room. Our headteacher said that she didn't know if we'd have many more opportunities to gather - this could very well be the last time that we were all together. My heart sank. Before this, I'd been absorbed in the urgency and adrenaline of the unknown and now a chasm was forming in my stomach and I didn't want to know what lay at the bottom. We had a couple of staff farewell announcements. I felt sorry for the staff who were leaving because there was no feeling of celebration amongst us; we were all preoccupied with the utterings of uncertainty swarming inside our heads.

In a haze, we returned to class and I think I taught the students something about the seasons. Sometime after 2pm, we were told to scrap our afternoon plan and head to the hall for students to watch a movie.

All teaching staff please make your way to the staffroom.

At 2.42pm we got the announcement: School was closing TODAY.

There wasn't much to say, just return to class and get your students packed up for the day. Notices fresh out of the printer were distributed to us as we led our classes outside for pick up. Waving goodbye to students was a weird experience - our Year 1s couldn't really comprehend the school closure and I was just as in the dark in knowing when I'd see them again.

It had all happened so fast that I didn't have time to process what had happened. To add to this, not half an hour later, I found out that my flat I was moving into in April had fallen through.

It felt like a slow motion panic. An overwhelming haze of uncertainty yet I remember it vividly.

~

How does this compare to your memory of school closing?

Cast your mind back to the moment you found out...



📙 Next article: Teaching in 2020 - School Standby

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