"A rollercoaster of unexpected events."
Eyeing down the finish line of their four-year university marathon, they were so close to officially entering the teacher profession when the events of this year hit and added some unexpected hurdles along the final stretch. In this part of our Teaching in 2020 series, you’ll be hearing from three UK NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) who managed to navigate the obstacles of the year and hit the ground running in their first terms of full time Year 7-11 PE teaching.
Cast your memory back to the day when you found out that your school was closing. Did you know it was coming? How was it announced? What was the feeling amongst staff and students?
I was on placement at the time and I was in a position where it was my university that made that decision for us. We got an email through on a Tuesday afternoon saying that our placements were being terminated and our last day would be the following day (Wednesday 18th March, 2020). We were shocked and scared. Our lecturers told us to prepare for the fact that we would most likely never go back to our placement schools and that we should clear out everything from there and hand back our keys / ID badges. I remember calling my mum and telling her and her reaction was essentially "Don't worry, we'll make sure to get you home before the lockdown comes in". It was quite a feeling of apprehension.
On my training placement, everyone was very anxious and unsure of what was going to happen. We had been preparing online lessons so felt good in that respect, but worried a lot about the exams etc in the summer. It was also an international private school with a lot of boarders, so we had a lot of worry about students that couldn’t get home. As trainees we were anxious that we wouldn’t be allowed to finish our final year and go on to get jobs as teachers who had missed a large chunk of their training.
I was working in a school as a trainee on my final placement. On the Wednesday, we were told that our placements would be paused as the schools would close the following Monday. We knew it was a potential scenario but didn’t know when exactly and the duration. Staff had mixed feelings; some feeling that they shouldn’t be at school due to the amount of people they were being exposed to. Kids were excited at the thought of school closing, but didn’t know too much about COVID-19
Did anything change in your personal circumstances around the time your country went into lockdown?
I moved out of my university home and back in with my parents. I stopped my lifeguarding job at the local leisure centre and instead got a job at a Tesco supermarket working disgusting hours where I had to start at 2am, picking and packing all the online orders.
Finished my final year, got a job in June and moved to a new flat.
Missed a third of my teacher training and trying to secure my NQT post with the whole process changing.
What did teaching during the first lockdown look like for you? What were the expectations from your school?
I didn't actually have experience of teaching during this lockdown due to my placement being terminated.
My placement school used Google Classroom. They were expected to set work for every lesson - Core PE, theory etc) that was trackable with homework. They were encouraged to use video to chat with students, but as a faculty we decided against it.
As I was a trainee, I was not expected to teach remotely. As soon as we went into lockdown my placement was paused - and then cancelled because of the duration of lockdown.
🎒 The Big Return
What procedures or systems did your school put in place once students were back at school?
Year group bubbles which don’t cross
Staggered arrival, break and departure times
Hand sanitiser in every classroom and all around the school
Masks have to be worn in corridors by students and staff - although students often complain and don’t understand the importance of wearing them
Visors worn by teachers in classrooms, social distancing from students
Students not allowed to get changed into PE gear
Low intensity exercise only/ if sport allowed - maximum group of 6 students/ 3 vs 3 in a game
Cleaning of PE equipment after every lesson/ equipment for different bubbles
Classrooms limited to use by only one year level e.g. Science labs for Year 11
Seating plans for students - allows easier tracking of close contacts if a student tests positive
1 LSA per year level for support
Comfy chairs removed from the staffroom - replaced with spaced out seating which can be wiped down easily
Did your curriculum/timetable change?
Much less practical in PE. Only allowed to do orienteering right now as it is outdoors and low intensity. Many students are bored of it and can’t wait to do normal PE.
PE changed to suit what activities we could cover (e.g. no rugby). The school used to use ability classes but has changed to mixed ability tutor groups. This has changed the content of our lessons a lot. Similarly they are also mixed gender so the boys are doing netball when they wouldn’t usually.
The PE curriculum changed with regards to limitations in sports and NGB [the national governing bodies of sport] guidance.
How did your students feel about coming back to school? What was their attendance like? Did anything surprise you about their attitudes towards learning?
Generally, the students in my classes were very positive.
Attendance was low, but not unexpected when students get colds regularly, especially during flu season. They were getting worn out/distracted more easily due to not being in school for a long time. Some students were particularly anxious so they were put in an “inclusion bubble” where they did work together and were separate from everyone else. In lockdown 2.0, students were happy to be at school to socialise with their friends, but there was not much care for learning.
A lot of anxiety at first although most were happy to be back with friends. Some students still have not returned because of anxiety and parents do not wish for them to be back in school.
Did you notice any big gaps in your students' learning?
New content that was delivered over lockdown basically had to be delivered again. The main change was behaviour. Students hadn’t been disciplined (at least in a school environment) for 6 months so behaviour was really poor in September.
Practically the students have missed out on summer sports so their knowledge of these and performance was poorer than what it usually would have been.
How did you find returning to school?
I was apprehensive about being in a room with so many students at once - like the government was placing teachers in the firing line - but I do feel safe in my school. They look after us and the students very well. I was very excited as this is my first "official" teaching job.
Excited, but very tired very quickly.
Nervous as it is my first job. I was unable to look around the school or meet any of the students before securing my job. It has been exhausting but I feel very lucky to have some normality and a job in these uncertain times.
Has school returned to 'normal' for you yet?
School feels normal now as we have been doing the same routines since September - however routines initially felt very strange - e.g. not letting students go near each other, making sure students had masks on, hand sanitising as they came into rooms etc.
No not at all. Very limited with the curriculum and the sports we can deliver across the year groups to ensure that we are as “COVID safe” as possible.
What has online teaching taught you? Has it changed your perspective on teaching and/or technology?
I feel that whilst it cannot replace face-to-face teaching there is definitely a place for it when utilised well. It gives the opportunity to deliver content to students, including the sharing of resources, safely. Students are generally very receptive of this although it is somewhat harder to be creative.
It’s taught me the value of in-person teaching.
Thankfully I haven’t had to experience it yet!
How did you find the workload this year? Were there any changes that made your days better or worse?
Meetings feel easier now as they are over teams so it feels like less of an obligation/ not as serious (probably how students feel in online lessons!). Since lockdown 2.0, we haven’t done extra-curricular clubs, which is nice on time and workload but a shame for the kids. Less extra curricular anyway with the lack of fixtures. Main effort is the increased demand on behaviour management.
Workload has been heavy but that is as expected in an NQT year.
What positives have come for you personally this year?
I got to spend much more time with my parents during lockdown than I usually would have done.
Personally my life hasn’t changed that much as I worked throughout the pandemic. As an NQT, I felt less pressure when starting in September because every teacher was quite stressed, so I actually felt quite calm in comparison, which I felt was unusual in your first teaching job.
Appreciating how lucky we are and the freedom we have. So thankful to have a job and some stability.
Any thoughts, hopes or take-aways going into 2021?
I hope it is a positive year - but I have learnt to value the little things like being able to spend time with friends and family this year and I am so grateful for that.
I hope that people don’t lose the connectivity that they have gained - checking in on people and talking to old friends more often. An increased understanding of hygiene - especially with primary school kids - has been a positive. I hope that the vaccine gets us back to normal quickly!!