Challenging But Rewarding

Experiences of an NZ Year 7-10 Teacher

20 December, 2020

"With the exception of about three, our intermediate cohort of 79 students expressed that they were glad to be back at school.”

The next take on the year comes from a Year 7-10 teacher from NZ. Having recently finished his Master of Education Practice, moved school, house and and become father to a second child, this year was set to be both busy and exciting. Let’s take a dive into his experience of teaching in 2020:

🔒 Lockdown

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?
We watched the live announcement in the staffroom. Jacinda Ardern’s lockdown declaration was synonymous with the BBC broadcast that England was declaring war on Germany in 1939. People were expecting it but hadn't fully processed what teaching could look like in this new context. First concerns were more of a personal nature.

What did teaching during lockdown look like for you? What were the expectations from your school?
I worked from my desk at home. The expectations included three Zoom calls per day - one for pastoral check-ins and two for workshopping. Everything was already on Google Classroom so the transition was seamless for us in that regard.

What was the hardest part about transitioning to online learning? Do you think your school was set up to deliver this?
Our school was overall well-placed to switch to online learning. The challenges were primarily around providing devices for students who didn't have one, as well as catering for the outliers - students who made zero contact throughout the lockdown.

If your school was open for children of essential workers, what was your role in supporting this?
We had only a very small number of students in this category - under ten across the whole school. These students reported to one classroom with separated tables to promote social distancing and had two teachers.

🎒 The Big Return

What procedures or systems did your school put in place once students were back at school?
I believe our procedures were fairly typical of most NZ schools; social distancing, hand sanitiser stations, and desk configurations designed to support 1m social distancing between students.

Did your curriculum/timetable change?

Yes, the typical school day ran with a much more organic timetable and greater variety of options throughout the course of the day. The online timetable was more linear and didn’t allow for as much differentiation and student autonomy. This structure suited some students but not others. Some principles that were trialled during lockdown have been retained because students endorsed their value. One example of this for us was incorporating elements of flip classroom and front-loading through video tutorials.

How did your students feel about coming back to school? What was their attendance like? Did anything surprise you about their attitudes towards learning?
We gathered some student voice on this topic. With the exception of about three, our intermediate cohort of 79 students expressed that they were glad to be back. We saw a rise in engagement after the return from lockdown.

We saw a rise in engagement after the return from lockdown.

Did you notice any big gaps in your students' learning?
Our schoolwide data has shown a marginal drop in achievement from last year in reading, writing and mathematics. We believe lockdown may be a (albeit not the only) contributor. Anxiety overall has seen a rise. This has been arguably more challenging to deal with.

How did you find returning to school?
After the first lockdown, I felt exhausted returning. We were still figuring out how to make online learning work and didn't set clear work/life boundaries. We used our learning from the first lockdown experience to adjust how we did it the second time.

💭 Reflections

Has school returned to 'normal' for you yet?
I would say that we have largely returned to normal now, yes.

What has online teaching taught you? Has it changed your perspective on teaching and/or technology?
It has strengthened our team's capacity to be adaptable and make significant adjustments in a short space of time. We have deepened our knowledge of technology and sought to carry our learnings forward into the in-class learning programs.

How did you find the workload this year?
This year has been a year of significant challenge. The lockdown was a large component of this, however I was also navigating a brand new role in a new school with pedagogy that was starkly different from what I was used to.

What positives have come for you personally this year?
Significant chunks of time with my wife and two kids.

Sum up the year: Challenging but rewarding

Any thoughts, hopes or take-aways going into 2021?
The hope to shape a quality team dynamic with new staff and students.


Thanks for your insight into the year. You clearly strive to get the most out of your students by promoting student voice, continually reflecting on your practice and actioning change. This year seems to have brought some additional challenges but perhaps also fast-tracked the implementation of some new learning tools and methods.

What did you get out of this year?

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