As a CSR initiative to support our community in these challenging times, Lane4 have been delivering ‘pro bono’ leadership development to an often-overlooked group of key workers: school leadership teams. The pressure and demands they face are incredibly high right now. Managing the anxieties of pupils, parents and staff is a real challenge. It has been our privilege to deliver both individual coaching and group workshops to a range of schools, academies and trusts to optimise their leadership at such a vital time.
In this final blog of our series (see the first and second blogs here), our consultant Deborah Dillon shares why she thinks we should be clapping for our teachers as well as the NHS by bringing to light some of the struggles they have been facing during the pandemic.
Why should we clap for our teachers?
As I ventured out onto my porch each Thursday to show my heartfelt appreciation for the NHS by clapping with my neighbours, the reality would really hit home. My Dad contracted COVID-19 back in March and was in hospital for nearly two weeks before thankfully recovering and returning home to us, his loved ones.
NHS staff though as we know, have been ably supported by other keyworkers who unlike doctors were not required to swear the Hippocratic Oath to enter their respective professions. Two and a half months ago, they had no idea that a pandemic would elevate their occupations to the status of the “4th Emergency Service.” In my opinion, the largely unsung teaching profession fall into this category, and so undoubtedly deserve a crescendo on the clap-o-meter scale.
There may be some sceptics reading this post who may be thinking the following – what are teachers really doing now? They can’t have any work to do, if there aren’t even any children attending school. In fact, if anyone should be getting a round of applause, it is the parents who now have to home school often whilst holding down a day job. Whilst it is true that parents have been called upon to step up and dust off their often rusty Maths, English and Science skills, teachers have not been idle.
Teaching during COVID-19
In my recent work with teachers, I have discovered that the reality could not be further from the truth! The teaching profession have gone into overdrive and have had to adapt classroom lessons into an accessible online offer on electronic platforms that were not designed for the magnitude of the task. After all, why would they be? There is no precedent for a time schools in Britain had to shut due to a pandemic!
Over the past few weeks whilst furloughed, I have had both the pleasure and the privilege to support this phenomenal bunch of people. Throughout this pandemic, teachers have continued to ensure that schools never really shut and that the children of fellow keyworkers, along with the most vulnerable students in their schools were welcomed into physical school buildings every day to be educated and cared for. Simultaneously, teachers were also providing online learning and feedback as well as telephone and email emotional support for the rest of the student cohort and their families as required.
They have also had to navigate the minefield of ranking students based on their past performances and assessments, so that external exam boards can issue GCSE and A Level results later this summer. On top of all of these work-related tasks, teachers have also had to manage the feelings of upset and anxiety expressed by many of their Year 11 and 13 students, who were told entirely unexpectedly on a Friday in March that they would now not be sitting the public exams they had spent the last two years preparing in earnest for. For many it is a rite of passage stolen from their grasp.
Schools are microcosms of society, and so many students will have lost loved ones to this virus. Such losses and the impending grief are impossible to ignore for teachers, calling upon them to provide a metaphorical shoulder to cry on. This supportive role is required whilst juggling their own childcare commitments, elderly relatives, personal health concerns and personal heartbreaks and losses to the virus. Our teachers have done this without fanfare and with the aim of ensuring that our children do not lose out on the education that they will need long after this virus has finally been confined to history.
Added pressures of COVID-19
For a committed teacher, long hours have always come with the territory, but in the new world of COVID-19 the hours can feel both overwhelming and never ending with many teachers now being accessible 24/7 to both students and their parents via digital platforms. In the last two months, for many teachers, teaching days and half-term breaks have blurred entirely.
Teachers have undertaken all of the above in an environment of uncertainty - do I or don’t I, should I or shouldn’t I, will I or won’t I contract or carry this awful disease back home to my loved ones. For weeks now, many teachers have continued to teach groups of young people in as socially distanced a way as practicable. They have done this in a landscape where they were not eligible to be tested for the virus: PPE was not in ready enough supply for hospital and care homes and so somewhat understandably did not extend to teachers and support staff in schools. As more information about the virus has emerged, it has become clear that age and ethnicity can also not be ignored, and yet they kept showing up!
Finally, the mental exhaustion faced by this profession must not be underestimated. Trying to create a “new” normal for their students will have and will continue to take its toll. Teachers will need to be open to acknowledging their own anxieties and feelings of stress and trauma if they are to safeguard their own mental wellness going forward.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the life of some of our teachers during this pandemic. Witnessing their struggles has afforded me a renewed sense of gratitude and respect for the teaching profession. I will definitely be avoiding ill-informed jokes about teachers finishing work at 3.30 pm each day and always being on holiday, and I now appreciate how far from the truth this has always been. Being an effective teacher may not require the swearing of the Hippocratic Oath, but it is most definitely a vocation with the wellbeing of our future generations at its core.