Family & Education

It’s not all been doom and gloom

There have some pluses for teachers including picking up new tricks


When term ended in December, we all felt a sense of relief that we had got through one term relatively intact. Year 11 had done their mocks, so a little bit of reality had returned. Then early in January, schools were “shut” to most students and we were all back online.

“Shut” is a loose term, as vulnerable and key worker children have been in school and many of us have come in to support them.

On the positive side, all our students had Chromebooks or laptops, the staff had done a summer of online and an autumn of mix and match so we were all better prepared. The weather was revolting, so not having to get up and out was a plus. I discovered running in the park wasn’t that bad and met some very cute German shepherds.

However, there was a feeling of “here we go again”. The uncertainty facing years 11 and 13 began to bite. Students who are usually conscientious wavered between “I have to do everything super well as it might all count” to “Why should I bother as we don’t know what’s happening anyway”.

Each day merges like an oil slick into the next. The monotony is wearing. A student opens her laptop to write an essay, stares at the screen for the umpteenth time that day and just closes it… enough!

The only subjects that feel real are practical ones like textiles and art where a student can actually do something creative and see a tangible result. It is an extra challenge to keep the exam classes motivated. As a teacher, I apply my lipsticked smile and just keep plugging away at the revision course as if we were in school.

After all, being able to communicate clearly and understand the nuances in language is a life skill, regardless of what the Department of Education might eventually decree.

School isn’t really closed. There are about 30 girls and 45 boys in school every day out of a total of over 1,000. These students are spread around different classrooms for their Google classes. They also have had a fantastic range of informal activities such as bagel-making, PE and fitness sessions, table tennis and visits from Tilly, a small yet perfectly formed black labrador.

I go in once a week to help by supervising some year 9 and 10 girls. It’s a pleasure to teach in a room with real students. The atmosphere is different as well. There is a more informal feel to the building, a sense of being in it together and of staff and students helping each other.

Our pastoral heads check in on each and every student, making sure they feel supported and branching that support out to many parents. The students really appreciate our efforts, as one emailed in to say: “The lack of clarity felt by the message of the government was made up for by continuing lessons, reassuring messages and quality teaching from our teachers.”

We don’t do this job for the praise, but in these difficult times these messages encourage us and show that we are getting it right and will get through it.

It’s not all doom and gloom. New skill update: I have mastered breakout rooms (as long as the system doesn’t think the support teacher is the host), learned how to use a pen tablet (although my students would rather I didn’t) and begun using rubrics, although I still have no clue how they magically appear.

My year-9 class are coming up with some original responses to Conflict Poetry, year 10 took over the screen when we completed Macbeth and year 8, who are using the Lexia Literacy programme, are progressing with their spelling, grammar and comprehension skills. I had to become a student in order to “see” what they are doing, which is a challenge in itself; have you heard of “simple predicates”?

Online learning has really developed this term and parents have been impressed by the smooth transition. One parent emailed in to say, “It has been seamless for all my children”.

Our maestros of the Google Classroom have helped so many of us get to grips with websites such as Kahoot, Educake, Quizzizz and blooklet. They have taught us tricks with Jamboards, breakout rooms, rubrics, using the chat function and other web-based features designed to help us make online learning as engaging as classroom learning.

Many of these features will be making their way into the blended learning experience once we are back in school.

Thank goodness for half term. Even though my husband insists that I am permanently on holiday, we all, both students and staff, were relieved to have the mental break from academic screens. Now we look forward to going back in person.

Janine Ellerman teaches English at Hasmonean High School for Girls

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