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A day in the life of a COVID-19 school teacher

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Even though teachers aren't at the front of classrooms for now, their workload is harder than ever (Image via Pixabay)

Now that the schooling system has changed due to the pandemic, teachers are working even harder than ever before, writes Kirsten Bacon.

I AM YOUR COVID-19 school teacher, come sit with me for a day.

I am your child’s coronavirus teacher and I have a job to do. As if life weren’t currently hard enough, I am constantly challenged with the question: “But what do you really do at work now you have no students? It must be pretty cruisy.” Three times in one week, I have been asked that question.

I work in public education in years 11 and 12. I am also a mum, a homemaker, a friend, a community volunteer, a daughter of an older parent and the new financial provider for a family of four. 

Last week, I had a meltdown. I struggled to get out of my car; I simply could not stop sobbing. I can’t pick out one thing that set me off, but it hit me like a sledgehammer. That same week, I had seen colleagues and friends fall in that same heap. Along with learning to teach online, I am trying to manage a family where jobs have been lost. They are having to navigate Centrelink for the first time, trying to justify their value and existence and tithe uncertainty of their life. This is all before I have to teach a class.

If you are walking into a class of 30 students unprepared and think it’s easy, it’s not. Let me tell you, if you go into a class unprepared, your students pick it up pretty quickly. Before you know it, your class is out of control. Now a completely different kind of preparation is required. The old rhetoric is still there: teachers get it easy. 

Let me tell you about my last weeks. Suddenly, my student cohort dwindled from 60 to 12 to three to none. I am no longer the person my students see every day. In normal circumstances, I am their constant; no matter whether they like school or not, I am there. I am preparing lessons, I am marking, I am being their friend, I’m being their stand-in parent and I’m being their boss, all at the same time. I shouldn’t need to justify what I do while my students are not here in the school but I would like to share what every teacher is doing right now. 

Normally, I teach around four classes, some now online and some on campus. It’s like doing four performances every day in which I stand up in front of 25 people and entertain them for an hour. I’m currently trying to set up my room so I don’t look like a stand-up comedian but actually a serious (while still fun) teacher. 

Yesterday I smiled because four students emailed work back to me and asked how I was. That meant a lot. A parent rang me and said she wanted to say “thank you” for helping her son and that she understands. 

I am a committed teacher like so many teachers in the world right now. I have a very strong understanding of my students and how they learn. The strategies and teaching activities that I employ create a solid and active social constructivist environment. It's one that allows the whole cohort to draw on both the life and cultural experiences of all my students in the class in the implementation of the broad theoretical and skills knowledge of the teaching area. I have strong social justice beliefs and encourage a culture of diversity and acceptance in my classes. I am committed.

My classes are highly organised, well-sequenced and oriented towards positive demonstration of learning. ICT is seamlessly integrated into my classes and utilised actively by students both to research and resolve literacy issues, especially some of the complex hospitality language that occasionally intrudes from the subject area I teach.

My teaching is very well planned and I utilise effective, interesting and exciting strategies to promote problem-solving and collaborative learning and to keep my students engaged. I provide a supportive and safe learning environment in my classrooms and my engagements with students are always respectful and positive and there is an ongoing thread of self-care through my every day. 

Today I planted some plants for my colleagues. I can see the pressure they’re under as they try to navigate putting a whole program online and making it engaging and worthwhile. I hope when they come back I can offer them a plant for their offices. 

This morning I bought lollipops to put in the learning packages I’m sending out. I’m hoping it will give the students a little smile for the day. 

I am preparing coronavirus gratitude journals so the students can keep records of their journey and safeguard their mental health.

I am preparing lessons: researching, planning fun learning activities, figuring out how to pace the class. To keep students’ interest, I still need to shift gears. How do I do that now? I still have to create assessments, write up the assignments, create different rubrics and draft detailed instructions whilst trying really hard to not overwhelm the kids and keep them engaged.

I have to mark assessments for semester one while still preparing for semester two. I have 60 students. So far, three assessments have been completed this year. That’s 180 pieces of work I have to mark. Perhaps I am expecting too much or maybe too little. Sometimes I need to read work two or three times.

I am in constant email contact with colleagues, parents and pupils. I answer emails asking questions. I send an email expressing concern about a student’s welfare. I check in on students, which can involve a chain of about ten emails per student. It can be very challenging at times, calling or emailing parents as they are also in a stressful situation and I have to be careful not to take things personally. Sometimes you get a “thank you”, a parent’s kind words about how you’ve helped his or her child, but not often. 

I’m trying to stay up-to-date on new material, learn how to deliver online, front of class and other platforms. I’m planning work placements for term three not knowing if there is even going to be anywhere for my students to go. I need to refer students to the counsellor, youth work and the psychologist. I am respectful, extremely dedicated, compassionate, rigorous, interesting, funny, smart, innovative, experienced, patient and caring.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I have the best job in the world and I work in the best college in the world. Right now teachers in Australia are working very hard to put as much as possible online and engage their students. They are learning new programs and methodologies every day, uploading and learning software they have never used before on top of their teaching duties. 

I feel much supported by my school but please don’t ask me again what I am doing with all this spare time. Come sit with me for a day and you’ll see what I really do. 

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A day in the life of a COVID-19 school teacher

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