Back to work – back to reality?
What do I love about work? I love the whole thing: getting prepared the day before; sorting my bag out; choosing what to wear; making my lunch. All the rituals you go through to prepare for a day at the office.
I enjoy the drive to work. The freedom of leaving the house behind. The sense of purpose. Entering the building, and greeting office colleagues. That moment of calm in the empty classroom before the students arrive. Meeting my group for the first time; the chats you have with them when they arrive.
Work is a huge part of my identity; I am lost without it. During the lockdown, I put myself on a strict routine. At my desk by 9 (dressed, breakfasted, and showered). Coffee break at 11 (often with my son, chatting in the kitchen; the new watercooler moment). Lunch while listening to the news from 1-2 pm, tea break round about 3/3.30pm. I did allow myself to knock off early if I felt like it. I booked days off for family walks and online brunch with friends. The routine was my rock and kept me sane. Luckily if you work for yourself there is always something to do; accounts, marketing, CPD. I had no problem filling my time.
Zoom was a big part of my life, and, exhausting as it was, it filled the vacuum left by an almost empty teaching schedule. I enjoyed business and networking events, Fizzy Friday, and taught online to groups and individuals. It was almost as good as in person, but something was missing. The buzz of the classroom is not present on a Zoom call. Participants often only displaying as named black boxes.
Of course, post lockdown things are not exactly as they were; some things are better, most things are worse. I LOVE the empty car park – though the numbers are creeping up. There is hand sanitiser everywhere – at the car park entrances, reception, in the kitchen, on my desk. There is a one-way entry system and sign in on arrival. Only three people at a time in the lifts. I never was a lift girl anyway and always take the stairs, even though the 8th floor is like scaling Everest every morning.
We had to rethink all our lessons. I plan socially distanced ice breakers for the first morning. Group and pairs work is more difficult although we have still done a little of that. Students can’t write on the board, take breaks together, or sit in the kitchen and chat. It has affected the group dynamic and classroom atmosphere. Learners are socialising less, don’t get to know each other as well, and my classroom is very quiet. Sure, they get on with their work, but the networking is weaker. I did a bit of pairs work today and the gentle hubbub of voices was what I was missing. This has a knock-on effect on whole-class teaching also. The learners don’t know each other as well and are less confident about speaking up in class, to the detriment of us all.
Helping a student on their computer is difficult at a metre’s distance. Straining my eyes to see the problem, describing without touching is taxing my linguistic ability. I avoid the kitchen (I heard somewhere that staff kitchens were one of the most likely causes of the spread). I try to be as self-sufficient as possible as regards food, snacks, and hot drinks. I have to usher my students to break 3 at a time to avoid overcrowding in the kitchen.
What I have learned
I was so excited to come back – but life is not the same on the other side. I am working hard to bring life and socialisation back into the classroom. Seeing what works and what doesn’t work in the age of COVID. Luckily we don’t have to wear masks. How long this will go on for only time will tell. Perhaps this is the new normal with local shutdowns and further disruption to students’ learning?
How are you feeling about going back to the classroom? Are you rushing in or hanging back? Please comment below!
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(I promise I won’t be in my PJs!)