Educational Challenges During COVID-19 By John Hunt
The challenges of teaching throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have been varied and wide ranging.
With bubbles, online lessons, hybrid lessons, tracking and tracing, social distancing, masks in communal areas and strict teacher zones (or ‘the technical area’ as one colleague called it, which I liked!), it is easy to forget what ‘normal’ was before we were collectively hit by these absolutely necessary but slightly strange measures.
It is not, however, teaching that I wish to continue to focus on in this short article.
It is not the academic progress of our students, the loss of lesson time, the online learning or even the challenges that we as teachers face, all of which I feel have been given significant air time already.
I want to explore an observation I have made over these first ten weeks and would truly welcome any feedback of similar or contradicting experiences.
As a pastoral leader in a school, I still have the benefit and pleasure of seeing every year group, every day, when on playground duty and supporting staff across the school.
Year groups are kept separate, with staggered start times, break times and lunchtimes in order to maintain a safe distance between students.
While this has presented a significant challenge in terms of allocating duties, from a behaviour perspective this structure has had an undeniably positive impact in many ways.
Less students are out at break and lunch time, there is less physical space in school for staff to monitor at any one time due to the limited number of students needing to be supervised, Heads of Year can pick up students knowing exactly where their entire year group will be at one certain time and so on.
However, it has raised a question for me as I have observed our younger students: what impact is the lack of usual socialisation having upon these young people?
In September every year, Year 7 students join schools with a mix of excitement and trepidation.
No matter how great a transition programme they have experienced, these feelings are completely natural and I’m sure most of us remember them!
No longer are they ‘The Year 6’s’, the oldest kids in the school, the kids that know everything, the kids that know how it all works, the big fish in a small pond.
They are on a bigger site, equipped with all of the stationery imaginable, requiring a map to get around, with their new planner, with a much larger number of students and staff, with all kinds of new routines, experiences and issues to navigate.
They meet the older year groups and suddenly realise they are very much the smaller fish in a very big pond! Not this year, though, and it is very noticeable indeed…
In my experience, Year 7’s learn very quickly what is and is not socially acceptable on a secondary school playground!
The initial excitable behaviours of break time play, ticking, chasing etc. stops relatively quickly (often after they have accidentally bumped into a group of Year 10 boys!) Not this year, though…
At the time of writing, I find current Year 7 to be the ‘youngest’ of this year group I have ever seen in terms of their interactions with each other and with staff.
They are certainly a unique Year 7, in that they have not yet come into contact with any older students; they are in a strange limbo of having started secondary school but not yet having the full secondary experience.
They have not gone through the same rites of passage that almost all Year 7/ First year students before them have done and I find this genuinely interesting as I watch and monitor their behaviours during recreational time in school.
It has made me question what it is that sees young people lose this urge to play so publicly once joining secondary; is there anything we could have done differently to allow our youngest students to feel more comfortable in doing so?
Do the social norms in secondary schools prevent our youngest students from expressing themselves in this way? Do they want to behave like this every year but feel unable as a result of the cultural norms developed in schools over the years?
The evidence I’ve seen this term so far would certainly suggest so!
It is probably not unreasonable to think that their entire first secondary school year might be spent like this – separate break times and lunch times to the wider school.
I am keen to see how this develops over time and, when/if we return to ‘normal’ (whatever that was), I’ll be watching very closely to see how their delayed introduction to the wider school population goes… How will they cope? How will our older students respond to these younger students?
In the meantime, I hope that they continue to show the joyful exuberance they have brought with them from primary school. While I am 100% a secondary teacher and not at all used to seeing this behaviour on a secondary school playground, it certainly has its charms.
NAPCE Officer & Pastoral Leader