24 April 2020

A new school day

UEA graduate and geography teacher James Halls talks about his experiences of delivering lessons under lockdown, and looks to how things may change when classrooms reopen.


Fortunately the school I work in anticipated closure before it happened. We tried to lay the foundations so we'd be able to pick up and run as the inevitable happened.

I‘ve been teaching 11-18 year olds for nearly 12 years and I’ve been quite surprised at how quickly we’ve been able to adapt to the current situation. There’s been a bit of deep end swimming but the staff have just pulled their socks up and got on with what’s needed. That said, nothing beats having the pupils in front of you.

We’ve mostly been speaking to students by email, which makes for a bit of a lag in conversation. Zoom is great tech but scheduling in a whole class when they have parents working from home and siblings to share computers with isn’t really practical.

I’ve been adapting existing resources to deliver lessons via YouTube, which pupils can pick up as and when they can. It gives them some connection to ‘normality’, without lessons being made too generic. Monitoring pupil progress and understanding remotely is the bigger challenge. The volume of questioning that goes on in lessons is mind boggling and it is all reacting instantaneously to individual need. Remote learning really doesn’t allow for this.

Our parents are clearly working exceptionally hard to maintain a routine, but the setting and size of the change is huge for all. Year 11 and 13 are under a cloud of uncertainty regarding their results and I believe many wanted to ‘prove’ themselves after all that preparation. The majority see these exams as a rite of passage that’s been taken away from them. It’s going to impact the mental health of some, but I think the general wellbeing of most of my pupils will be OK. As a school we have amazing parents and they are part of a phenomenal community. There will inevitably be some that are not having such support and these pupils will need our care and attention more than ever when schools reopen. What I do feel confident about is that we know who these pupils are, and that, in the meantime, we’re working to provide the best support for them.

To any parents reading this, hang on in there! Balancing the role of being a parent and supporting your children as only you can will mean that no one expects you to also be bashing out top grade work for month after month. These times are totally incomparable to anything we’ve seen and doing what you can is good enough. And, to my fellow teachers: I’ll see you on the other side!

I truly believe my pupils are missing school life and when they finally come back to school there’ll be very motivated. This experience is giving staff, parents and pupils a greater appreciation of each other’s role in the development of a happy and successful young person.

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