Life in the Time of Corona by Jennifer Cosslett

Three main institutions have remained pretty constant over the last 150 years. They are churches, prisons, and schools. Someone engaging in time travel from the past would be able to recognize all three places very easily.

That is until two weeks ago. Rona came to town, and schools changed overnight!

With a sense of urgency and quite a bit of numbness, I hastily dished out books to the children in my Grade 4 class, the planned worksheets in my subject containers, and all of their stationery. The kids were sent home and the school settled into uncharacteristic silence.

I stood in my abandoned classroom and looked around. What would I need to have to hand at home? I unplugged the iPads and my phone charger. I scurried to plant some pot plants and sent up a quick prayer that our newly planted class veggie garden, left to the mercy of the elements, would survive without care until our return.

Our goodbyes to colleagues were sombre ones. With many a “Look after yourself” being murmured.

The day before school closure, I grabbed a savvy friend to give me a crash course on MS Teams, PowerPoint, videos, and voice notes. That pal was a godsend.

I set up a home studio at the dining room table. All of the parents in my class are on a communal WhatsApp group with me. They are my new colleagues.

Teachers are people who love children. Teaching is odd without constant interaction with our little guys. Sending out voice notes, videos, PowerPoint worksheets, and messages feels like I am working in a vacuum. The parents send work back via WhatsApp and I mark it using my Samsung Note 10 lite (I’m so grateful that I upgraded my phone just before lockdown).

My days are weird. Interesting, though. I start my day with a yoga class via Zoom. I love seeing my yoga teacher’s happy face each morning. She really walks her talk and her joyousness is contagious. By the end of the class, the first messages have come through from some of the eager beaver Grade 4s.

Some children have fallen through the cracks a little. Their work is not coming through with regularity. How do we look after the mental health of the children and families in our class? Pastoral care is difficult with the digital wall between us. Life is so much easier in a classroom. One can hunker down and look straight into a child’s face and sort out their fear or unhappiness immediately.

I can’t “see” my kids. I have set activities so that I do hear their voices via WhatsApp and see them via videos (but that’s only if they post them). The kids are missing one another even though they can connect through the General channel on MS Teams at will. It’s not enough of a connection. Birthdays are celebrated more quietly. Children new to our school are terrified that their newly formed friendships will fall apart.

Some schools have kept to a timetable via Zoom. The findings are that this has caused pressure and stress. Families are experiencing quite a bit of turmoil and fear, whether it be financial, health, time constraints, lack of wi-fi and devices, or parents trying to “teach” their own kids. Cybersafety has to be taken into consideration. Hackers are sneaking pornography into Zoom meetings. The children are spending many hours on devices. Often without close supervision. A whole new world has appeared.

The parent-teacher relationship has had to change. It’s much more symbiotic now. Teachers have to rely on parents for help. Parents require teachers to set work and to be a part of the process but are not there to take the kids off the hands of the parents.

Privileged schools and their pupils are able to streak ahead, once again, opening up an ever growing divide between haves and have-nots.

Nursery school, Foundation Phase, Intersen Phase, and College teachers all have different approaches to keep the wheels of education turning. One phase does not have it easier or better than another. Every teacher has to be on top of their game in their area of expertise.

Teachers have had to be really creative in their thinking. Interestingly enough, teachers have proven that they have incredible ability and they took on this “brave new world” with aplomb. Memes brighten our days as parents jokingly mock their own offspring and mention that teaching “ain’t for sissies!”

This meme says it all!