Teachers share anonymous feelings about returning to school this week
Evening News spoke to teachers across the Lothians asking them to share their honest views on schools returning this week.
“I am feeling anxious and eager to be back at the same time."
“It’s absolutely time we get children back forming friendships and learning.”
“The Scottish Government could have done more to support pupils throughout this lockdown.”
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Teachers in Scotland have shared mixed feelings about returning to school as pupils head through the gates for the first time in months this week.
When the country went into lockdown in March, schools across the country closed and staff had to accept the challenging task of adapting their normal teaching routine to online.
Now, as the country eases restrictions and schools start to reopen, teachers are stepping up to what some have described as “one of the biggest challenges” in their career with new Covid-19 measures in place.
‘It’s going to be a real challenge’
“I am delighted to be back,” said Toby*, a primary school teacher in Leith, “but it’s going to be a real challenge as we are a lot more constrained in what we can do which will make things hard.”
He said with more than 300 pupils at the school where he teaches, it will be difficult keeping track of all the children and making sure they are following the current guidelines.
Physical distancing among students will not generally be required but hygiene and safety measures such as one-way systems have been put in place.
“You can’t really do much when the kids head off to the toilet or start playing other children who aren’t in their ‘social bubble’, but it’s just going to have to be a work in progress, we’re not going to get everything 100 per cent right,” Toby said.
“School is a routine, and trying to get children to focus on it and back into a routine when it’s been a pretty chaotic few months is going to be a challenge.”
The primary school teacher, who teaches in one of Leith’s more disadvantaged areas, said he fears for the well-being and academic progress of some of the young people he will see returning this week.
“My thoughts go to those children who we were looking out for before the pandemic even kicked off, the pupils whose home lives we know are difficult,” he said.
"Some pupils will be behind academically as well due to not having access to necessary devices for learning during lockdown. I think the Scottish Government could have done more in this case. It should have made sure every pupil had access to wifi and an electronic device because some children living in households where there’s only one device between a family of five let’s say, or in a home with no wifi at all, were left at a serious disadvantage.
“We as a school did what we could handing devices out, but I think it really should have been down to the Scottish Government to sort this.
“It managed to find a bank of money from somewhere to build the Louisa Jordan hospital, which hasn’t been used, so it could have put the money towards giving children better access to education during lockdown.”
Toby said while he is confident about staff and pupil safety at the school, there remains a sustained risk given areas of the country are seeing second waves.
“It’s hard to say for all schools whether or not it’s safe because everyone is doing it slightly differently, but I personally think it’s safe enough to go back,” he said.
“I think the most important thing we can do as a school is make sure pupils know that we are there to give our full support and to be fully supportive of them. We want them to know that their teachers are really eager to see them and we have made the school as safe as we possibly can for them.
“It’s absolutely time we get children back forming friendships and learning.”
‘My main concern is for the mental and emotional well-being of children’
Laura*, a teacher in the Lothians, who specialises in working with children with autism, said she is concerned about how pupils will react to new measures in schools.
“Like most teachers I am anxious,” she said, “my main concern is for the mental and emotional well-being of children.
“They will be coming back to school and they will be excited about that, but it won’t be school as they remember it before.”
Except for children of key workers, most of the country's 700,000 pupils have not been in class since 20 March.
“It is a lot of loss for children to go through, especially as they have already experienced a lot of loss through the pandemic – loss of routine, loss of connection with family/friends, loss of freedom, loss of school and some may have lost friends or relatives,” Laura added.
“But teachers and schools know this and we are prepared to support emotional well-being, focus on play, focus on nurture, cooperation and outdoor learning.
"I think the children who have been affected the most may need the support of therapeutic services or CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and my biggest concern is whether that will be available for all those who need it.”
The primary school teacher, who has been preparing for pupils’ return this week, said she is confident the premise is clean and safe for children to start using again.
‘Anxious but eager’
Simon*, a teacher in Edinburgh, feels the pressure from home and school as pupils return this week.
“With second waves popping up in certain local authorities it’s a bit of a worry putting anyone back in groups,” he said, “I have an elderly relative who I look after a fair bit so my anxiety is certainly heightened.”
Simon said online learning was a struggle and he has concerns about pupils taking time to adapt to working in a classroom, with social distancing measures in place.
“Trying to get youngsters to follow online learning was one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my teaching career,” he said.
“I know other teachers have found it hard, keeping pupils engaged and making sure they are all exposed to the material they need. I just hope with new measures in place pupils will be able to regain their focus.
“It’s going to be a big challenge. Not only to keep everyone safe with their health, but also to bring children back into learning which has been hindered for far too long.
“I am feeling anxious but also eager to be back at the same time."
While councils have been given some flexibility over the back to school timetable, the Scottish Government wants all schools fully open by 18 August.
Most local authorities have opted for a phased approach, for instance by having youngest pupils return first, or grouped in alphabetical order.
There is no requirement to wear face masks, although staff and pupils can do so voluntarily, and older children and adults on the premises are required to keep at a 2m distance where possible.
*We have refrained from using the teachers’ real names to protect their identity so they can speak openly about their views on school returning.
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