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Lockdown reflections from a primary school teacher

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You know how I found out about the most recent NSW lockdown?

I was on the deck of my townhouse in Queanbeyan and overheard the neighbours in the complex below talking about needing to get to Woolies quickly.

As a teacher, I knew straight away that there were so many things at school that I would have collected the day before had I known we’re going into lockdown.

Trying to effectively teach during a lockdown is hard. The younger the students, the harder it is. There are so many things that families have to contend with; parents working from home, access to devices, reliable internet, siblings sharing devices and, of course, their child needing help to complete the work. I feel for all those families in these situations.

My worksite required us to meet with our students twice a week on Zoom—this frequency was largely due to a lack of access to devices, sometimes poor internet connection and many siblings having to share devices.

It’s a strange feeling to go from seeing your students six hours every day, to two hours a week. Because we only had two hours and it wasn’t always possible to have all students join the Zoom, it meant that the majority of the time was spent connecting with the students and me trying to engage and motivate them. The majority of students were accessing their learning offline, through paper booklets that the teachers were creating each week, meaning it wasn’t really feasible to teach lessons through Zoom.

What this meant was that Zooms became a time to connect and share stories of funny little things that were happening in all of our lives. Because our worlds had become so small, most of us staying at home except for exercise, it meant students (and teachers!) were able to find entertainment and joy in things around the house they may never have before.

Because Zooms were unrushed—as there was no specific ‘lesson’ or content to be delivered in a specific time—it meant that we were able to enjoy each other’s company, although I must add that the feature of all students being muted probably helped in the success of stories being delivered.

For most people, some of these stories may seem insignificant or not that funny, but having known the kids for nine months now, you feel you have a pretty good idea of what they’re like. Yet the stories they told helped to show another side of them.

Many were more relaxed at home with the stimulation of 30 fellow Year 4 students removed and were able to complete their work quickly and then play for a large portion of the day.

After the first couple of weeks of lockdown and regular Zoom catch-ups, I had a realisation. During normal school time there often isn’t the time or opportunity to hear these hilarious, personal stories that students probably quite often want to share, but rarely get to. Lockdown was hard, and would definitely not be my first choice in mode of delivery of education—but for me, the silver lining and the thing that made me so happy each time I Zoomed with my class was that I got to see a different side of my students.

Some of my favourite stories have included tales about a chicken called Felicia. This student was desperate to show us his chickens, so with the help of his mum, went outside (mum carrying the laptop so we could see his journey) with some bread to try and catch Felicia.

Felicia, Grey Falcon and the other two chickens weren’t so keen on this sweet 10-year-old boy running after them trying to catch them, so nicked off straight away. As he’s madly waving the bread around, trying to catch their attention, the dog, jumps up, and cleanly snatches the bread from his hand.

Mum proceeds to try and placate the child who was now very annoyed, as the laptop she haphazardly held, wobbled around, all the while him yelling at the dog for stealing the bread, and the chickens, burying themselves further into the scrub.

By this stage I was finding it very difficult to keep a straight face, so suggested we meet them another way. So our ‘pet gallery’ was born—the students added photos of all their pets at home, writing their favourite things, and commenting on each other’s pets and how adorable they were. Quite a heart-warming moment, really.

Unfortunately, I think that I’ve never truly appreciated stories like this before as any given day at school is often a whirlwind. I feel a constant pressure to be covering all the content, have students being productive and completing assessment tasks. I’m embarrassed to say that, many times when students have wanted to share a story I’ve truly been concerned with how long it will go for and what it then means I can’t teach or do with the class that day.

I hate that feeling. It provides little time for students to share things from their personal life and discourages their natural storytelling abilities. I have always prided myself on building strong, mutually respectful relationships with all my students, and trying to find their interests and things we can relate to. I feel crushed that I have possibly missed out on endless opportunities to hear a hilarious tale from a student because of my deep-seated worry for falling behind in my delivery of the curriculum.

I hope that I’ve learned from this lockdown that these little stories can make such a difference to lots of people—the student telling it, the adults listening and other students who are able to relate to it. It has made me appreciate how much joy can be had from what some may consider insignificant instances.

I truly believe I’ve never laughed so much as I have this lockdown because I have been more present and in the moment and was truly able to enjoy my beautiful students’ individual personalities.

I also asked my students what the best thing about remote learning was. While their answers might not be surprising or outrageous, they do demonstrate a need and love for connection, more family time and time in general to do things they don’t normally get the chance to. This is what they said.

“I am able to finish early”

“Spending more time with my family”

“Playing with Tippy (dog)”

“Getting to message my friends from my old school a lot when I’m done and I can get done with work quicker than school time sometimes”

“Lots of creative time”

“Seeing my dogs more”

So in future, don’t be surprised if you walk into my classroom and hear someone telling a story of a chicken or their pet rabbit, Cinders. Post-lockdown, I aim to be more present and give students the time and voice to share their stories.

Because the reality is, we’re all probably going to learn something from the experience—even if it isn’t from the curriculum, or part of the content I am responsible and obligated to teach.

So next time you see a student sharing a story with their class and teacher, I invite you to sit in, listen and enjoy the wonderful storytelling abilities that each and every student possesses.

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