- Countries Visited: 43
- Travel Wishlist: South America
- Locked down in: Melbourne, Australia
“My anxiety levels were high as I sat at my dining room table from 8:00am to 7:00pm each day. Working through my list of things to do, which felt like it kept getting longer by the minute.”
There’s a light at the end of every tunnel. I was travelling deep in that tunnel, but my tunnel had a curve in it. I’d gone through a complete meltdown in 2019, and for so long the light wasn’t visible, until 2020 came along, and a faint light finally appeared. I was picking up the pieces of my broken life and was excited to start this year fresh. My family was finally reunited as my brother relocated to Melbourne with his wife and children, my relationships with my friends were getting stronger, we had many social outings to explore and my career was finally developing well. Then it all changed. Friends and family became distant, but work kept me busy. Boy did it keep me busy. Now I completely understand that many people lost their jobs during 2020, I’ve been unemployed before so I know first-hand what it’s like to lose your job, and I’m forever grateful that I remained employed the whole year. Even though it was a turbulent year in education, possibly one of the most stressful years I’ve experienced in the profession.
This year I was making a change after 4 years of teaching in the junior school, I was moving levels to teach Grade 6 as well as taking on a new challenge of Level 5/6 Team Leader, which I’ve never done in my teaching career. I welcomed the change. It excited me. Changing levels is great in education, develops you professionally. Keeps your mind active. Not only did I have to learn a new curriculum, I had to change my teaching style to suit older kids but also find my place in a new team, all foreign concepts. There was also so many fun things to look forward to at school this year, a lovely group of new students to engage with and challenge, sports days, exciting excursions, bike education, camp, preparing kids for high school and graduation to name a few. 2020 was going to be an awesome year for my students and for me.
The year started well, kids settled in well, they were so excited and pleasant to teach. My class was very clever, they craved to be challenged, they wanted to learn and extend themselves. I on the other hand was in panic mode. I felt in so over my head. It was a big jump from teaching 6 year olds to 11 and 12 year olds. I had no idea what I was doing. I was staring at the curriculum each week trying to decipher what it meant. New vocabulary that I’d never heard of before. What does it mean to ‘investigate everyday situations that use integers’? Integers??? What is an integer? Number, it actually just means number. Now why couldn’t they just use that word in the curriculum? It was like I was trying to become fluent in a different foreign language every night. Man, I felt so dumb. I felt that everyone around me thought I was a fool. They all thought I was in over my head, talked the talk but couldn’t walk the walk. They were just waiting for me to fail. Well that’s what I believed and slowly I started to go a bit crazy.
Half of my students hadn’t come back for the start of the school year. I teach in a school with a very high Asian population. Every year, many of them go to China from early December to early February and return once they have celebrated the Chinese New Year with their families. So, it’s expected that our attendance rates are low in those first few weeks. We eagerly awaited these students to arrive in about Week 2 or 3. But then, this was getting extended as many students were having to self-isolate for two weeks before returning to school. This was the first sign of the virus in my world. I’d briefly heard about this virus over the summer, but I didn’t pay much attention to it, I only started to become a bit more aware of it through school. Eventually the students started trickling back, I think it was about week 5 or 6 (of a 9 week term) when I finally had a full class.
Then in about Week 7 the panic started. First the students stopped coming to school, my class was getting smaller and smaller by the day. Then the official advice started trickling in. Assemblies, cancelled. Sports days, cancelled. Swimming program, cancelled. Handshakes, hugs, cancelled. Fun, cancelled. Even with all this, we had to convince our students’ families that school was the safest place for them as their education was up most important. Soon after, there were talks of possible school closures. It was a scramble to think of what we would do if this happened. How were we going to teach the kids? Then the Premier announced that the school holidays were being brought forward to allow teaching staff to prepare in the event of a closure. This time that we were given to prepare was a bizarre experience. The school was eerie. For a whole week only teaching staff and a very small handful of children of essential workers in a type of ‘day care’ on site. But we got on with our jobs. My team worked so well together to develop a remote learning program. None of us knew how to tackle this. It was new experience for everyone, where I finally felt like I was on an even playing field with my colleagues in the team. I no longer felt so stupid. About time too, because I was in for one hell of a ride this year.
The plan was complete. The online platforms ready. All we had to do was push one button to activate it. I was naïve to think that schools wouldn’t actually close. They wouldn’t really make us go ahead with remote learning, would they? I was wrong.
I’d never worked so hard in teaching like I did in those first few weeks. Redesigning how to deliver the content, updating the remote learning website, keeping on top of emails, communicating regularly with my team, back-to-back WebEx Meetings with the students on top of the multiple WebEx meetings with colleagues each day. The unread emails, I have to say, got up to triple digits. I didn’t know how to get through them. I had other tasks that weren’t just teaching that I had to complete those first few weeks as well, like enrol 50 students into high school, attend a two-day bike education training workshop (Bike Ed and Camp this year eventually got cancelled but we didn’t know this at the time). My anxiety levels were high as I sat at my dining room table from 8:00am to 7:00pm each day. Working through my list of things to do, which felt like it kept getting longer by the minute. I was snowed under. Some nights I’d still be typing away at 11pm before I went to bed, only to repeat everything the next day.
A typical day would consist of, being available for my students and their parents from 8:30am until 4:30pm. All of our remote learning content for the week was published online, all the students needed to do was follow the instructions on each webpage and complete at their own pace. They could ask us questions on Google Classroom if they needed help. And yes, they needed a lot of help so the questions would start rolling in. I’d hear the constant ‘ding’ on my iPad all day long with their questions. I didn’t want to leave my students waiting, as they were sitting at home stressing over their work, so I did my best to try and answer all questions as they came in real time. I’d stop what I was doing and assist them, then, just as I’d got back to my task and another question would come through and so forth. It was constant through the day. A simple task of composing an email would take an hour. Marking student work would take hours as there were no opportunities during the day to be able to dedicate a solid block to checking their work. So many tasks would be left incomplete. I found it difficult to take time out for lunch as I felt I was neglecting the students. Every day, I’d meet with my team online and each one of them was struggling with the same time management issues.
My weekends were taken up with school work. They were the only peace and quiet times I had to be able to get through tasks. I didn’t have to respond to students who would be asking questions all day during the week, nobody would be sending emails for me to urgently respond to, so I’d finally have time to prepare lessons for the next week. Preparing lessons during remote learning takes a long time. At school, I would normally dedicate 1 hour, 1.5 hours tops, to prepare all of my weekly lessons for all subject areas. But during remote learning, it’d take days to prepare one week of lessons for just one subject alone (thank goodness I worked in a team to share the subject load). I’d be planning out sequences, then preparing slideshows, videos etc to make them accessible by Sunday afternoon. I quickly learnt that when filming videos, you never get it right on the first taken. In fact, I had to learn a lot of new technology skills quickly during this time – thank you Google!
It sure was interesting working from home. My apartment is small. I don’t have much of an enticing outdoor area. I barely open my windows. It’s definitely not an office. It’s not ergonomically set up to work all day. When you’re working 10-11 hours per day, just sitting in front of a computer, things start to deteriorate. My back started to hurt. The pain was unbearable. I was struggling getting out of bed each morning, even walking was an ordeal.
I’m lucky that I got to go into work occasionally so that I wasn’t working from home everyday. I was rostered on once per week to supervise the children of essential workers who couldn’t learn from home. It was really nice to get out of the house and see some colleagues, but at the same time they were busy days. I’d be supervising the kids on site, most of whom were the younger students who needed a lot of guidance through their work as well as manage my own class interactions through google classroom and WebEx. My students would often be sitting waiting for some time for a response from me as things were always busy on site. I felt so bad that I couldn’t help them. I knew very well that many of them were getting frustrated at home alone and couldn’t continue with their work. By the end of the day, I’d be ragged from the physical and virtual teaching. My emails would just build up on these days as I definitely did not have time to check them. I’d go to bed exhausted, both mentally and physically.
The first few weeks of remote learning was a novelty. The kids were excited, they loved the concept of staying home, lounging in pyjamas, having their pets with them all day long. They engaged in the activities, and even completed them to a high standard. Catching up and seeing everyone over WebEx was awesome. And then a few weeks later, they were over it. Each week, I had fewer and fewer assignments handed in. They’d be ignoring my messages, they’d suddenly have internet issues when I started talking to them about their assignments on WebEx. I was teaching a class of ghosts.
And then we got the green light to come back to school. What a joyous three weeks that was. The kids were so excited to see each other, they were happy to learn in the classroom again. They got used to the Covid Safe classroom (clean hands before and after doing anything, don’t share resources, etc). We started making plans for Term 3.
And then along came the second wave and we stayed home again. I remember that announcement clearly. I was working on my Week 1 Planner whilst watching the press conference, and then they announced it. Remote Learning 2.0 – as we called it. I put all my teaching plans in the trash (as they couldn’t be done virtually), closed my laptop and literally sat on my couch until the end of holidays. Nobody wanted it, but here we were again and this time we were in Stage 4 restrictions. We’d learnt some valuable lessons from the first remote learning that we wanted to do things differently this second time around. We made things more accessible, and easier to understand to make our students’ and our lives easier. I also made a promise to myself, to look after my well-being, to use my time wisely so that I wouldn’t be as exhausted each day.
There was something different this time around, the kid’s attitudes had changed. They were over it from the beginning. They had very little motivation. From the beginning of term 3, I only had about 1/3 of my class complete their work, the rest of them were on some type of sabbatical. I’d make phone calls to parents about the lack of school work being completed. Some parents were stunned as their kids would be locked away in their room quietly all day so they were under the impression that their children were working, other parents dismissed the idea of their child completing school work as they themselves were working from home and didn’t have time to support them. Short of me going to a student’s home and making them do their school work there wasn’t much more I could do. I understand that some families made the choice to not do much remote learning, and I did feel guilty about calling families who were all going through their own struggles, however it was my job to chase up each of them. As the term went on, the quality of student work dropped off, which was sad to see as my class had so much potential. We had to accept that this was it, some kids did their work and learnt something during remote learning, some didn’t do anything. At the end of the term there was no news of us going back to school this year, we were however notified that we would be writing reports and giving marks for all students for the end of the year. Based on how much data I had collected over the course of the semester, I could write about 10 reports. I didn’t know what the rest would look like, and that was a teeny bit stressful.
We got the green light in the first week of Term 4, that we would be going back to school the following week. Everyone was excited. But school was very different again. Our operations guide was complicated and confusing at times. Kids to wash hands before and after going to the playground/eating so this meant packing up early to walk kids to taps to do so. Teachers didn’t have to wear a mask in the classroom while teaching, but had to wear a mask while outside on yard duty. No singing, but ‘Happy Birthday’ was OK because it was short. We had to stay in our class bubble and couldn’t mingle across classes, but students could go outside and play together. The department instructed us to not overload students with testing and assessment when the kids returned on site but also requested that we complete assessment and progress reports on each of the students. But it was great to be back. Things slowly got back to as normal as they could be and I even managed to write reports for each of my students.
Organising a Covid-Safe graduation was also very interesting. So many restrictions changed the concept of our graduation. Normally we would have a ceremony, with all families in the audience, a graduation song, dinner and a disco. Parent volunteers would also lavishly decorate the hall and make it appealing. This wasn’t possible this year. First, I had to break this news to the kids – we were only going to have a day time ceremony, there wasn’t going to be a disco or meal, and that their parents could not attend. Then a change in restrictions allowed us to have a night time ceremony and dinner – still no disco or parents. And then we had to do a Graduation Song without having the students sing together, so they had to film themselves for us to merge it together. The following week we learnt we could hold a disco – cue hiring disco equipment at the last minute and turning our Performing Arts teacher into a DJ. Everything had to be prepared (food, decorations, certificates etc by my teaching team). Then at the eleventh hour more restrictions were eased and about a week before the event, we could finally invite one parent to watch and the parent volunteers were finally allowed back on site so they could help set up for the event. Without them, we would have had a pretty drab graduation. So much preparation and the night went by so quickly, but it was really good to see the kids smiling, enjoying themselves and being able to finally celebrate their final year of primary school with their friends and to be able to have a parent see it all too.
There are many things that I’m thankful for this year – I remained employed throughout, I learned so much, got stronger through each experience and I managed not to have a meltdown, but I sure was glad to see the end of the school year. This is one summer that I’m going to chill, relax and finally turn my brain off.