Teaching is a wonderful, exciting profession where experts and educators frequently mix to share interesting and new teaching methods. These are experienced in action research in an effort to inform the students of new practice and to raise their attainment, increase their progression and to enhance their engagement. This has been the norm for years, new trainee teachers are bombarded with learning styles, learning methods, behaviour for learning, assessment for learning, assessment of learning, behaviour management, observations, subject knowledge audits and more assessments of their own knowledge. It is both intrinsically and extrinsically frustrating, exciting and excruciating in an effort to get it right, to make your teaching methods right for the students. It wont always be.
Teachers will always learn at different speeds, like students. Teachers, trainee, NQT and RQT's will all develop their knowledge throughout their years of experience to find the path that works for them, but also for their students. They develop that pedagogy and relationship in a complex, multi-lateral relationship that expands what most adults, parents and guardians included, could think of. Teachers will always be teachers, sometimes be coaches, sometimes the bad guys and sometimes a shoulder to lean on in tough times. But they will always be there.
Until COVID - 19.
Six months without seeing the faces they would see every day, five days a week for nine months of the year, give or take. Whether students have good track records of behaviour or are in the vulnerable group, or in the group that act out and give teachers gray hairs and sleepless nights; they will come into school and know and understand where they can get support, what teacher they can talk to without judgement or fear of retribution. All of this, gone, in a day. So how did, and how has, it affected the pedagogy within the teaching profession? The familiar faces, gone. The supporting talks and checks, gone.
I'd like to study this, we do not know (and never will) the effect that COVID has had on the psyche of all of our students. We (As teachers) will not know the full extent of what our young people got up to throughout the lockdown, what they did and how they managed it or, unfortunately, what was done to them.
Undoubtedly, there will be some teachers who eagerly accepted the lockdown, but there is a majority who watched it unfold with dread. We care for our students. We should always care for our students because then we know we are developing that pedagogy and relationship.
This reality meant many teachers took it on themselves to learn how to take their teaching online using OER's and university short course. Many trainee teachers did the same (hand up here) and learnt to create interactive, engaging lessons that continued to have pit stops with types of assessment for learning, discussion points, assessment of learning and feedback to continue to create lessons that are engaging and continue to progress the students learning. It was seriously difficult and 100% could depend on the young peoples' agility to use technology. I wont go into the government stance or politics. It is what it is. But many teachers, even when they had created these amazing and awesome classrooms, didnt hear a word from their students. Not a peep.
Until they came back into school in September.
Students came back to school, new restrictions took us back to the days when teachers would stand in the front of the class and talk. What happened to the saying "teaching is done by the students, not to them?" This was difficult, especially from a PE teacher point of view. But more than that, behaviour had regressed in their 6 months away, they didnt have the same high expectations that we keep for our QTS. They hadnt had a structured learning time, often only logging on when they felt like it. Those that did were able to adapt quickly. Those that didnt... our EST teams found themselves busy, very quickly. Teaching had changed, learning had changed and so had behaviour.
My standards had remained high, and I impressed on my students the need for this. But more importantly perhaps, I taught with an understanding that students may not have had the opportunity to be outside, or learning, for six months. I knew that teachers needed to work extra hard to redevelop the pedagogy within the classroom, and outside. Through this, students (even Year 11's!!) have at times worked harder than ever before, they're engaged and are increasingly likely to engage in conversations related to COVID or the wider world and current affairs. I encourage this where I ethically can. They want to understand the world views and are far more up to date on current affairs than my year group their age. Developing this independent thought is interesting and puts me back to where students queried the school behaviour and uniform policy. An excellent way to be dragged down...or lifted up. I engaged in discussion and debate and at the end of the discussion the students, completely de-escalated, had decided that really... they hadn't got it so bad. Again, they did more work in this lesson than previously.
As a PE teacher, Outdoor Instructor and general outdoor and sport madman; being outside and completing sports sessions is massively important to me. I got asked what would I be like if someone told me I could not play sports in school or out of school for a month when I was 16. Easy answer, I'd probably have an ASBO for climbing the walls. It was vitally important for me that extra curricular clubs stayed open and I fought for this tooth and nail, quoting mental and physical health arguments as well as the government guidelines and rules (yay for loopholes). All the PE staff did. We care and we know just how important sports is for students. Not even structured mainstream sports but the individual and independent sports that many don't commonly take part in. I knew some who do skateboarding, I taught myself some tricks whilst youth working and engaged the students in conversations regarding their skating. Students who gave teachers death glares now came to me and talked about their skating on the weekend, they engaged in conversation and helped with restorative justice.
We begin developing pedagogy in this new COVID-19 reality. Begin by placing trust in that student, understand that you will not understand what they have done for the past six months, understand that they need someone to talk to and be listened to. Ask them a question, find an interest, that common ground even if its asking how their weekend was or evening. The easiest part of the job is when they walk into the classroom, the hardest part is when they arent in it.
This new COVID reality where blended learning is such a major aspect puts pressure on pedagogy and learning. There needs to be an increase in teacher presence to support students online in schools that have lockdown, there needs to be an increase in supportive teacher presence in school to ease the students back in, and to show that teachers still do care. This isn't the end of a chapter of teaching, its the start of a new challenging and an exciting one.