Coping Through Covid as a Trainee Teacher!
The first year a trainee teacher spends in the classroom is onerous enough, but hey 2020 had some extra special resilience builders in store for us all by throwing on in there, a global pandemic and worldwide school closures.
There are many routes you can take into teaching, some more challenging than others. The specific route I took (although having had some phenomenal benefits and is by far the most rewarding) just so happens to be one of the most difficult routes there is.
Anyone who hasn’t heard of the charity Teach First, or has heard of them but aren’t quite sure who they are or what their mission is, then I suggest you take a look at their website. They are an amazing team of people and the underpinning values an motivators to make a difference that they uphold, are values that we should all be adhering to, if we strive to achieve a better tomorrow for the children of today!
I’m going to hold off, for now, going into my full love of Teach First and my pride and passion to be part of their movement as that would take up a whole series of blogs. This weeks entry I wanted to share with you my journey on how exactly I coped during Covid and school coursers, to lay the foundations of discussing how I am now preparing for normal classroom life in September.
Many trainee teachers would have simply been left with academic studies during school closures since their teaching placements would have been cancelled. But not us! As a teach first participant I had the responsibility of my own class and have had this responsibility since the day I started in September. However, on top of that I had two full Level 7 academic assignments to complete AND an eight year old son to home-school each day.
Now if the thought of that already frazzles your brain, you can almost just begin to imagine how hard the period of lock-down and school closures was for me. So I’d just like to throw another spanner in the works with the fact I suffer from severe anxiety and have done for many years! As I talk about the highs and the lows and how I have coped, it’s important to understand that right now I’ve never been in a better place mentally and had such a strong hold on my work-life balance. Although there were some pretty hazy dark days, I know how important it is to reflect upon these days and on what worked and what did not.
As practitioners in education it is our responsibility to empower the children in our classes and teach them the appropriate skills to be able to reflect and take ownership of their own well-being and mental health. This it’s self can be a pretty daunting task to get correct if you have no real experience of adverse challenges in your own life. Upon returning to the classroom in September, so many of our children will have had a lovely time at home building relationships and doing fun things with their families. However, some will not. Some children will have struggled to find their own food in the house, some children will have had to fend for themselves and take care of their siblings and others… could be even worse. It is vital that we reflect upon our own time during school closures and be very honest with ourselves about how things went so that we can begin to prepare for the range of responses from children that we will receive that first week back.
What went wrong and how I coped
Moving back home!
At the start of lock-down this seemed like the most wonderful idea, rather them going stir crazy, stuck at home, just me and my son, for the unknown number of weeks to follow; taking the three hour journey back up to my parents was the better of options.
Now why did this go wrong?
Try having four adults and one small sassy mini adult all working from home, confined to one room… think about the pressure that is building up each day. Especially when I have lived on my own for the past eight years… It all got a little crazy after Boris announced a further lock-down around Easter. I feel like every one in the house was slowly losing their marbles, patience was running low and irritability soaring high.
How did I cope?
Whilst trying to navigate my way through all of the rising emotions, I was also battling with deadlines and assignments and it was becoming more and more difficult to concentrate. Unfortunately, in a house so small, where there are so many people there are few and far between quiet moments. Which caused some degree of conflict for a trainee teacher who is trying to film video lessons, make parent phone calls, do zoom meetings and study for two units of a PGDE. I began to really think about the tasks that were possible to do during a busy day in our household and which would have to wait until late evening when people eventually went to bed. Although this then in turn brought it’s own issue, it was the only way I could resolve the background noise and interruptions whilst trying to film video lessons.
Thinking past the point of us being in lock-down and teaching from home, what I learnt here was if you are a trainee teacher or are going to be come September, then my biggest bit of advice would be prepare and prioritise. Don’t leave everything until last minute. Make priority lists and ensure you minimise your distractions and procrastination at home. For a lot of us on degrees, or masters our studies in the first term will all be remote so it is vital to embed good routines early on!
You’re not my TEACHER!
How many of you at home were greeted with that response from your little mini’s whilst trying to support their home learning? How many of you thought homeschooling would be a breeze? After all you are a teacher aren’t you? This is your life long career choice? Piece of cake, right? How wrong we were!
This is a picture of what most my days looked like however, this set up is after we returned to our own home. At the beginning of school closures, I was fully engaged, giving far more support that I now think I should have. I was almost spoon feeding my child and a lot of his work became my ideas.
I soon began to realise that this was causing a number of issues that I needed to deal with. It wasn’t giving my son’s teacher an accurate picture of what HE was capable of. A lot of the work he submitted had been vetted over and over until it was perfect, which at times made his teacher believe he was more capable than he actually was. This is turn took up a lot of my day. Now that may be a blunt comment to make however, it was my responsibility as a teacher to mark any work that the children in my class submitted. As was it my son’s teachers responsibility to mark his. I essentially was just making my own job increasingly difficult and my work load bigger and bigger by trying to over home-school my son.
How did I cope?
Now this advice again, is a piece that you can take with you into the classroom. I think it can play an imperative part of looking after your own well-being. When things aren’t going right or everything seems to much… Stop… Pause… Step back… Breath… Refresh and Restart! Give yourself some space to reassess the situation and recalculate your perspective. What is it you’re trying to achieve? What is it that is important to you? And how can you change the situation so that it improves for all involved?
This is what I had to do when homeschooling my son. I realised that me trying to hard to be his teacher was damaging our mummy and son relationship and something had to change. I had to step back and let his teachers (who were doing an exceptional job) do his teaching and just be there if he got stuck. This had a positive affect on my workload and our relationship. There were less screaming matches and digging heels in and the phrase “You’re not my teacher” eventually was heard no more!
University VS Work Deadlines!
University deadlines for any trainee teacher are stressful enough; writing your essays alongside preparing your portfolio ready to be put forward for QTS. However, add on top teacher deadlines… marking assessments, recording and analysing data, filling in pupil progress forms, filming video lessons, being available all of the time for students and parents and completing the onerous task that is pupil reports.
I don’t think unless you were on the Teach First cohort this year, that you can comprehend how difficult it was to keep your head above the water of your work load, when you’re spinning more plates than a circus clown. The demands of both university and school quickly mounted up. My to-do-list seemed to grow each day and I never seemed to be making any progress on my growing list of tasks. Something needed to change before I hit breaking point.
How did I cope?
The first thing I did was ask for help! Two things I have learnt during my training year is that asking for help is not a weakness and sometimes it is okay not to be okay! Even teachers who have been teaching for years and years do not know everything about everything. Therefore, you’re not expected to know everything after only being in the classroom for a few weeks or months! After contacting my support roles, we came up with clear deadlines and small tasks each day, prioritising tasks to deadline dates . This took away the overwhelming feeling I got every time I looked at my to-do-list. I would state each day which tasks I was going to complete or work on and ensure I could only see the smaller list of these tasks in-front of me! One piece of advice I was given from a very wise family member was, “never have more than three tasks a day because chances are you will start to lose momentum and still not achieve what you set out to do that day!” Again this advice I can transfer to my PPA time when I return to the classroom in September.
Mental health, well-being and mindset!
This i think has to be the most important section of my blog entry and my understanding and analysis of my own experiences will support my practice when I return to the classroom. Everyone talks about mental health and how important it is, but very few truly understand what fundamentals affect mindset and well-being.
What went wrong?
I’m just going to dive right in here and discuss how things panned out as we go! I think even the best of us, those with the strongest mindsets and those who usually adapt with ease, struggled during lock-down. Quite frankly I refuse to believe you if you say you didn’t. If we are honest with ourselves, each of us, at some point during lock-down, had a feeling of complete and utter confusion and disorientation due to loss of routine and normality. And you know what… that is absolutely okay! None of us had ever experienced such an unprecedented situation. I can believe that there will have been many days during lock-down where a lot of us were not thriving but we were “just surviving”. This happens to be the case for me.
Many of my days were spent wallowing in the fact I was confined to the house. A house that was not my own. A house with many other adults and I began to feel suffocated! I couldn’t do anything in the house without everyone knowing my every move. The weather was beautiful, so like many others I probably had a few too many days drinking than I would have ever had! It became the norm each day after finishing work. I now know first hand that this kind of inconsistent and ‘free’ lifestyle can have a detrimental affect on your well-being and mentality! Around week six of lock-down I was teetering on a very thin edge of not knowing how to cope anymore. I had well and truly lost myself and the reality that I knew. But only I could change how things were!
How did I cope?
The question is how did I get myself out of this dark abyss? How did I fully change my mindset? And how did I begin to help those around me? I think until now I had always thought of myself as a very positive person. Yet when delving into my thoughts and emotions I realised I had a lot of work to do on my own self-love and self-belief.
I started by booking some sessions with the lovely Dr Lindsay Joyce. She owns a small psychology business called The People Project. Prior to lock-down I had been having weekly sessions to help me recognise, accept and challenge issues in my life that were detrimental to my own health. After a few sessions with Lindsay, I created this morning reflection sheet for myself as a way to stop and pause each morning to recognise how I was feeling and think about what I did and did not have control over at this moment in time. This allowed me to then make a clear list of things to do each day but also allowed me to identify the things in my life that I should be grateful for. I began to share my reflections each morning on my Instagram and Twitter page, where I had people reach out to me who were also struggling. I shared the file for this sheet with these people. In the weeks to follow they got back in touch and told me how they had in turn helped others be talking about their use of the morning reflection sheet. This sheet has now become an embedded part of my morning routine. I have attached the file for any of you who wish to have a go! It really does help to start your morning on a positive note!
After realising how powerful reflecting was, I began to delve further into my own research on mindset and positivity. I read a book called The Secret and then purchased The 6-Minute Diary. Through using these resources I was able to understand how my own negative mindset was affecting my daily life and making my anxiety worse! I’m now into month three of completing my 6-minute diary and can notice a monumental difference in the way I think and how I feel. I have also looked into resources that I can take into my classroom to help the children in my class develop their own positive mindsets and outlook on life. Which I will list below.
I think one of the most important things I heard during lock-down was the quote below:
We are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.Unknown Author
The quote comes from a poem written by an unknown author, it is also the title of the poem ‘We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat’. The poem is an accurate representation of how we have all had to cope during the pandemic. Upon returning to the classroom in September, we need to have reflected upon our own time and ensure that we equip our selves with the appropriate coping mechanisms that enable us to do our jobs and to empathetically support the emotional well-being of the children in our care.
I have touched today on bumps in the road which I have had whilst teaching (as a trainee teacher) during the pandemic! I have discussed how I overcome these bumps. My next blog will discuss how I am preparing to return to the classroom in September. As I embark onto my NQT year, having not stood in front of a class and taught since March, I am under no illusion that ‘normality’ as we knew it will not return!
Teachers of 2020 and beyond with have a tremendous responsibility on our hands, one which we should tackle in unity!
And remember… It is okay not to be okay and it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help!