‘See you in September,’ say some cheery colleagues

The Secret Teacher: People need to ‘get’ the gravity of the situation, and soon

It’s astonishing how many teachers don’t seem to have a laptop or computer at home. I do not dare suggest that it might be a worthwhile investment. Photograph: iStock

It’s astonishing how many teachers don’t seem to have a laptop or computer at home. I do not dare suggest that it might be a worthwhile investment. Photograph: iStock

 

During 11am break last Thursday, a colleague pulled me aside unable to contain her excitement: Twitter was awash with news of Varadkar’s imminent announcement of closure of schools and colleges.

I happened not to be teaching the next lesson, so I spent it in my classroom trying to establish what I would most need to bring home.

My rational mind told me that I was getting ahead of myself, and that I should try to focus on the classes I would see for the rest of the day, the students I could equip with information and materials before the closure took effect.

I then wondered if I’d possibly also see classes tomorrow: maybe we would finish out the school week, and the timing of the announcement was just to allow us to prepare better. Nine confirmed cases on Wednesday wasn’t that many, relatively speaking, so perhaps our country would have the advantage of giving a measured response?

I had barely completed the thought before realising I needed to cop on: announcing a necessary closure on the grounds of public safety doesn’t involve advance notice. I then started wondering whether I would even see the afternoon classes: perhaps the country would go into immediate lockdown and parents would be told to collect children at their earliest convenience. Who knew?

Relatively few, but a nation held its breath, and we knew we would soon hear more.

Cheering

From my empty classroom I could hear the cheers from other classrooms around the school when the announcement was made. I almost certainly know someone with Covid-19 and, indeed, many of us have potentially already crossed paths with the virus, albeit unwittingly.

It’s likely the individual doesn’t even know they have it, just as I can’t possibly know for sure I don’t have it. While all of this may seem deeply pessimistic, that very awareness means I do get the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves.

“Getting it” is what drives the precautions I am taking: heeding the handwashing advice, not visiting anyone I know to be particularly vulnerable, limiting my social contact only to what makes sense, while keeping in mind that businesses need to survive and our economy needs our support.

My first-year class files in, almost without exception telling me the news of the closure, seeming to think I genuinely might not have heard. Many keep their jackets on and very few take their books out. I realise they have already mentally checked out.

I’m raring to go to fill the contact time we do have, and they have an unmistakable air of summer holidays about them. I suspect (hope!) it is different in the exam classes. I ask them if they know anyone who has the virus and they more or less scoff in my face. As far as they are concerned, Covid-19 is in, and limited to, far-flung places and only a threat to the elderly. They may be young but I can’t help wondering how such a digitally well-connected generation could be so far from “getting it”.

Practicals

Some colleagues casually wonder if it will be possible to schedule practice orals for Leaving Cert students, or to invite small groups of students in for practicals or revision lessons because they wouldn’t constitute gatherings of more than 100 people.

These individuals certainly don’t get it, and are actively looking to create the little chinks that would put us all at greater risk. As it happens, my afternoon classes do take place, but are heavily interrupted by colleagues who arrive laden with study packs and materials for their subjects, eager to deliver them on my time as they have no scheduled class between the announcement and the closure. They certainly get that we might not be back on the premises for quite some time, and that it is our duty to make provision for students in the interim.

At the opposite extreme other teachers wave cheery goodbyes at the end of the day, some even shouting “See you in September”: clear evidence that one can get the seriousness while remaining oblivious to how close the virus is to our own doorsteps.

Some whinge about the need to get to grips with distance learning, others who are well up on everything on Netflix lament the poor broadband in their area, which will mean that they can’t really engage much with the provision we have made to teach remotely.

It’s astonishing how many teachers don’t seem to have a laptop or computer at home. I do not dare suggest that it might be a worthwhile investment.

Holiday feeling

Not unlike the first years, there is more than a whiff of the holiday feeling about far too many staff. I look at my bag of school materials and wonder if I am completely missing the point – surely the priority is avoiding, or perhaps surviving, Covid-19. Only then will there be any purpose to the work.

At home, hours later, while unpacking and sorting the materials, I overhear a remark from the television about the pubs being full of “Cheltenham supporters and teachers out celebrating”.

Now, that brings “not getting it” to a whole new level. What exactly is there to celebrate? I don’t get that at all.