The Secret Teacher: I’m genuinely petrified we aren’t properly prepared

Teachers risk being the real casualty here … we’re under strain with the lack of rehearsals and little empathy

’I want to go back to work, and yet I’m genuinely petrified that we aren’t adequately prepared.’ Photograph: iStock

’I want to go back to work, and yet I’m genuinely petrified that we aren’t adequately prepared.’ Photograph: iStock

 

Opening night is almost upon us and we have not had a single rehearsal.

The stage directions have been around for a few weeks and we hear that huge work has been done on the set. A few people have even been in to see it and one of them was very impressed by what she saw. Less so by what she experienced, however, as “it was all just too normal”.

I have avoided going in as these precious remaining days of leisure won’t come around again for some time. I’m genuinely keen to be back in the physical classroom with students who have had their longest gap ever from it since they first started school. Perhaps I’m näive, but I would like to think that we will all have a new-found appreciation for how (relative!) physical proximity enriches the teaching and learning experience.

So I want to go back to work, and yet I’m genuinely petrified that we aren’t adequately prepared. Nobody seems to have considered the importance of the choreography in this show, or that for the movement around the set to go smoothly, regular rehearsals are a must.

I’ve been involved in lots of shows during my career, and I find that a good start is to bring the cast together in small groups to ensure that each one knows what it is doing. Blocking ensures that each individual element works well before the different scenes and movements are let loose on each other.

According to our plans to reopen, the small groups will number in excess of 200 individuals per day – apologies, per half-day. It looks as though the early, last-minute, technical and dress rehearsals are all to happen within a few short hours – and only ever for a proportion of the cast and crew at any one time. What could possibly go wrong?

'How gamely the nurses, doctors, guards and so on stepped up – so why can’t you?'

What I hear from politicians is that we are going back no matter what. What I’m reading in print and online tells me that school leaders are doing their best and falling into distinct categories. The group I would like to pay active tribute to here is that of the engaged, willing and innovative school management teams. They are finding ways to make it work, but not being given any room for manoeuvre around the universal simultaneous start. What is commendable is their vision that schools staying open is the most important thing. In the current reality, as others are pushing it, the warning that comes to mind is “marry in haste, repent at leisure”. Sensible plans for a blended learning approach are being rejected, despite all the work done during the spring term to equip us so well for this.

What has teachers under strain is the lack of rehearsals, coupled with little or no evidence of empathy. Teachers risk being the real casualty here, and I do not say that lightly. Teachers have too many questions and genuine concerns, but what we are being fed is a script of messages such as “how gamely the nurses, doctors, guards and so on stepped up – so why can’t you?” We can, as it happens, but what we are saying is too easily reported as unwillingness.

What makes our job different is that when we step back into the arena, we will be alone in a room with minors. That category of society has not once been addressed by political leaders to explain the valid concerns being expressed about their (lack of) understanding of how serious this is. Kilkee on August bank holiday weekend and Salthill a few weeks earlier come to mind.

Having been deprived of music festivals, football matches, theatres, concerts ... all eyes are on the one and only venue that has a licence to let hundreds in

Furthermore, the conditions in which we will function at school are out of line with what is permissible elsewhere in society. We teachers are ideally placed to know what this could all look like in reality and yet we are told that it is necessary for the mental health of our young people, and so teachers must step up. Under this pressure our own mental health quietly deteriorates.

When schools closed there were fewer cases in the country than there are now. The Tánaiste said recently that it is inevitable that clusters will emerge in schools. Where is the plan for how to proceed when this happens? I say when, because in the absence of a clear and coherent message to the minors we will interact with, in conditions that do not adhere to public health guidelines, it’s surely almost a given that some school or other will have to deal with it before very long.

As we approach opening night, feeling nervous and under-rehearsed, please spare teachers a thought. And do what you can to ensure that the children you send to school have some grasp of how serious the situation is. That isn’t a teacher’s job – no shirking of responsibilities here: it isn’t our job because it is blatantly obvious that they need to know it before they get to us. There is a lot at stake here and there’s an eager audience waiting.

An audience? Yes, the whole country. Having been deprived of music festivals, football matches, theatres, concerts and a multitude of other events, all eyes are on the one and only venue that has a licence to let hundreds in. It’s a packed house too, because the reopening of schools isn’t just the biggest show in town, it’s the only one.

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