What are we missing about the classroom?

Empty desk missing classroom

And what are we looking forward to?

Secondary English teacher, Gwen Nelson reflects on the last few months especially the things she has started to miss. And what exactly is she looking forward to about getting back into the classroom again full time?

Firstly, let’s be abundantly clear. Suddenly being thrust into remote teaching has not been easy for teachers, school leaders, or the pupils. Each school has made decisions in a rush, at the heart of which is, ‘What is the best option for our school community’?

In particular, dealing with the daily deluge of pupil emails, which I have ‘fondly’ nicknamed, ‘the email vortex of doom’, which I think is fairly self-explanatory. As a particular teacher meme from Bored Teachers has it, once this is over, ‘I’m going to socially distance myself from my laptop for at least two months’. Remote teaching seems to be all of the labour (and then some), but lacking the joy of actually teaching.

So, what are we really missing, including the bits we would not normally?

We miss…the morning rituals

I am not going to lie here. I am not a morning person, and have not missed getting up at 5am to get ready for a long commute, or from January, to get ready to answer the ‘bat-phone’ for some day-to-day supply work. Nevertheless, there is something so comforting about having a regular morning routine, not least because it helps you work out what day of the week it is. I am a ‘get into school ridiculously early’ kind of teacher. The upside being I make sure the staffroom kettle is filled, I have drunk my second up of the tea of the day at work, and I am both physically and mentally set up for the day. Well, that’s how it should work in theory. In Autumn term, this can often feel gruelling, repetitive, a grind. At the moment, oh how I miss it.

We miss…our esteemed colleagues

I’m in a slightly odd position, in which I started a new job at my 6th school of the academic year just after Easter. This meant I have taken on 4 teaching groups but have never met them, and only met a few of my department and new colleagues thanks to the magic of Twitter.

Those of us who are well ensconced in their schools are missing their work family hugely:

  • your ‘work mum’ who mothers you in good times and bad, and you don’t mind a bit – the respect and adoration is mutual
  • the ‘Puck’ of the school or department (I’ll take a long hard look in the mirror here) who is mischievous, cheeky, and might be able to note down swearing as practically a hobby
  • the ‘Professor Yaffle’ of your subject, who will know everything about everything you ever ask them about
  • the ‘unofficial IT guru’ who most staff turn to when the actual school ‘IT Guru’ is bogged down sorting out a viral email that is plaguing staff, students and parents alike, or a system wide server crash, or SIMS having a hissy fit.
  • we miss each other and the absolutely unique camaraderie of teacher-kind.

We miss…being a complete geek about our subjects.

I’ve probably dropped enough hints by now for you to work out I’m an English teacher. Oh how I miss actually teaching my subject. Waxing lyrical about the beauty of a line of poetry; the ingenuity of a syntactical or rhetorical trick in a sentence, making a seemingly complex linguistic trick seem simple and understandable; reading a novel to a class; turning my students into full on English nerds; and lastly not being able to help myself when I teach Frankenstein and make an exasperated, high on the ‘sarcasm-o-meter’ comment about Victor Frankenstein fainting yet again.

We miss…our students

Our students are completely at the heart of what we miss. The classroom is our territory, stadia, stage and there is little, or nothing, about remote teaching that resembles the teacher and student interactions of the classroom.

We miss:

  • the Year 7 who loves to spin a shaggy dog story about why they were late to your lesson this time
  • the inevitable hysteria of a wasp in the classroom
  • that totally tangible, but hard to articulate, moment when you ‘get’ your class how you want them
  • the pupil who totally gets your character – meaning that you can communicate by knowing looks alone
  • those lightbulb moments that occur after a pupil makes it abundantly clear that they, ‘Don’t like Shakespeare’ or, ‘Hate poetry’ after which occurs a profound moment of realisation in your lesson and they absolutely GET IT. That’s a beautiful thing and I’ll never tire of it.

We even miss the backhanded compliments such as ‘You look nice today, Miss!’ (So, I look like a sack of spuds most of the time, then?), or ‘Sir, did you actually get some sleep last night?’ (What? Do I look like Nosferatu most of the time?). The pupil who, every lesson without fail, no matter what you think of the quality of the lesson just taught says, ‘Thank you, Miss.’ as they leave your lesson.
What do we miss – the frenetic pleasure and pain of the daily whirlwind at school. It will be a long time before we are back in such familiar territory, but my goodness how we’ll appreciate when we are.

Gwen Nelson recently contributed to the Cognitive Grammar in the Classroom resources, developed by Dr Marcello Giovanelli and Dr Chloe Harrison from Aston University. Take a look and download the pack here.

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