The following diary entry comes from Vicky Ball in Suffolk, as part of our ‘Back to School Diary’ series.
As I enter my fifteenth year of teaching, I am hoping this year will be normal while trying to keep anxious feelings at bay. Every year the butterflies swirl around right before going back but this year we still have the fact that we are in a global crisis in the mix. Despite that, we will try to make it normal because we have to, and because it helps us all to cope.
When I joined my current school in September 2019, I had no idea that we were about to be plunged into a pandemic. It has been an unusual and challenging two years but in some ways, it has been a blessing as it helped me to get to know staff and students that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across.
I still see students in the corridor who were in my bubble during lockdown school, who I played different sports with. They wave and happily greet me. I’ve never taught them but we have this connection now.
When I started at this school I took on the teaching of a new subject, English. For many years I have taught RE but was asked to teach English. I plunged myself willingly into this challenge. It has been a lot to learn but so rewarding in many ways. What is great about teaching English is the way you can bring in different subjects. This year is the third time I have taught most of the topics and it feels good that I can confidently bring in my previous techniques, as well as progress and tweak the lessons further. I always seek to add in new and exciting ways to bring them alive.
A particular challenge this year is trying to get students back on track not only educationally but mentally as well. The disruption has been a lot for students. Our new year 7s won’t have done a full year since year 4. The year 9’s have never done a full year at secondary school. My school has always been great pastorally, during the lockdowns a huge amount of work was done to contact parents and reassure students about coming back.
Going back for training days is always a mixture of emotions, on the one hand I am so happy to see all my colleagues again, but on the other hand I am having to reconnect my brain into work mode after six weeks off. Those days are usually an information overload, a lot to talk about, but necessary.
The training days this year are extra special as it is the first time we have been able to meet in person as a whole staff for two years. Our new headteacher, who joined last year, has never stood before us all except at his interview.
One thing I always fail to remember is how exhausting going back to school is. After two training days, I am ready for bed.
Getting the students back in is not quite as straightforward this year as they all have to be tested before they go to classes so they will arrive in dribs and drabs to lessons, not an ideal start to the year, but unfortunately necessary. We are professionals and we are used to dealing with the unexpected.
I am very excited to have my own classroom again. Last year, due to covid, our school was in year group zones and we had to move rooms for almost every lesson. This had a major effect on the state of the classrooms as no one had ownership of any room and they became neglected. Already this year it is so good to walk around and see newly designed displays on the walls of classrooms that look fabulous.
The first day back with students is great but not only year 7s are wandering around confused but year 8s too. They have only ever known our school in zones and now that it’s ‘normal’ they don’t know where to do go. They don’t know what normal is. In my first lessons we had excellent discussions on reading and books. I shared a slide with all the books I’ve read this year, they told me what they’d enjoyed and what they want to read. Reading is hugely important and I want all children to know this and be excited by it.
At the end of the first day I am happy but when I finally sit down the exhaustion hits me and that’s only the first day! This year I am really hoping and looking forward to more continuity in the year, that we can build on the enthusiasm that I have seen so far and settle into good routines.