Lights! Camera! Action! or Teaching in Quarantine

May 8 2020 Ms Downey

I just clicked through all of the articles on this blog and was dying to join in! I read the articles of the students I teach myself, and some others that had a catchy headline, and found myself longing to respond and have a chat with them. Some of the students talked honestly about having a hard time and I found myself tearing up a little wanting to help and comfort them. Writing this entry lets me believe I’m communicating with them in some small way.

My Experience

I have to agree with Mr McLoughlin, the closure of schools was jarringly fast. On the morning of Thursday the 12th of March, I remember the chat in the staff room was all about when the schools would close. We had a meeting scheduled that day to prepare for a closure we thought was happening soon enough, but I don’t think any of us imagined we’d get an announcement saying we were leaving on that day and we were not coming back. The school was suddenly hectic, a lot of the Junior classes were excited and the Leaving Certificate students were very worried. The mix of emotions felt chaotic.

The fact that our first day of online teaching was the next day seems unbelievable to me now. We didn’t even get the weekend to prepare! Just in a classroom one day and expected to continue the same work without the classroom the next. It was so fast I didn’t even stop to think how much they were asking of us and, even more crucially, the students at the time.  On that first day I had an issue with my friends and family contacting me in the middle of the day as if I wasn’t busy! It took them a while to realise I still had work to do even if I wasn’t in the school building. I prepared the materials the students needed for the day, which included video demonstrations of myself completing a number of accounting questions. Those early videos are very shaky, I simply held my phone in one hand and wrote with the other, it was not good. I wasn’t going to be holding my breath for the ‘Best Director’ Oscar!

On St Patrick’s Day I moved home to Kilkenny to be with my mother who lives alone. My sister flew home from Australia a few days later and quarantined in a house with her travel companions for two weeks before moving home with us. The house was very close to us so she would walk over to pay us a visit but stay outside. On Mother’s Day she came to say ‘Hi’ and we left out a glass of wine for her to have “with us”. Here she is outside while we have dinner inside.

The first two weeks of teaching were extremely tough. I tried to stick to the school timetable. If I had class on that day, I would post work for those students on that day. It was far too difficult to keep that up, though. Preparing materials that were self-explanatory took so much longer than giving a lesson where you are there to answer questions and give immediate feedback. It was also very difficult to judge how much work to assign. I thought I was assigning about 40 minutes’ worth of work, but from reading the student entries on this blog I don’t think we were getting that quite right. On top of all this my mother always had jobs she wants me to do. She continuously interrupted me and I found it tough to get back into my train of thought after I returned to my desk. Some of these jobs were big too, like moving all the furniture back into a bedroom after it was painted. She did eventually get the picture that I was still working full time and I didn’t have time for big projects during the weekdays.

I never needed Easter break so much in my life, but I didn’t really get one. We were asked to continue teaching the Leaving Certificate students, which was actually great, because we hadn’t finished the Accounting course yet and we needed all the time we could get. However, the difficulty came from my mother who believed I was now on holidays and therefore had all the time in the world to help with lots of jobs. My sister was home by this time, so it was all hands on deck for the projects she had been wanting to get done for a while. It was draining, trying to fight for time to be “allowed” go do work for school. It felt like I was a teenager not wanting to do chores all over again!

I remember the first Monday back after Easter as being the most frustrating. I had done at least two hours of work for school every single day over Easter and I still did not have everything I needed prepared for students that day. How could that be possible? How could there so much to do? 😡😡

Thankfully, it calmed down after that, following some guidance from the school. I gave clearer instructions to my classes about when I was posting work and what I expected of them. This helped me and them a lot. I was able to set up a routine and I managed to get about a day ahead of the schedule. I would have everything scheduled to post for the next day before I left the desk in the evening, and I’ve been tipping away like that ever since. I got much better at the explanatory videos too, gone were the shaky recordings on my phone and instead I demonstrated on the computer and recorded the screen. Maybe the directing award is in the bag after all!

Beyond teaching I’ve been doing everything everyone else is doing pretty much. Zoom quizzes with friends, we were up to 2 or 3 a week at one stage. I haven’t baked anything but I’m cooking (and eating) a lot! Food shopping takes forever now because my sister insists it all has to be wiped down with disinfectant wipes. I binged two seasons of This is Us and I’ve gotten into the Clone Wars series. My sister even got me to learn a TikTok dance! Ms Collins thinks it’s very funny, but I haven’t been brave enough to share with anyone else yet. I’m not missing social gatherings really, my friends can’t wait to get back to the pubs and clubs but my introverted heart just wants a few close friends to get together. Phase 2 through 4 is going to be my time! I’m missing my friends though, especially the other teachers as St Angela’s, they’re the only ones having the same experience as me and I miss our catch ups in the staff room badly. I miss my boyfriend too, he lives in Cork so I haven’t seen him since I left on St Patrick’s Day and I won’t see him until July 20th at the earliest. 😢 I’m hoping everyone does what they’re upposed to so we don’t have to go back a phase before then. We’ve been finding cute things to send each other, if it was a contest he would be winning. He knows I’m a Harry Potter fan so he had a Hogwarts acceptance letter sent to my house.

I think a lot of things have changed now that won’t ever change back for me. I don’t think I’m ever going to get on an aeroplane again without wiping down the arm rests and tray table. I probably won’t aimlessly touch clothes as I walk through a shop anymore or run my hand along the railings outside buildings. Mostly though, I don’t think my teaching will ever be the same.  I think I will integrate a lot of the new skills I learned into my regular teaching and I will definitely appreciate how valuable face-to-face class time really is.