Simran Sehmar is a Primary School teacher at Delves Junior School in Walsall. She is the subject lead for Design and Technology and is interested in encouraging female representation in STEM careers. In the following guest blog post she writes about her experience of being a trainee teacher during the Coronavirus pandemic and the challenges and opportunities this presented.

On the 20th March 2020, life in Britain changed for us all. For every teacher trainee, this translated to approaching the formidable task of teaching in a now foreign environment.

As the number of Coronavirus cases increased, the government announced that the nation was to go into lockdown and all schools were to close. Shortly after, children and teachers were faced with a new normal.

At the start of the 2019 academic year, Teach First had recruited its largest ever cohort of trainees. Myself being one of the 229 trainee teachers in the West Midlands. It was expected that over the next two years, trainees would support approximately 40,000 children to fulfil their academic ambitions.

Despite the unknowns of distance and online teaching, one thing remained certain, I was soon to be one of the many, newly qualified teachers (NQTs) entering this profession during unprecedented times.

The juggling act of teaching

As lockdown began, I became immersed in the juggling act demanded of all teachers. From supporting parents to teaching at home to becoming accustomed to new technology, I had to swiftly adjust to fulfil the needs of all children as the length of lockdown remained unknown to us all.

Out of 1,144 teachers surveyed by Teaching Abroad Direct, around 73% of those under the age of 24 were receptive to the new ways of remote working. This way of working has offered many advantages, from a flexible schedule to increased creativity when teaching and engaging pupils. Nevertheless, the absence of in-person connections was evident. The community built within a school enables and sustains connections that are key to the process of teaching. 

As teachers we often rely on non-verbal cues (tone of voice, body language, expression), something which can not be achieved through a computer screen. The significance of personal connection is a reminder of why being in school is so important for pupils and teachers. It allows us to develop effective relationships with children, supporting them to flourish as individuals and excel academically; one of the key reasons I got into teaching.

How Coronavirus exacerbated educational inequalities 

Prior to lockdown, we were able to provide children with work which could be completed without the need for technology. It was important that where possible we supported children to continue their learning. However,  according to the Sutton Trust over a third of children did not have access to their own computer or laptop on which they could use the internet. Such limitations will widen the attainment gap of children in the education system, reversing the progress made to narrow the gap since 2011.

It is difficult to predict the long-term impact that Coronavirus will have on students. However, the immediate impact is certainly evident amongst  low-income families. Many have faced increased poverty and food insecurity. These challenges alongside uncertain economic effects as a result of the pandemic, will likely have a further impact on attainment. Informing ourselves about these barriers now and in the future is essential to ensure we support pupils correctly and tackle the inequalities that have been exacerbated during lockdown.

Moving into the new academic year

A Teacher Track survey by YouGov, reported that 46% of teachers feel anxious about what may occur in the upcoming year. As an individual going into their NQT year, I empathise with these feelings of uncertainty. The prospect of stepping into the unknown as schools open their doors in September is an unnerving one. It is therefore, more important than ever to ensure we trainees feel supported. 

This is the first time since World War Two that schools in England have not followed a usual school routine or completed any exams. Inevitably, teaching and learning has been severely impacted. 

There is a silver lining however, it has been an opportunity for us all to reflect and strengthen our practice. It also led to strong bonds being formed between myself and parents as they endeavoured to support their children through this time. This moment has provided a chance for us to make a positive impact and it is important that we reflect on what we have learnt as school begins to return to normal in September.

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