Charlotte McCollum is a secondary school English Teacher who trained with Teach First in Birmingham. She is now a newly qualified teacher and is interested in engaging all students in the world of literature

My name is Charlotte and I work as a secondary school English teacher in the West Midlands. Before recently moving back to my hometown Birmingham, I studied English Literature in Liverpool for three years. What was at first simply the subject I did best in at A-level, became a real passion. 

I realised speaking about literature was not only something I could spend hours doing but something I could turn into a career. In actual fact, teaching immediately became much more than simply speaking about books. To be a teacher is to be able to take on several different roles, which often need to be all executed at the same time. 

As I chose to enter teaching through Teach First, the start of my career was very much a baptism of fire but also extremely rewarding. I have been able to become an NQT learning on the job, which has been a very challenging but valuable experience.

In what has been a somewhat turbulent year in the world of education, many are eager to return to the classroom to gain some normality. However there are many useful lessons to be learned from lockdown, and here are just a few…

1.) Teachers are so valuable

…especially with our new esteemed title as key workers. As parents realised their little cherubs may not be so heavenly after all, teachers have received a new wave of recognition and appreciation. Could it be true that under the buttons of teachers’ beige smart wear, lies an emblazoned red ‘T’, ready to transform into superheroes at any given moment? What is abundantly clear, whatever your view of the handling of education during this period, is that teachers are essential in driving our society forward. 

Even if the finale of 2020 was an apocalypse and asteroids were to fall from the sky; I reckon teachers would still have their laptops out planning lessons and calling parents. School closures have been a monumental change globally, and teachers who offer so many services beyond teaching have been rightly recognised as crucial. My fingers are crossed students will share this enthusiasm for their hardworking teachers throughout the next academic year. 

2.) Classrooms are magical places

What I have certainly taken for granted as a teacher is the importance of a classroom. 

In normal circumstances, they not only serve as a safe space, where students can come together and learn but are a hub of social activity. This description, now a paradox, reinforces how different school life will be moving forward. While classrooms are going through a process of transformation to make them as safe as possible, and the social element will rightly be reduced, the joy of planting seeds of knowledge will soon spark the magic of what makes school so special. 

While creating a virtual school has certainly been necessary, it can never fully replace the warmth of the classroom and the magical moments where the penny drops for students, and they have learned something new. Delivering a lesson and being able to see the reactions of students, even when (frequently) things are not going to plan, is one of the joys of the job. Trading in live teaching for the cold exchange of email has been one of the greatest struggles of working from home, and I am sure I speak for many when I say it will be a brilliant thing to know what day it is and have some distinction between work and home.

3.) Patience is (always) key

Teacher or not, making the switch from your traditional workspace to rolling out of bed and immediately being in your office has been, if not at least hard, very weird. Your new PA suddenly has paws and can delete your work at any moment by scampering over your laptop and your new lockdown work outfit consists of a smart upper half and joggers on a good day. I once even tried to do my work in the garden and a bird let me know its opinion of my lesson by splatting its dinner all over my screen. 

But we carry on. Patience has always been one of the most valuable skills of being a teacher. However, with an eclectic mix of frozen Microsoft Teams screens; trying to deliver a lesson when you can see none of the pupil’s faces and negotiating how on earth a virtual school works have posed unique obstacles to the role of a teacher. 

However, to paraphrase Gary Barlow, ‘have a little patience’…and it will all be fine.

4.) Teamwork makes the dream work

With the right support around you, anything is possible, even if that support simply comes in the form of letters on a screen. In what has been a really difficult time, the importance of working together has never been more vital. We work together to make sure the people around us are safe by following guidelines; we work together in our communities to ensure people have access to everything they need; we pull together with our work colleagues working from home and we continue to rely on our colleagues to navigate the unfamiliar post-lockdown world. 

Simply knowing the people around you are experiencing the same anxieties as you can sometimes be enough to relieve them. I have been so fortunate to work with people who will often offer help before I even ask for it. We spend so much time as teachers expressing the value of teamwork to students, however, I have never realised how much support a successful team can offer until lockdown.

5.) Mental wellbeing is vital

One of the most important lessons of lockdown is how essential it is to protect our mental health, as well as our physical health. We have found ourselves in a constant state of vigilance, even more than normal as teachers. The threat of the virus to friends, family, and students; the drastic modifications to our lives and the lack of normality are unprecedented new concerns we have had to accommodate in our lives.

Whether it was taking up yoga, binge-watching your favourite series, or your hour of exercise (which in my case was more like a 15 minute lap around a pond) that offered a distraction, it is just as important to take care of yourself as it is to take care of those around you. 

For many, this has been the most time ever spent with your own thoughts, which can be challenging in itself when the world outside seems so bleak. For me, clinging on to positivity was essential when faced with such an unprecedented danger.

While physically going back to school will be a big change, it will be significantly easier to do so if we are kind to ourselves. So, if you are also heading back to school soon I wish you the best of luck and the safest return to normality.

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