From cleaning and sanitising all equipment in between classes to quarantining books before they can mark them, teachers have admitted the demands of teaching in a coronavirus era has massively increased their workload.
“We are all just dazed,” one teacher admitted.
Another revealed: “Teaching is a very full-on job at the best of times, but now there is literally no breathing space.”
“Testing is a major issue,” Vic Goddard, principal at Passmores Academy in Essex who featured in the Channel 4 programme Educating Essex, told HuffPost UK.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that when you put 1,500 children and staff into the same building, they are going to catch things.”
Goddard said the usual germs that fly around after the summer break are hitting staff and pupils now, but the fear is they could be symptoms of coronavirus – so it is hitting staffing levels.
“I have staff who probably have colds,” explained Goddard. “But the guidance is if you have signs which could be coronavirus symptoms, isolate until you have a negative test.
“If too many teachers are off, staffing is affected and we’d have to get supply teachers in and the learning isn’t the same for the children. It is also going to lead to year groups closing down.”
Goddard says that parents view teachers as being in a position of authority in the community and look to them for advice surrounding the constantly changing coronavirus guidance.
“Parents are anxious and clueless about when they should or shouldn’t send their children into school. It is confusing and I constantly have to read the guidance to double-check." Vic Goddard, principal at Passmores Academy in Essex
But he admitted it is confusing even for them. “Parents are anxious and clueless about when they should or shouldn’t send their children into school,” he said.
“It is confusing and I constantly have to read the guidance to double-check.
“Parents want to do the right thing. But when they can’t get a test, they don’t know what to do and are keeping their children off school.”
Goddard told HuffPost UK that stress and anxiety levels among teachers are high as they take on extra duties to ensure school can operate safely.
“At the start of every lesson, they are overseeing cleaning and making sure everything is sanitised. There is a real element of vigilance and teachers are on high alert with no off switches.
“Teaching is a very full-on job at the best of times, but now there is literally no breathing space.”
Goddard says that while schools have done everything asked of them – such as getting all children and staff back in, the government has failed to keep its side of the bargain.
“We are not getting the things we asked for,” he said. “We need the basics in place and can’t survive without that backing.”
Goddard added that teachers at his school were providing extra catch-up lessons for children after school – and they weren’t asking for any extra money for doing it.
“It is humbling to see. Staff are doing it for the children. It’s the job and it’s what we do.”
Francine Beckett, head of modern languages at Carr Hill High School in Kirkham, Lancashire, told HuffPost UK that this is her 29th year of teaching – and it is the most overwhelmed she has ever felt.
“I am finding it all overwhelming – but it’s not the teaching that is difficult; it’s everything else before you can even begin to teach.”
Beckett described how teachers are changing classrooms all the time to restrict the movement of children and keeping pupils in their bubbles.
For the language teacher, this means spending an extra hour a day moving between classes with all her resources and logging into different computers into several applications.
“Physically, it is overwhelming and hectic,” she admitted. “You are always on the back foot and rushing around.”
Beckett explained schools are trying to limit the movement of pupils as much as possible so are having many lessons in double blocks. However, she admits two hours is “not a good length of time for anyone to concentrate.”
“It is difficult when you are standing at the front of the classroom and cannot wander around and peer over the children’s shoulders and do the activities you would normally do,” she said.
“We also have an issue where if we take books in for marking, we have to quarantine them for 48 hours before we can touch them to mark them.
“You then have to try and remember which classes they are from and make sure no one else touches them.”
“Physically, it is overwhelming and hectic.You are always on the back foot and rushing around.” Francine Beckett, head of modern languages at Carr Hill High School in Lancashire
As well as having extra duties supervising pupils at break times, Beckett says every time she leaves a classroom, she makes sure she sanitises the keyboard and mouse ready for the next teacher.
One of the hardest things she says, is not being able to socialise with colleagues as they know if they unknowingly passed on the virus to each other, the impact on staffing would be catastrophic.
“We are absolutely worn out and overwhelmed, but we can’t let our hair down and socialise together due to the risks of coronavirus,” said Beckett. “Everyone is desperately trying to keep everyone safe.”
On top of the normal teaching, Beckett says they have plans in place for live lessons for those who are isolating. And at the back of her mind, she has to plan in case a whole year group is sent home. “We are all just dazed,” she admitted.
Beckett said the attitude of pupils has been heartening as they have coped and adapted “amazingly well” to all the changes.
“While this is the most overwhelmed I have felt since teaching, it’s not the teaching itself which is the issue – it’s the things that are completely out of our control.”
Chris Wardle, deputy head teacher at St George’s Secondary School in Blackpool, who teaches science, told HuffPost UK the best thing since the full return to school has been the attitude of the pupils and how they have embraced the changes – including the wearing of masks in corridors.
“There is a real passion for learning and the children have really knuckled down after the loss of learning during the lockdown.
“There are challenges such as keeping two metres away from pupils and not being able to sit down next to them to explain things to them. But we are combatting this by using visualisers on a big screen to work through problems with them.”
Wardle said while there are extra duties such as making sure desks are cleaned and that pupils regularly apply hand sanitiser and enter through the correct routes, he feels coping with the crisis has united the school.
“Pupils can see that the teachers and senior leaders in the school are in control. If they saw them running around like headless chickens, they would feel insecure.”
One secondary school teacher, who did not wish to be named, told HuffPost UK she was delighted to be back at school. “Being back in the classroom is a much happier place for me and where I feel more effective teaching can take place.” she said.
“I think it’s healthy having schools back operating and the pupils are in good routines and having that familiarity and interaction with other children and staff.
“There are extra duties and responsibilities. But we just pull together and do it as we want it to work and for schools to stay open.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told HuffPost UK that teachers across the country are committed to making the wider re-opening of schools work – but are “holding their breath preparing for the worst.”
“Teachers already work the most unpaid overtime of any profession.The average working week is 55 hours." Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union
She says the lack of a proper testing system is deeply concerning and is making life extremely difficult when it comes to the staffing of schools, particularly in secondary schools.
She says they have also had reports from teachers about how exhausted they are finding keeping abreast of all the extra demands.
“Teachers already work the most unpaid overtime of any profession.” she said. “The average working week is 55 hours.
“But now they are physically exhausted too as the constant movement in schools is a real challenge and is making a difficult job even harder.
“In addition to the increasing workload, there is a feeling of isolation as many staff rooms are closed. Teaching is a very collegiate profession and getting support from your colleagues after a difficult lesson is very important.”
Bousted criticised the government for failing to give teachers the conditions to make them confident of a whole school return amid the pandemic being a long term prospect.
“This government has continued to be woefully underprepared with an: ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ attitude.
“Teachers needed things like an increase in school sizes by using public buildings and a fully functioning test, track and isolate service to approach anything like normality.
“The government has been inadequate, inefficient and ineffectual and the people who will lose out the most are children and young people.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.