"It was like their brains had been damaged... anxiety was through the roof"
Lockdown nightmare of Scotland...but Government says we should be proud of ourselves
By Alice Jones
AT THIS point in time, nothing is more powerful than real human stories, something the mainstream media seem to be averse to, unless they fit the narrative. When announcing the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in England from Thursday, Boris Johnson said today that we should have a “sense of pride” over all this. Well, News Uncut vows to bring you the truth. This is my conversation with Alison (name changed for confidentiality), a high school teacher in Scotland. I’m grateful to Alison for her time and honesty. I suspect many working in education might identify with her timeline of events…
Q: Let me take you back to March 2020 because I think most us admit we were alarmed back then?
“I remember being in school and teachers having the BBC News website on their class desktops. We were watching it constantly waiting to see what would happen. There was a weird feeling…like imminent danger. My colleague next door was desperate for them to shut the schools and, at first, I agreed. It felt war-like and that we should be home protecting ourselves and families from this deadly pathogen that was going to wipe us out.
“I stocked up on bottled water because I thought everyone would drop dead, like an apocalypse. I bought dried food and essentials. Work was challenging at the time as I was preparing huge numbers of kids for exams and the pressure was really on, so for many of us, shutting the schools at that point would be a welcome break.
“My daughter came home from primary school in agony. Her hands were swollen and red from endless washing and then drying with those awful rough hard paper towels. Part of me wanted the schools shut so I could protect her from this forced and cruel hand washing.”
Q: So how did you begin to prepare?
“We were given notice to get our classes ready on Microsoft Teams and I started to pack up my stuff and prepare to work from home. At first the notion was exciting; I bought loads of jigsaws and a huge interactive globe for my daughter. We were looking forward to a little more time together. And at first it was OK.
“The novelty very quickly wore off. Exams were cancelled and I had the enormous task of grading the students myself. I spent hours working out the average percentage gain between prelim and final exams based on years of previous data and then some inferred progress and teacher judgement on top for good measure. The pressure was insane, while also being challenged over my online engagement with the tasks I set.
“I learned how to do voice overs and make teaching videos. But my audience was tiny. So many of our students at this point had no access to the type of technology required to access my PowerPoints or live lessons. The kids that did engage were those from the most advantaged backgrounds. The ones with high-speed broadband and extra laptops hanging about their houses. Even accessing Microsoft was impossible for so many due to the expense of the programme and the size of it.
“Senior leadership made us fill out weekly engagement logs. We were expected to complete a spreadsheet like a register of children who had not engaged with our online lessons, then the pastoral team were made to call the houses of those students. Even writing this now I am distressed by the insanity of it all. The attainment gap was growing exponentially.”
Q: So initial fear turned to frustration?
“I hated it!! I hated being stuck in my spare bedroom trying to produce resources in a way that was completely alien to me. Teaching is a profoundly human exchange. Being isolated from my colleagues made me feel anxious. I was deeply worried about doing my job well but completely unable to see what others were doing and so developed imposter syndrome. We were made to have weekly department meetings online where my boss would sit in her pyjamas and make us share the strategies we were using to engage children. It was awful and created pointless competition.”
Q: And all this time you’re working from home AND home schooling?
“My heart would break for my daughter. I’m a lone parent so she would sit downstairs on her laptop trying very hard to do her own work while I was juggling the demands of mine, upstairs. It was so stressful. Her life had been cancelled. Her friends were not allowed to come round, she wasn’t allowed into the park, her athletics training and dancing were cancelled...she was alone. She couldn’t visit her Granny and Grandpa or her cousins. Then there were the insane arrangements for socially distanced get togethers or looking at her new cousin through a window. I feel sick remembering all this madness.”
Q: The rules seemed to change so fast, I dread to think how you kept up with work schedules?
“We returned to school in August after being told we wouldn’t, or we would go to some kind of blended model. This meant hours of work in the last week of the summer holiday trying to get a whole bunch of resources created to suit this new created way of teaching. Then there was a U-turn and we were back to school. My preferred option, but what about the hours of work that went into these resources that destroyed the last week of so many teachers’ summer holiday?
“We returned to these arbitrary ‘Covid safety measures’. One-way systems, arrows, split lunches, split breaks, bubbles, obsessive spraying of desks and so on. DHTs standing at school gates and giving out masks to kids who didn’t have them whilst covering their hands in very high strength sanitisers. The sanitiser is so strong that my own skin blisters if it touches it. The kids discovered it’s highly flammable...”
Q: So once you returned to school, what did you notice?
“The kids were different. The little ones couldn’t settle. S1 were all over the place. Their behaviour was so disruptive. So many of them were completely unable to sit still or focus for any length of time. I know that screen time for many had been in excess of 12 hours a day. It was like their brains had been damaged. Anxiety was through the roof. We had never seen anything like it. The older kids had changed too; they were subdued and eerily quiet.
“We were made to change our classroom layouts so that children were sitting in rows and ideally to maintain two-meters distance between them. I struggled to get my older students to speak to me, never mind each other. They were obsessed with whether the exams would be cancelled and the conscientious ones amongst them were working like dogs to pass the newly termed ‘evidence gathering assessments’. It was a pressure cooker. So many students hadn’t returned at all to school in the new term. There were at least two kids missing from each of my classes and all of them for mental health related issues. Anorexia is one I have noticed rising sharply.”
Q: And then another lockdown?
“This time the technology had improved. I saw it coming. There was a massive push to get laptops out to all students and instructions from above to have our lessons online. I couldn’t believe it. From a personal point of view, I had only just got back into the routine of going to the gym and my daughter back at swimming. I was incensed. The children had been drilled to know what to do this time, so engagement increased slightly. The council had organised it so that they could turn their cameras and mics on during the Team calls, but they didn’t. They were silent. I would log on each morning ready with my bag of tricks to entice even one of them to say something, but they never did. Nor did anyone ever turn on their cameras. I sat staring into the abyss and still had to justify my engagement figures at the end of each week. Demoralising didn’t even touch it.”
Q: Part of the ‘new normal’ was of course masks in school?
“It came as no surprise how willingly some kids took to wearing masks full time. Being isolated in their bedrooms away from their peers at this crucial point in their development had left them anxious and vulnerable. Loads were reluctant to come back to school and so the offer of a mask was the prefect solution. Which explains why we are in the awful place we are now.
“Even when the “mandate” to wear a mask is removed, so many children will not want to remove them. I know so many girls who love them. They are a crutch for them to hide behind. Those insecure about skin or how they look can hide behind these bits of cloth. I’ve asked a few if they are scared about a virus and they shrug. Children are encouraged to do LFTs twice a week. These things are given out to them in tutor time. The wording is very clever so many of them assume this is something they must do.”
Q: What is alarming you most at this point in time?
“Our current senior phase students are the most emotionally immature group I have met in my 20-year career. Just before Christmas I asked some of them what their plans were for the holidays. Traditionally S6 would be out and about on the town, a first foray into nightclubs, getting dressed up and generally partying hard. An essential right of passage that prepares them for adult life and helps them understand how to act in adult environments.
“My S6 are doing none of this. Going out and partying is not something I would necessarily encourage, but it has its place in helping form young men and women. My S6 have never been in a club or even a pub. They have been locked down in their bedrooms for the last two years and have missed out on so much essential contact and growing up.
“They are easily manipulated, easily shocked and easily offended. This period of on/off lockdown has created the perfect conditions for young people to be brain washed by social media that they have 24 hours access to.”