Poetry Blog: Isolation

Welcome along to another poetry blog. I won’t bang on too long about this one, because I’ve blogged a few times recently about the fact that we’ve been isolating for ten days after my son and wife tested positive for Covid-19. And this is where these poems have come from. Simple enough.

What’s safe to say though is that this post is very much a first for me. This post contains three poems, something that I’ve never done before in a single blog. I had intended to try and write a poem a day for the time that we were isolating, but quickly realised that what I’d end up with was probably two poems that I liked and 8 absolute duffers.

I ended up writing three poems, all connected to our isolation period. My first one came about for a combination of reasons. Firstly, I was feeling quite shocked about the two positive tests that had happened in our house and while spending the first couple of days largely on my own, had a lot of time to think. Secondly, the Facebook group I formed last April called Lockdown Literature, was somewhere where I hadn’t posted anything in a long time, so when I wrote the first poem quite quickly as a one draft piece, I wanted to post it there as a way of informing friends of what was going on. Only when I wrote the second one did I have the idea for the blog. The third one? Well, that was the result of a head full of ideas and the need for one more poem to complete the hat-trick!

Here’s the first poem, written shortly after we’d found out about the two positive tests.

Ten Days

We've done this so many times before
that I perform a cartoonish double take
as those two lines appear where there should be one.
And although one is barely there, it's still a second stripe, an alarm that stops rather than starts.

A moment stretches out in front of me 
as I struggle to react, to comprehend, before the
adult in me reaches up, takes over and my mind
begins to crunch reluctantly through the gears
that will help me protect you.

More tests are booked, the coming days organised, rest is ordered, distance
kept.

Ten days to get through. Ten days to check on you both as you sleep. Ten days to worry on the inside, but paint a calm picture on the out.

The second poem is about watching my wife through our dining room window as she sat outside in the fresh air and what we laughingly refer to as sun in West Yorkshire at this time of year. It was a few days into our period of isolation and a relief to see that she had the energy to go out, a relief to see that she was smiling once more. It had only been a matter of days that she’d been ill for and it would last a short while longer, but given the death toll and the horror stories that we’ve seen and heard throughout the pandemic, it was a lovely moment.

Fresh Air

It's funny how, despite the myriad cures and treatments 
prescribed by those who know best,
we still insist that fresh air is the cure for all that ails.

I watch you both, furtively through the window,
part concern, part inquisitive and
partly just because it makes me smile.

Despite the late afternoon sun dappling the table
you're wrapped up for winter, for a moment comical,
with your hood up. But then your vulnerability 
returns in sharp focus and I'm stopped in my tracks.

Fresh air won't loosen this deadly grip,
won't work any kind of magic. And so, I monitor,
shoulder the burden, cook beige teas and hoover to stay busy,
keep my mind from wandering too far down darkened streets,
watching from a window as you shiver but smile.

My final isolation poem is one that I fear may come across as pretentious. That’s definitely not the intention though. It was born out of the fact that we’ve had to work hard to avoid each other over the last ten or 12 days. There have been lots of moments where we pause and indicate ‘after you’ or just make eye contact in order to tell the other person which direction we’re headed. It’s been a kind of family friendly isolation and it just occurred to me that it’s been a bit like one long dance. This has mainly involved myself and my wife and it’s been never more apparent than last thing at night when we clean our teeth. We have a small bathroom and so have had to move around carefully in order to keep a safe distance from each other – a kind of cross between an amateur ballet and something out of a fight scene from The Matrix. I suppose we could have just brushed our teeth at different times, but then I couldn’t have written my pretentious poem. Anyway, here it is.

An Isolation Ballet

Little do we know it, but we've performed some kind of ballet this last week.
Two parts grace, one part paranoia, several parts a combination of
fatigue and sleepwalking.
We've picked a path around each room and each other carefully, reluctantly,
traversed two metres apart performing the every day 
routines and collapsed in synergy, separately
at the end of each day.

The discipline has been exhausting as we plie and pirouette 
our way through each hour of a ten day performance of avoidance
in search of some kind of security on our sanitised stage.
There are strange frozen moments, essential for safety, adding
to the drama and prompting the odd grin or burst of laughter at the 
sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Sometimes we don't even need to look as we move,
cautiously yet gracefully navigating space, just sensing the other 
and squeezing ourselves into a safe space.
This is not truly a ballet, a thing of beauty, but what we deem
necessary, vital as we dance apart, to stay together,
to remain safe.

So there you have it. The end to a difficult period of time in our house, although I think in terms of actual health it’ll take weeks, perhaps even months to adjust properly. The positive tests came at a time when I thought the threat had probably passed. I wasn’t ready for them. Not that I think I ever would have been, but at least when we were in the eye of the storm of Covid, say in the period between May last year and January of this, I had at least primed myself to expect the worst. Lately, as things have returned to being quite close to some sort of normality again, I had allowed myself the luxury of thinking that perhaps we’d got away with it. And of course we hadn’t.

I hope the poems haven’t seemed too indulgent or exploitative of the people involved or the situation. I think I just had to communicate what was going on somehow and writing it down is good when you’re being kept away from everyone else.

I hope you enjoyed what you’ve read. As ever, feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Ten Days: an Isolation update.

I wrote a little blog last week about the horrible time we’d had in our house once not one, but two of our family tested positive for Covid-19. There’s a link below, if you fancy a bit of misery! Well, given that we’re still isolating, albeit nearly at the end of our time as a house of hermits, I thought I’d write a little update.

Ironically, it’s not been a positive week at all.

It’s now the Friday after the Wednesday before and it’s been a tiring week, to say the least. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve washed or sanitised my hands and have spent much of the week alone, yet with three other people living in the house. I wouldn’t recommend it.

This time last week we were in the car – a wonderful place to be with two people who’ve just tested positive for any virus, let me tell you – heading to a drive in test centre on the outskirts of Leeds. We would still be in the car couple of hours later, at a third test centre after a mix up with the system led to us basically embarking on some kind of grand tour of some of the less salubrious bits of our locality. Believe me, you’ve not lived until you’ve driven down a dead end street in Beeston to be confronted by someone sat in the gutter in their pyjamas looking less than enthusiastic about life, yet somehow oblivious to your car performing a hasty three point turn and screeched getaway. And while I don’t wish to be too ‘judgy’ I suspect the involvement of drugs.

Tests duly taken, the two positive results were confirmed the day after and so began a week extreme caution, constant alert and an undeniable sense of paranoia. Oh, and from a purely selfish point of view, it’s been a week when I haven’t been able to get out for a run, which has felt horrible and also means that when I do get back out, it’s going to hurt! I haven’t exercised and I’ve had a beer almost every night, so I’m preparing myself for a painful 10k sometime soon!

We decided very quickly that we wouldn’t be able to isolate fully. This was going to have to be an isolation from the outside world, rather than one where two people were locked away in bedrooms and I waited on them. This wasn’t me shirking responsibility, more the need for the four of us to stick together as a family. When one of the ‘positives’ is an 11-year-old boy and the other his mum, locking them away just didn’t seem to be fair.

So we’ve spent the week opening doors with sleeves over our hands, bottles of hand sanitiser dotted around the place and, worst of all, relying on me to do the majority of the cooking. That said, when my wife was feeling up to it she took over those duties, mainly to stop the rest of us from suffering. We’ve also developed a very delicate way of maneuvering around the house in almost balletic fashion, avoiding getting too close to each other, remaining vigilant, taut and balanced; keeping a more than safe distance without appearing too rude to the other person. It’s been a difficult thing to do and I must admit, it’s made me feel pretty terrible. When you can’t hug your wife or children before they go to bed, it’s a horrible feeling.

In order to confront a big issue with contact, I decided that I’d sleep downstairs in our living room for the whole of the isolation period. Sharing a bed and a confined space just seemed like a silly idea and an invitation for the virus to send me multiple invites to its nasty little party.

I spent the first night with only a few blankets for a mattress and a couple of dressing gowns for covers, due to the fact that we had to make our arrangements late and remembered that our camping mattresses were locked away in a shed. That particular luxury would have to wait until daylight hours. Suffice to say, I woke up on Thursday morning feeling like I’d been away on a two week stag do in Eastern Europe…and decided to run home to save money on a flight. Not a great start, but the inflatable mattress has somewhat alleviated the problem.

I’ve found however, that sleeping so close to the floor is not so good for my asthma and while I’ve slept quite well most nights, I’ve still woke up the next day feeling various shades of rough! For the first few nights I secretly popped upstairs to check on my patients in the small hours, standing in the dark just listening to their breathing in order to calm myself. Not a nice place to be. That said, had either of them woke up and switched on a light, I’m sure the sight of me would have been just as traumatic.

My wife and son have recovered in varying levels across the week. My son; young, fit, healthy, has been relatively OK. While his first few days were worrying to watch, his latter part of the week has just seen him look a bit more tired than usual and with the occasional headache. If you’re going to get Coronavirus, get it when you’re 11, seems to be the way forward here. My wife has been worse and it’s been hard to watch. She’s always been so healthy and so watching a shadow of the person I love shuffling round the house has not been good. And there’s not a lot I can do. She’s been nauseous, extremely tired and suffered terrible headaches. There were times in the first few days when I’d pop to our bedroom to check on her to find her passed out on our bed. Sleeping, but positioned as if she’d just fallen and gone out cold. So at that point, things were a bit worrying.

My son testing positive meant that several of his friends had to isolate too and some of them played for the same football team. This is the very same football team that I coach. So, with a game to come within a week, I contacted the opposition coach, who also happens to be kind of a big deal in our league, in order to try and reschedule our game. We were faced with having to play with 8 players at most in a 9-a-side game, after all. Simple decision, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong and then after that, wronger. I actually spent the next three days, messaging and emailing back and forth with various people and basically pointing out how ridiculous it would be to ask us to go ahead with the game. In the end I made them see sense, but only after a monumental amount of time and effort. Ridiculous really, but we got what we wanted in the end. As id to emphasis the need to reschedule, the game would have been last night and we trained instead with the friend who helps out taking the session. We had more players drop out and the session had 5 players taking part. So we would have had to try and play a game with 5 players!

As a result of all the unnecessary fuss, I can’t wait to see the opposition coach when we do play, as he seemed to be hell-bent on denying us the chance to just compete on equal terms. I expect he’s made the game take on much more meaning and importance than it ever had! All this for a game of Under 12s football! And all this while my son and wife were very ill.

So, in among all of the positive test news and the poorly people, this little bit of side-tracking just wasn’t needed. Meanwhile, after a fraught weekend, it was now Monday and my patients were beginning to show signs of recovery. Which was nice.

Monday meant more Teams teaching for me – a Year 11 lesson and one with Year 9. And on Monday, this felt like quite a nice novelty really. Fast forward a day and I was tiring fast. Peering into a laptop screen and attempting to teach a class while self-consciously looking at yourself on screen was little or no fun. And boy was it hard work. I quickly lost count of the amount of times I was having to repeat the on screen instructions or explain that, no I wasn’t going to be able to come into work. No matter how many times the phrase ‘self-isolation’ was mentioned, it just didn’t seem to hit home!

By Wednesday it was taking ten minutes for a class to write the date, title and learning purpose and I was shattered with the confusion of it all. Working from home has always sounded such a nice prospect, but the reality for me was that it was exhausting and incredibly frustrating. While attempting to teach my classes I have been having to jump off the call from time to time to check on my two poorly people as well as my isolating daughter and her school work. Working from home has been the least favourite part of my week.

We arrived at Thursday and I decided that a lie in was needed. My own Thursday promised to be a bit more relaxed as I didn’t have a class in the morning and because of Eid, my afternoon group were being collapsed into another, meaning in all likelihood, a free afternoon as well. Oh, and before people think that I got up late, my lie in was until 6.45am, just so we’re clear!

The morning was pleasantly sunny and my wife seemed to be feeling a lot better, albeit it in a Covid relative kind of way. She was even going to attempt some work, something that she’d done on a number of occasions during the week and that had made her decidedly ill along the way. But, taking the sun as some kind of optimistic cue, she set herself up in our bedroom (or for this week only, her bedroom) and got to work. Meanwhile, I got the lawnmower out and cut our back lawn, wrestling (not literally) with various types of animal poo along the way – I think some is cat poo, but have been left wondering if we may have a fox visiting at night times as well.

I got a lot done on Thursday, including having a socially distanced chat with a friend on our driveway, which to be honest, was a bit bizarre. Just the experience of talking to someone (who by the way, I’d spoken to only last week, as he helps me with the coaching of the football team) who wasn’t in our house was both strange and exciting.

By the way, my wife’s work on Thursday ended up with her lying prostrate on our bed with her head covered in a duvet, exhausted and suffering from everything being too bright. I discovered this when I popped up to ask her not to push herself too far. It seems I missed the deadline by about 30 minutes and she’d had just about enough strength left to put the laptop on the floor before she just flaked out. It’s clear that the virus still has a bit of a hold on her.

And so to today, Friday. The two patients are doing as well as can be expected. My son in fact, who comes out of isolation today, seems very much over the virus. In fact, I can hear him now jumping around in the front room while playing X-Box, while shouting at the television. So, touch wood, he’s beaten Covid-19. My wife is working upstairs, but pacing herself. She looks tired, but doesn’t seem to be suffering the headaches, the dizziness, the nausea or anything else that has punctuated her week.

Hopefully, we’re well and truly over the worst. Everyone is very tired, but we’re all looking forward to finding our way back to some sense of normality. I desperately want to be able to hug my wife and son once again. Myself and my son are also looking forward to Sunday and our next game with our football team. We still can’t go out to do the food shopping and I’m going to stick with my cautious approach and stay sleeping downstairs for a little while longer. But things are starting to look a little more normal.

As I type though, there are reports in the U.K. that the Indian strain of the virus is beginning to make quite an imprint here. I’m fairly sure that there’s a Prime Minister’s briefing live on TV tonight with speculation of some kind of further lockdown to come. We’ll wait and see.

Just when you think things are getting back to normal, some other kind of shit hits the fan. That seems to be just the way life is nowadays. I sincerely hope we can get through it all once again.

I have to finish with some thank yous. I’ll start with my work colleagues and friends who have made my week a great deal easier. Resources have been provided for my classes, Teams calls set up, worries alleviated left, right and centre and regular messages sent that have calmed me down no end. Thanks Big Sisters! I also have to say a huge thank my friends David and Sarah who have checked in electronically across the course of the week and just made me and my wife feel better about things. The best friends you could hope for! When we finally do catch up, that’s going to be one hell of a moan-fest! Thanks also to Nigel, my partner in crime at football, who has kept things running as smoothly as possible and gone out of his way to do so. And thanks to anyone who’s a Facebook, Twitter or Blog friend; I’ve received some lovely messages this week.

I hope you enjoy the blog.

Ironically, it’s not been a positive week at all.

It’s been a ‘helluva’ week. I know that’s not the correct spelling or grammar, but it’s how the cool people would have put it, I imagine, so I thought I’d give it a go.

So let me tell you all about it…

Firstly, we’ll cut to the chase (cool language again, I know). On Wednesday night my 11-year-old son tested positive for Covid-19. Then, feeling poorly overnight, my wife took a test on Thursday morning and also tested positive. Now, I know they’re not the first people affected by this. It’s been quite the big thing, as I recall. But it’s never got so personal until now and it’s kind of disrupted the week! The thing we had feared for over a year finally happened, just when it looked like there wasn’t much chance of it happening anymore!

It’s now Saturday, so for three(ish) days I’ve been running around trying to look after the poorly people in the house as well as my 14-year-old daughter. I’m knackered. They’re knackered too, obviously.

Chronologically speaking, we started the week on Monday. Not just us, by the way. You too, dear reader. Everybody. I’m definitely not claiming any exclusivity on Monday as the start of the week. As it is, Monday came and went quite well really. I did a day at work in a job I love, taught two of my favourite classes and then had a reasonably early finish and headed home. I suppose there was a sign of the week to come when the student teacher I’m mentoring didn’t come into work and neglected to tell me she was absent. Damn my psychic powers. They obviously don’t kick in until Tuesdays when you get a bit older. Positively though, we had fish fingers and chips (and beans, as you ask; you have to have beans in that particular mix) for tea and selfishly, my son showed no signs of Covid. Clearly he hasn’t heard of the idea that forewarned is forearmed.

So undetected were his symptoms that he played a full game of football for our team on Tuesday night. This was another negative moment in our Positive week. It absolutely threw it down with rain. We were playing the team that are currently second top of our league and who had previously beaten us 7-1 earlier in the season. Inevitably, we lost. We were absolutely magnificent and perhaps could have won it, but we lost. And we all got soaked. Despite wearing 5 layers on my top half and two on the bottom (steady on ladies…and gents…it’s 2021 after all) I was soaked to the skin. I assume everyone else was too, but it seemed like too much of an intrusive question to ask. And to re-iterate, my probably Covid carrying, yet no symptoms son ran around like a mad thing for an hour, getting pushed and kicked every few minutes by members of a very physical opposition.

He felt tired and sick the next day – no Covid symptoms though – and so when we did our lateral flow tests that night, it was quite a shock to see his read as positive. He’s tiny. He’s eleven. He had contracted a virus that kills.

And so began a whirlwind of activity. Myself and my wife – herself now starting to feel tired and sick – rang, texted and interneted (I don’t know if that’s a verb, but if it isn’t, I’ve just invented it) and organised a PCR test for my son, as well as informing the school of the positive and several parents that their kids would be most likely be isolating for the next ten days. It all felt great. (That’s sarcasm by the way. It actually felt shit.)

I slept on the floor that night with just a duvet and some blankets for a mattress and some dressing gowns for blankets, having forgotten that our blow up mattress was in the shed. I’ve slept on the floor – albeit with the mattress – since (organise my medal now someone; I have been a very brave boy). Each night, when I’ve woken I’ve headed upstairs to check on my two patients, such is the worry that this while thing brings.

On Thursday morning, feeling very unwell, my wife did a lateral flow test and, surprise, surprise, it came back positive. We promptly organised a PCR test to confirm it, but couldn’t get the same venue as for my son’s. Heads spinning – not literally; don’t worry it doesn’t do that to you – we headed out to get to the first test. And in yet another positive, we ended up at three centres after the first one was shut for use as a polling station for local elections and the second one couldn’t fit my wife in (to their schedule, not their room, she’s tiny). So we headed for an entirely different town, getting lost in the one way system first of all before eventually, hours after we’d first set out, my wife and son were able to take their tests.

At a couple of points on Thursday I went to check on my wife to find her literally collapsed on our bed, like she’d been sitting up, but passed out. On one of those occasions, such was her body shape, that all it would have taken was a chalk outline and some stripy police tape to make it look like a convincing murder scene. Scary stuff. Friday was much the same. Oh and I had to make dinner and tea on both days, so could someone organise another medal for me, please? I mean, I’ve been forced to drink beer every night, just to cope…

So caught up in it all was I, that on Friday night, I forgot that my football team were playing and only tuned in to watch about 25 minutes after kick-off. Excuse my language, but we were fucking wonderful. However, when each of our four goals went in, I was forced to completely subdue my usual loud celebrations for fear of hurting the poorly heads of our two positives. Whoever’s organising the medals, get me a trophy as well.

And now, it’s Saturday. It’s throwing it down with rain again and no one’s had any fresh air as a result. The other three members of the household are occupying themselves in various ways, so I thought I’d write this. I hope you enjoyed my week a bit more than we did.

Poetry Blog: ‘I ran’

This is a poem that’s been sat in my notebook for a long time. Months, not years, but a long time all the same. In truth, it’s one that I was a bit unsure of. I didn’t know what to do with it and as such it got a bit lost. Every so often I’d flick through said notebook looking for something else, only to re-discover this forgotten poem. Finally though, after a closer inspection, I’ve decided to give it an airing.

I think the good weather has helped. The poem is about a time when I could exercise a great deal more because for almost the whole time the weather was glorious. Looking out of the window as I write, it’s another glorious evening, much like those of last April and May.

It’s a poem about the pandemic. I don’t know quite when I wrote it, but I know that I took the whole thing deadly seriously once I realised the extent of the devastation that seemed to be going on. I was adamant that I was definitely sticking to lockdown, but determined to take advantage of our daily exercise allowance. And so I did.

The poem is about lockdown in general, but also the fact that I took the opportunity that lockdown presented as a chance to make some changes. I’d have said that I was reasonably fit or even kidded myself about being ‘naturally fit’ when it all started. But as I read more and more reports about coronavirus and took into account my own vulnerability to it, I decided that I was going to have to get much fitter. After all, there was little excuse; I wasn’t at work and all I really had was time. So, as the poem says, I ran.

I ran...

When the danger struck, I ran.
Not away from it, but straight at it,
maybe heroically, possibly naively, 
feigning bravery because I didn't know what else to do.
Such is my way with everything.
Don't think, don't plan, act on instinct, 3 in the morning thinking
and possibly a dash of Dutch courage.

And so, when the unseen, yet definitely alien villain headed our way,
sounding dangerously, almost laughably familiar,
I ran.
Decked out like a skinny, pound shop part time superhero,
I somewhat limped into action, exercising evangelically
in an attempt to out-cardio this beefed up cold.

But while others stockpiled toilet rolls and 
took another paracetamol from their selfish stash,
I got fitter, leaner, stronger.
My thirst for the fight meant I doused my fear in fresh fruit, 
nuts, seeds and an ever present bottle of water,
and I ran.

Thousands perished. Some sought solace in illegal road trips
or standing on doorsteps hypocritically acclaiming those who chose the Hypocratic.
I doused my guilt with physical torture, pushing myself to limits I'd not explored in years,
enjoying the isolation, getting evermore prepared to face what felt inevitable
and hoping that this wasn't all in vain.
I ran.

The effects of lockdown – or lockdowns, plural – can’t be underestimated. I think, more than anything, I benefitted from it, but it was still an awful, scary time. Running got me through the fear. In fact, running quite often dealt with the early mornings, while writing steered me through the late, sleepless nights. So my poem is both about what I did as well as being a direct result of what I did.

I’ve tried to inject a dark humour into parts of this poem. At first, I didn’t really believe the hype about coronavirus. It was the flu, it was a ‘beefed up cold’ and I wasn’t going to lose too much sleep about that. I soon realised the truth though! I’ve attempted a little more dark humour later in the poem too. Although I was fit, I probably didn’t really look it; hence the ‘skinny…superhero’ reference. And let’s face it, not many tall skinny fellas look good in lycra!

The whole pandemic scared me and the best way that I could think of to deal with that fear was just to throw myself into something. Exercise, fitness and in particular, running was that thing. Initially, my thinking was simply that if I was fit, the virus would stand less of a chance against me, so I was exercising in different ways every day. At first the whole family joined in and then, as the world righted itself and people went back to school and work it left me largely on my own in terms of exercising. And this was when the running went into overdrive. I’m guessing that when I wrote the poem I was feeling particularly evangelical about it all!

That’s certainly why there’s the reference to people stockpiling certain products. I think lockdown saw a lot of people showing their true colours and it angered me that while I was doing my best to stay safe there were others just making sure that they didn’t run out of anything, that they weren’t inconvenienced. I’d see social media posts from people about how they’d joined in the ‘Clap for Carers’ knowing that they’d been visiting friends or family when it just wasn’t allowed. The hypocrisy of that support for the NHS really bothered me when all it seemed to be for some people was a chance to pat themselves on the back and look good. And I watched in horror as various high profile people in the UK were caught out visiting family hundreds of miles from their homes, while I couldn’t head out to visit friends and family myself. In fact, at the time of writing, I still haven’t seen my parents, my sister and some of my best friends and it’s been well over a year.

So there you have it. A poem that may take people back in time a little bit, despite the fact that large parts of the world are still in lockdown and that even here in the UK we’re only just beginning to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. As ever, I’d love to hear what people think, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Back to School Diary – Thursday and Friday

Here’s Part 3 of my series of diary entries written to cover the return to classrooms in the UK this week. As a teacher in a high school, I thought it might be interesting to share how things have went, partly because I was curious myself. Today marks the end of what’s felt like a momentous week, so here’s how it went on Thursday and Friday.

Typical isn’t it? You get to the part of the week where the end is in sight and fate decides to extend one of your days. Tonight (Thursday), we have a virtual Parents’ Evening. For the uninitiated, the parents are real. They’re actually fully formed human being parents. It’s just that they’re not allowed into school. I’ll be honest, although it’s a weird thing to do, the system has its benefits. For one, no appointment is allowed to go over 5 minutes, so big mouth here can’t get carried away and any awkward appointments are tempered by an on screen countdown clock. Another benefit is that we don’t have to all sit in a freezing cold, oddly lit Sports Hall for 3 hours where you’re likely to leave at the end of the evening feeling worse for wear.

So, it’s safe to say that Thursday is a long day. And not only is it long, but it’s also my first full day of teaching. Covid has meant that we’ve switched to lessons of 2 hours 50 minutes in length and while we only have 2 a day, it’s tough. So far this week the staggered return of year groups has meant that I’ve had a fair bit of free time, but today apart from a morning break and a short lunch break, I’ll teach for well over 5 hours – stood up, talking a lot (my own fault due to being far too big a fan of my own voice), cajoling, (trying to be) entertaining and instructing with a room full of actual humans in front of me. All while wearing a mask and attempting in sometimes cramped spaces, to keep a social distance. It’s still a fairly daunting prospect.

My first lesson is with a Year 8 group and I can’t work out whether I’m just boring them senseless or they are just not really used to being back yet, but boy are they quiet. It’s been a bit of a theme this week; that classes have taken a little while to ‘warm up’ and are inclined to sit there like a set of rabbits caught in the headlights. It’s understandable really. Even before the latest lockdown, their learning had been severely disrupted with positive cases meaning pupils being sent home to isolate or bubbles collapsing and whole year groups being forced to take yet more time out. For some, school must feel almost like a thing of the past.

The afternoon session brings Year 11, meaning 14 students and two adults have to squeeze into one of the smallest rooms in school in order for us to stay within our bubble. There’s no chance of social distancing and the layout of the room means that I can’t even walk around, so I’m stuck in a small space at the front where I’m invariably in the way of the board. Like a caged animal. But more hamster in a carry case than lion at the zoo.

There are grumbles aplenty at the new seating plan and numerous requests to sit elsewhere. Don’t tempt me! It’s also noticeable that this group – who are one of the year groups that were the first back in – are the worst with their masks, one particular student needing to be told 4 times in about the first 10 minutes to position it back over his mouth. He gets a little spell of detention with me after school for his persistence.

There is the same attitude to hand sanitiser with some students too; they accept it with an open hand but it’s often shaken off when seemingly out of sight or the hand is turned over so that gravity takes its course. Sadly, I’m always on guard for these tricks and take far too much pleasure in inviting the students back to renew their sanitiser and get them to rub it into their hands while I watch! Such tricks are a reminder though, that we have a fight on our hands to keep standards from slipping.

By the time 2.45 trundles around it feels like I’ve done a 12 hour shift with this class. There’s no doubt that being back, when they’re due to leave school for good in a couple of months, is a bit of a chore for a number of them. It’s felt like everything is an issue this afternoon. Masks, sanitiser, social distancing, seating plans, the size of the room, the size of the board, the fact that we have to leave windows and the door open to safely ventilate the room…everything. Even during one of the high points of the whole lesson, when one student tells me he’s missed me, there’s still time for him to grumble about where he’s sat. But it’s nice to know that I’ve been missed!

As I mentioned earlier, despite it being the last lesson of the day, Thursday isn’t finished. There’s still the strange virtual Parents’ Evening to contend with. It’s the third one I’ve done now and so I’m fine with how it works, but it’s still just very odd. You have a 5 minute appointment accompanied by a countdown all the time that you’re talking. As the time counts down you tend to start speaking faster in order to get as much said as possible – never a good idea with my accent – because once the 5 minutes is up the call just cuts off! On top of that there are always technological issues and tonight brings a gold medal effort from not one but two parents who manage to have their camera rotated to one side, meaning I feel like I have to lean over and put my head on the desk in order to communicate with them. I don’t though. I’m not that stupid.

I finish my last appointment at 6.35, shut everything down and then slowly make my way through school and out to the car. A combination of lockdown and the time of day mean that there’s hardly any traffic, so I’m home by 7pm and dog tired.

Friday seems to have taken about a month and a half to come round. I feel like I’m sleepwalking through school to get to my classroom, but Friday is always good. I only have one class in the morning, leaving the rest of the day free and meaning that I can plan lessons and sort out resources for the next week. A quite majestic bit of timetabling!

My Year 9 group are just a good bunch of kids and there’s no sanitiser shenanigans or mask issues today. During lockdown’s live lessons I used to run mini competitions with them where the first student to answer whatever the question was would get one of a selection of rubbish prizes, like a straight to camera forced smile or a thumbs up, so I make sure there are a couple of these moments today. It’s brilliant to have that type of relationship with a group, but all the better when they’re in the room!

The same class have P.E. after my lesson and have to walk past my window on their way out to the field. Several of them would always give me a wave or shout ‘Hi sir’ even though they’d left my room only ten minutes previously and today marks a return to this. It’s one of those lovely moments that I realise I’ve really missed and as they start warming up and running round on the field I can’t help but smile. It’s great to be back.

The message at the start of the week was to enjoy having students back in front of us. And I have. It’s been a real thrill to be able to teach properly, to run a lesson and just to chat to the kids and put a smile on some faces, including mine. No, genuinely. No, I can. I can smile. It’s been a good week; exhausting, testing, but enjoyable and it’s brilliant to be back to doing my job with students in a classroom. Just explaining a point to a sea of faces, most of whom are actually paying attention is exactly how it should be. Now that’s what we really call a live lesson!

It’s felt like a reasonably smooth transition back to face to face lessons. The kids have largely been great and the management of the whole thing has been brilliant. It’s genuinely felt like a normal week and it’s credit to everyone involved really. Next week marks the first time that all year groups will have been in school together for any length of time and it’s going to interesting to see how it goes.

Back to School Diary – Tuesday and Wednesday.

This is Part 2 of my diary of the first week back in classrooms for students who have been home-schooling since the turn of the year. I thought it might be a nice idea to have a look at how things would go at what is quite a momentous time for UK schools and everyone connected with them.

Tuesday. Normally such an ordinary day. That first day of the week is done with, but there’s still a long while to go. So, as a teacher (and possibly as a student too) you hunker down, grit your teeth and just hang on in there. However, this particular Tuesday is very different. In the school that I work in, this Tuesday marks a return to classrooms for some of our students after 8 weeks of live lessons and home-learning.

My morning routine is much the same as always and such is my rushing around that I don’t have too much time to stop and think about how the day might go. I’m out of the door the same as I would be in the previous 8 weeks when I would get to work to be faced with an empty classroom and a computer screen to teach at all day. However, as I approach our car park there’s the first indication of normality as a car full of students being dropped off – incredibly early – nearly wipes me out by not stopping at the junction. It’s a regular occurrence during normal term times, but having been used to empty roads for the whole of this year so far, I’m not quite ready for it. Still, I park up, have a mutter to myself and head to my classroom.

Today is the first time I’ve felt really rushed in over 2 months. Where usually I could casually bring up Teams, share my screen and wait for students to log on, today I have to make my way up to a Science lab, hauling everything I might and might not need with me. Teaching in bubbles means that it’s us teachers who have to do the moving! So, bag in one hand, spare exercise books, pens, copies of the poem we’ll study in the other, I trudge up to the room. Once there I discover that there’s no hand sanitiser or wipes, so I trudge all the way back to my room to get mine. The ageing asthmatic in me resents this enormously, but I paint on a smile (pointless as it’s hidden behind a mask) and try to express my false sense of humour at the little mishap via a raised eyebrow and a muffled greeting to any colleagues I meet along the way.

Bizarelly, the tune to High Chaparral – or is it Bonanza? – runs through my head as I prepare the room, log on, turn the board on and open windows. It will stay there all day to the point where I’m humming it behind my mask as I walk around my class checking on their learning. Younger readers probably won’t recognise either of those shows, but they were huge cowboy shows (the shows were huge, not the cowboys) when I was growing up. Why they’re back in my mind now, I do not know. Perhaps the challenges of the day are bringing out some kind of Wild West frontier spirit in me? If only I could discover gold…

Before I know it, it’s 8.30 and I step out on to the corridor to help keep an eye on the comings and goings of our returning students. If the chatter is anything to go by, they appear quite excited which is a good sign. I must admit that for me the sight of so many people in such a restricted space makes me nervous.

It’s odd how we so easily slip back into the same routines. Once we’re in the classroom any fears about remembering how to do the job are expunged and before I know it, I’m relaxed. Yes, it’s odd that we’re all in masks and there’s a certain hush about my students, but it’s great to be back. My job, essentially, is to show off and once relaxed I’m a decent show off. This is going to feel fantastic. And then I look at my watch and find that it’s only 9.15. I feel exhausted. There are 2 and a quarter hours of the lesson still to go!

To cut a long story short, I get through the lesson. We all do. We cover all of the work and my students leave with what feels like a sound knowledge of the poem we’ve been studying – ‘Exposure’ by Wilfred Owen if you want to know. But I’m drained. Part way through the near 3 hour lesson I could hear myself wheezing behind the mask. Never something that sits well with the students, who I imagine think you’re about to keel over when your chest literally whistles in their general direction. It makes me light headed and so I take evasive action by standing at the classroom door, socially distanced in order to take my mask off and take some less restricted breaths. If you know me well enough then you’ll know that, of course, I’ve forgotten my inhaler, meaning that there’s no quick fix. Clearly, I haven’t talked this much in a long time!

While I’m at the door I catch two students – boys, they’re always boys – trying to sneak the wrong way down our Covid friendly one way system. I turn them around and they grin sheepishly, no doubt secretly pleased at the delay in their return to class. Old habits die hard.

Due to the staggered approach with year groups returning on different days, I have another free afternoon, so I spend it in my room planning and taking care of little jobs – and big ones – that need some attention. A department meeting after school tells me I really am back in the thick of it and by the time it’s time to head home I’m shattered again.

Wednesday means another year group are back in school, but information overload means I don’t know which one. I know it doesn’t affect me, so that’ll do for today! I do have a class in the morning though.

Today’s lesson means another trek through school as I’m teaching in a Tech room. Again it’s a case of taking my bag, resources, spare exercise books etc, with me. There’s no theme tune in my head today, but Mission Impossible might be appropriate given the nature of the room. The distractions are numerous – for me and the students – and it can be difficult to keep everyone’s attention fully focused with vices attached to the side of every work bench that serves as a desk!

The lesson runs smoothly, but there are one or two minor irritations that might prove to be warning signs for what to expect in the weeks to come. Firstly, after only a day there are some students suffering with mask fatigue and they have to be reminded several times to keep it applied over their face in the correct manner. One makes me smile – behind my mask of course – as he claims it’s suffocating him. Half of me wants to scream, ‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic! Grow up!’ while the other half just sighs at the over-reaction. It’s slightly uncomfortable teaching behind the mask and the constant talking made breathing a little difficult yesterday, but the students don’t have to be talking that much at all! This is definitely an issue that we’ll come back to!

The other ‘red flag’ is how bad my feet feel after only about an hour of today. One of the benefits of remote learning has been that I can sit on a chair while teaching. There’s no need to walk around a room when there’s no one there and, as I’ve heard it described, you’re teaching through a letter-box. For the last 8 work weeks, other than to occasionally stretch my legs, I’ve been sat at my desk and now my feet are protesting. My heels throb and the side of my left foot – currently suffering with a little strain from running – would scream at me if it had a voice. It would scream things like, ‘Can you please just ****ing sit down?’ and ‘Never put me in these shoes again, you knobhead!’ and it would be quite right. Clearly, I need some kind of hoverboard. It’s definitely not an unreasonable request and I’m sure there’s a gap in a budget somewhere for this kind of thing. It’d need to be a sit down version, if you’re buying…

At the end of the day I do duty on one of our gates, hoping that pupils can leave without a hitch, local residents will refrain from complaining about parking and that parents picking up their children will resist the urge to double park and then race through the tiny gap that exists between cars as they head home. Every week I reflect on the fact that I never once got a lift to or from school…today’s kids don’t know what their missing not completing a daily walk home in the rain!

As it turns out, it’s pouring down with rain. Luckily I have a coat, but no umbrella, so I spend the whole 20 minutes hands in pockets, sheltering as best I can from the rain and despite the sheer amount of people passing by and loitering, my focus is elsewhere. For once, the crowd doesn’t particularly bother me. My mask is doing a great job of keeping my face warm and Covid barely gets a passing thought.

Tomorrow is my first full teaching day, so I’m sure that will be eventful. Colleagues have experienced similar mask fatigue in their students today, so it might be wise to prepare myself for battle tomorrow! Mainly though, I’m just hoping that my feet don’t ache too much!

Back to school diary – Sunday and Monday

I thought it might be interesting to write a diary style blog this week about the return to school for pupils in England. I work as a high school English teacher and so, at the very least, I can give readers some first hand reactions to what’s going on. I’ve avoided the sheer drama of referring to this series of blogs as something like ‘Tales from the Frontline’ though. It’s just a diary to let you know how it goes.

So, it’s Sunday night and everywhere I look on social media, people are saying that they ‘can’t wait’ to see kids back in schools. It’s on TV and radio on adverts deemed necessary to promote the fact that everything’s going back to normal…honestly, it’s all going to be normal again. Promise.

The excitement is a large chunk of my reaction too, but I must admit above everything else, I’m nervous. I’m nervous about being among nearly a thousand people. I’m nervous about standing in front of classes. I’m nervous about how students will engage with work, with routines, with each other and with discipline. It’s not just the staff who will have to adapt. At our school, as with countless others across the land, hundreds of kids will be fearful of what comes next too. And of course, I’m nervous, we’re all nervous, about Coronavirus, bubbles collapsing and the dreaded fourth wave.

I distract myself by watching the film ‘John Wick 3’ which although I’m a fan, is absurd enough to stop me thinking about work. I’m thrilled, as a man of Literature, when John Wick kills a bad guy using a book (he’s in a library, so ‘when in Rome…) and it’s enough of a distraction that my worries don’t stop me from getting to sleep. Even when I wake in the night, I’m more thinking about John chopping off his own finger and still being able to control a speeding motorbike while being chased by umpteen bad guys, than I am the prospect of classrooms full of masked children.

Before I know it Monday has rolled around, as it tends to on a weekly basis, and it’s time to go to work. I’ve been doing this throughout lockdown and school closures anyway, so there’s nothing new here and today we only have pupils in for testing. There will be no actual lessons and the only glimpse of students I will get is if I venture into main school and away from the protection of my classroom. I’m out the door and on my way in by 7.30am and am clocking in at work by just before 8am.

Our Year 10 & 11s have been invited in for their Covid tests, but other than that this will be a day for preparation. It should be relaxing, but I have to admit that the slightest thing puts me on edge. Upon seeing more than the ‘usual’ amount of cars at a big set of lights in town I’m quite startled and do a double take at the amount of traffic. When I see colleagues that I simply haven’t seen for two months, I’m knocked out of my stride and by the time there’s a full department meeting where we’re all together I’m happy to sit right at the back of the room out of the way. I’m not on the verge of a breakdown, but clearly this is going to be a situation that I ease myself back into.

There’s lots to do in order to prepare for Tuesday, when we will have both Year 10 and 11 in the buildings. All seating plans have to be updated and all previous ones deleted. If there’s a positive case then seating plans have to be checked quickly in order to isolate whoever needs isolating, so there’s no time for trawling through to find the most recent seating plan. These plans will have to stay the same for a while too, so there’s a bit more careful thought than usual! However, I’m done surprisingly quickly – the only seating plan shaped hurdle now is to navigate my way around a new set of photocopiers and thus far even logging in to one of them has had me on the verge of challenging it to a fight!

After seating plans come lesson plans. All of our planning is done within the team, but you still feel the need to adapt each one for the needs and foibles of your own classes. I want to get as far through the week as I can, so a good while is spent sifting through PowerPoints, making nips and tucks to fit where needed. And it’s only when I sit down to scroll through these lesson documents that I’m fully confronted by the realisation that tomorrow I will have an almost 3 hour lesson with students sat right in front of me.

Late in the day I have to make the trip up to our photocopying room. Or Repographics, if you want me to sound clever and important. Surprisingly, I’ve got some photocopying to do. And yes, it’s likely that I will be forced to throw down my glove and challenge said copier to a duel should it insist on being a dick about letting me log in!

Now, I could stay down in my department for this, where we have a perfectly good photocopier, but I fancy a walk. I’ve been sat at my desk almost all day. So it’s mask on and off I pop.

It’s all going fine until I turn a corner and catch my first sight of people. Actual people. Of course, we have two year groups in for tests and I’m about to walk straight past them all. For a moment that’s barely a moment I freeze at the sight of this many people, especially as they’re in a place where I’ve encountered less people than are there now in the entirety of the last 8 weeks. I could turn around and take another route to avoid them, but tell myself to stop being so silly and carry on.

It’s a strange sensation walking past these students – only about a dozen of them – all masked, all queuing in a socially distant fashion. Dizzying almost. And it’s odd what such a shift in routine can do for you. They’re only people. They’re the same people or at least type of people that I’ve encountered every day for the last 6 years, but just walking past causes me to feel ever so slightly wary. Around the next corner are a few colleagues that I’ve not seen for months and seeing them has a similar effect. It’s evident that being amongst people is going to be more testing than I’d imagined. But I’ll cope, I’m sure.

Tomorrow, both of these year groups will be in school, in lessons. There will be a lot more people in front of me. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Poetry Blog: Sixth on the list (behind key workers and various degrees of old people.)

I had my first dose of the Covid vaccine last weekend and it’s safe to say that it felt like quite a momentous occasion. As someone regarded as being vulnerable to the virus, it was something I’d kind of looked forward to since news of a vaccine first broke. Not in the same way as I might look forward to some beer and cake, a new Grandaddy record or Christmas, but I was looking forward to it.

It was done early on Saturday morning and I was in and out within about 20 minutes, including having to queue outside for around 10 minutes. Everything was well organised, the staff were friendly and helpful and it was a generally positive experience. Definitely something worth writing a poem about. And it would have been a bright and breezy, optimistic poem as well. But then the side effects hit on Saturday afternoon…

Anyway, here’s my poem about having the vaccine.

'Sixth on the list (behind key workers and various degrees of old people.)'

On a misty Spring morning the air fizzes with an optimism and good humour
that I can't remember feeling in a long while.
March gently attempts to wrestle February to one side 
and it's almost twelve months since the fear began.

Within minutes a smiling volunteer injects some fight into my
'at risk' body that signals hope, a way forward, a route home.
As I walk back, the town is waking up and as their day breaks
I feel I have a secret that I'd like to share with all.

I bury my bare hands deep inside the pockets of a jacket,
turn my collar to fight the chill and resist the urge to skip 
down the hill to my front door, safe in the knowledge that
I have at least half of the weapons needed for the rest of the fight.

The rest is a canyon sized unknown; I will suffer to feel good,
wait in the dark to feel better and then go through
it all again before I am able to even think about 
casting aside the unwanted cloud of our restrictions.

Over sixteen hours later, having grumbled my way through
discomfort, nausea, shivers, fatigue and pain, 
having shouted myself hoarse at a curse of Magpies, I will sit alone,
at the kitchen table, as the house sleeps around me.

I will try to find the words to make it all sound like a proper
opera, praying silently for sleep and the chance to shut down
the hell and then feel well again, but fail as all the while 
one inane thought gnaws away at my brain:

I didn't even get a sticker.

On the whole, I have to say that the whole vaccine thing was a positive experience. It wasn’t stressful at all, mainly because of the way it was organised and the staff, but my worries about the after effects would come true and then some!

For the first few hours, all I suffered with was a bit of a sore arm, but then gradually more and more went wrong. I was fatigued, felt sick, was dizzy, everywhere ached and I just felt incredibly rough, as mentioned in the poem. Strangely though, when it came to heading off to bed, I was wide awake and ended up back downstairs, where I proceeded to open a notebook and write this poem!

I managed some sleep that night, eventually, but didn’t really feel a great deal better on the Sunday. It doesn’t matter though. The fact that I’m safer now means the world and the fact that I may be able to see my family and friends again relatively soon, makes it all worth while.

As for the poem, it’s all quite straightforward, although there’s maybe a couple of lines in the sixth and seventh stanzas that are probably best explained. Despite feeling worse than I’ve felt for a long time, I was fully aware that my football team, Newcastle United were playing that evening, live on Sky Sports. There was no way that I was missing it, as long as I could keep my eyes open. Hence then the line about shouting myself hoarse at a curse of magpies, as if you don’t know, we play in black and white stripes and are known as the magpies. It’s safe to say that my croaky voice next morning had nothing at all to do with the vaccine. The other line that I wanted to explain was the bit about making it sound like a ‘proper opera’. That’s me laughing at myself as I wrote the poem. The opera reference, be it soap or the more theatrical version is me looking back and just wondering if I’ve made a bit of a big deal about it all! In my defence, it was particularly horrible though…

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem and I’d be interested to hear any feedback you might have, so feel free to leave a comment.

How to survive the pandemic – 5 Top Tips that might not be all that serious!

It’s fairly safe to say and certainly not anything new to learn, but it’s been one hell of a year or so. Since news of Covid-19 broke in early January of last year, things have gathered momentum somewhat. As the virus crossed continents our moods changed and then as the world was locked down things plummeted to new lows. And since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of decidedly average highs and Mariana trench sized lows.

Here in the UK, we’ve been hit hard and people have been forced to battle to survive not just the virus and it’s various strains, but the boredom and isolation of successive lockdowns as well as the idiotic behaviour of their fellow Brits. As I write news broke just a few hours ago of a school hall in London being hired out and unbeknownst to the school itself, playing host to a wedding where 400 people attended. Thousands have died, but it pales into insignificance at the thought of not having your 3rd cousin’s neighbours and their postman at your wedding, right?

Aside from problems like this, something that has most likely affected a large percentage of people is the sheer boredom of it all. Within weeks I’d painted every fence panel we have as well as our sheds. I’d trimmed shrubs and trees, cut lawns regularly enough that they could have hosted Wimbledon, walked every available route around our town, read book after book, watched television until my eyes hurt, skillfully sidestepped the sensation that became Zoom quizzes and exhausted myself exhausting every possible Joe Wicks video on YouTube. I daresay many of you were exactly the same. Although, perhaps it was just me that approached Zoom quizzes with such grumpiness and cynicism.

As we come up to almost a year of living in a pandemic, it seems boredom is at its absolute zenith. We can’t exercise as much – well not in the northern hemisphere anyway; it’s bloody freezing. And just when you think you’ve pretty much learnt to live with every Covid related u-turn that life throws at you, something else comes along and smacks you right in the chops, sending you back to square one once more. So, I had a little think and I hope that I’ve come up with some top tips that you can try out to make living through the pandemic that little bit more interesting. As usual with me and lists, they’re in no particular order.

Top Tip 1

Simon was determined to have a risk free walk…even if it meant taking the long way round again. Photo by Jenny Uhling on Pexels.com

Perfect your ‘anti-people skills’. Avoidance tactics are never more important than in a pandemic, so these skills include: never venturing near anyone at all, including your own family, walking in zig-zags in order to avoid fellow government sanctioned fitness freaks and fresh air junkies (you may want to never get used to walking on the same side of the road for any more than a few hundred yards), squeezing onto kerbs like a tightrope walker if you can’t get across a road to avoid oncoming humans and holding your breath like a free diver whose life depends on it. Because your life might depend on it.

Top Tip 2

Spotting that a Maths teacher had committed an apostrophe crime, Yvonne stifled a sob and prepared a suitably caustic, mocking email to her colleagues. Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Alleviate the at work boredom by writing sarcastic emails. This is also a lifestyle choice for me personally and there was no need for a pandemic to invoke this as a rule. However, in times of pandemic and as a teacher working alone, isolated all day in a classroom full of desks, chairs but no other humans, a slice of sarcasm often comes in handy. And while not revealing actual subject matter of work based sarcastic emails, I can reveal that the IT department remains, as always, a wonderful target. Always was and always will be. Furthermore, the silly ‘If you had to…’ style email is always a favourite.

Top Tip 3

Shit just got real in Sandra’s house. Someone was knocking at the back gate. Photo by Kony Xyzx on Pexels.com

Alleviate lockdown boredom by turning knocks at the door or tradesmen’s visits into a new and exciting game. We’ve done this for years in our house, as we much prefer not to answer the door to people until we’ve actually sussed out who they are. If you’re a relative you’re probably getting in…depends on the relative. So, in Covid times, imagine there’s a knock at the door or even a visit from the window cleaner. Now role play! Make sure you hide and shush as much as is possible. Shuffle on your front like an expert sniper and try seeing how close you can get to the window without its cleaner detecting your presence. I find chairs and sofas are perfect allies for this game. Try it. Next time there’s a knock at the door or you hear the rattle of a ladder, enter stealth mode and act like there’s a zombie apocalypse. Those confined to barracks hours will simply fly by!

Top Tip 4

These days, Emma found that calling lemons ‘Shit limes’ was her only source of fun. Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

See just how much you can get away with while wearing a mask. Local ruffians breaking lockdown rules and ‘hanging’ outside a closed off license as you walk by on a Boris appointed walk? Don your mask and stick your tongue out at them. Those cheeky scamps deserve your derision. Has a dog jumped up at you while tied up outside your local supermarket? Remember, you’re wearing a mask – it’s mandatory – so you’re free to call said dog a ‘massive arsehole’ or any other insult that you deem necessary. No one can see you doing it, no one could prove a thing. And surely no one’s going to ask if you just called that terrier an arsehole, are they? This game can also be played inside said supermarkets where volume control is your own issue, but the mask will cover your mouth so no one can prove a thing. So if you fancy making snide remarks at those supermarket dawdlers, now’s your time to shine.

Top Tip 5

“Good evening Wembley” cried Ian before pointing and winking at the fridge. “My name is Ian and I’m on a mission to rock!” Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The pandemic, coupled with several lockdown situations, have robbed people of a sense of normal life. We are missing out on many aspects of our social lives and this in turn has had an effect on the mental health of millions of people. Sport continues via almost endless TV coverage but one place that remains largely uncatered for is music. Yes, various bands and solo artists have put on Zoom gigs, but it’s not the same as the excitement of attending the real thing. So I have a solution. Kitchen gigging. Put simply, ask Alexa to play songs by your chosen artist and then sing along. Are you in the band or the audience? The choice is yours, my friend. Me? Usually the singer, as you ask, but I play a mean bass guitar too. You may want to factor in other additions to add realism here, otherwise or you’re literally just singing along to songs next to a sink. My sources tell me that footstools make great front of stage monitors, brooms or mops are ideal microphone stands, while a pile of distant balloons and a squint can give the illusion of a passable audience. They tell me that the key here is to have a large enough space to dance or throw other wild shapes, a vivid imagination, no shame or dignity and to remember that the words aren’t important; this is a live gig so you’re free to go ‘off piste’ as it were with the lyrics. You can even pause said device for a bit of pre-song banter with your ‘crowd’ for added fun. My sources also tell me that this is a whole host of fun, it’s extremely cool and that even in middle age, you can play the pretend rock god. Obviously, I have to take their word for it…

So there you have it. Just when you thought you might allow the share size crisps and 12 packs of lager to seduce you into extraordinary levels of lockdown weight gain, I give you five tips to help you get through our current crisis!

I’d love hear what people thought, so feel free to let me know in the comments. Similarly, if you have a go at window cleaner zombie role play or insult the odd dog, let me know how it went. And if you have any tips of your own, I’m a very keen listener! I hoped you enjoyed the blog!

Live Lessons – My Top Ten Most Uttered Phrases.

Since we were struck by the pandemic early last year, everyone and everything has found itself having to adapt. We’ve adapted from the way we do our shopping or go for a walk all the way through to the way that we do our job.

In teaching – my field of work – we’ve had to make huge changes. Different schools have made different changes, but in the school that I work at we have the pupils in bubbles and we go to them to teach, we are obviously socially distant, we have had to change our marking policy, everyone wears masks on corridors and we have a one way system. And they are only a small fraction of the changes that have been made.

We been using Microsoft Teams for remote learning all year. At first it wasn’t used that often; certainly not for live lessons. We’d put assignments in there daily, in case students were missing and then, when bubbles collapsed and we had greater numbers of students away, we’d use it for the odd live lesson and some blended learning, where some people were isolating and on the live lesson while the rest of us were in the room. But for a while, the majority of lessons remained the same – classroom based, whiteboards, exercise books and all that jazz.

With the school closures of 2021, we’re now exclusively doing live lessons and remote learning is in full flow. I wrote about the differences in a previous blog Lockdown 3 – Some thoughts on my first week at work. but after a couple of weeks of working this way, although I’m quite enjoying parts of it, something struck me; the amount of times I utter the same phrases to a class on Teams is really quite something. Big up to my friends (in no particular order) Emma, Chloe, Laura, Gemma, Megan, Ellie, Charlotte, Bryonny, Lindsey, Em, Louise and Saba, who over the course of the last few months of doing live lessons, have provided much material and inspiration for this particular blog – oh the tales we could tell! So here, in no particular order is my Top Ten of most used live lesson phrases.

  1. Can you mute your mic please?” As a rule, I have my students muted. In class during regular lessons. Just kidding. But on Teams, while I don’t actually mute them, let’s just say I encourage them not to unmute and talk to me. Hey, this is my show, after all! To be fair though, the reason that I have to say this phrase is the things that you get to hear. In various classes, a kid has unmuted and the whole lesson can hear their television as someone’s sat there (please let it not be my pupil) watching loud daytime TV. In other cases we’ve been met by a positively imperfect symphony of screeching relatives. I can mute them pretty quickly, but what I hear leaves me massively worried about the environment that they’re working in. And I guess that’s part of the problem. How can some of these kids get anywhere near the same quality of education at the moment? At other times, some students just seem to want to quickly unmute and make a silly noise and others do the same in order to just say ‘Hi’ and despite repeated warnings, it’s surprising how often it still occurs. So because my pupils seem unable to click a button that has a picture of a microphone on it, that phrase is definitely one of my most used.
  2. Just bear with me a second…” There always seems to be something that crops up that I have to deal with. There’s always a snag, a technical hitch or just yet another of my own deficiencies. One such hitch is when my movement sensitive lights go off on one side of the room. Now initially this might not seem like a problem that needs me to have a class “bear with me”, but let me tell you why they need to wait. I always have my camera on – I think being able to see their teacher might add some much needed normality to proceedings for my students and of course, I have a friendly face *coughs* – and so when the light goes off, it leaves one side of my face in shadow. As an English teacher I imagine it makes me look like Mr. Hyde, the monstrous side to Dr. Jekyll and that is not a good look or a friendly face for my students! So, just bear with me
  3. “We’re just waiting for a few people to join…” We’re not, we’re waiting for half the class! They all knew when the lesson started but they just couldn’t make it on time. I’m going to have to call them aren’t I? I’m hopefully sounding cool, calm, friendly, but I’m not. I’m quite irked, to be fair. The lesson times don’t change. It should be easier just to roll out of bed and pop a computer on than the usual whole ‘getting to school on time’ routine, but it would seem not.
  4. “Can we pop an answer in the comments? This is me saying, ‘I DON’T WANT YOU TO SPEAK!’ It’s also me saying ‘IS ANYONE STILL THERE?’ Live lessons rob us of the face to face interactions that we usually have and so asking kids to put answers in the comments is the next best thing as well as being that thing that comforts you when you’re just imagining your entire class has logged on then left the room to watch telly or play X-Box. And before you even think the thought, no, I’m not opening up everyone’s mic so that they can all call out the same right/wrong answers at the same time. So ‘Can you pop an answer in the comments?’ is all I’ve got.
  5. “Can you let me know if you can hear me?” or “Is this thing working?” There’s always someone who can’t hear you or can’t see the PowerPoint that’s being shared. I have no idea why. It’s there, on screen! And there’s always that bit of self doubt that nags at you as a teacher and whispers ‘You can’t use the technology properly’. Or is that just me? Oh, just me. The good thing – and I don’t mean actual good – is when you ask the first question and only about 8 kids respond in the chat and you’re left assuming they can hear, but that typing the three letters of the word ‘Yes’ is just a bit much to ask.
  6. “Can you just use the chat for questions and not emojis and winding each other up or bickering, please?” Safe to say that some of our younger classes haven’t quite sussed out the chat etiquette yet! Sometimes it feels like they’re not really tuning in for the lesson, just the chat. And then when you’ve stopped the nonsense you’ll inevitably get at least one of them typing, ‘Sir, what we doing?’ in the very same chat. Or failing that just, ‘Eh?’
  7. “Ok, I’ll just give you another 2 minutes on that.” Often, while a class are working I’ll mute my mic and turn off my camera, just to enable me to do something else, like read some emails or a bit of planning. I’m never, ever ready when the timer goes off and we need to move on, so I’m always adding time. Without the students in front of you it’s not only strange and a bit lonely, but also easy to get distracted, and so I’m forever pondering images to put on PowerPoints or thinking I can fit in one more email which always, always leads to me pretending to be kind by adding time on!
  8. “Are you still there? Am I talking to myself?” It’s definitely easier for your students to avoid the questions when they’re on the end of an internet connection and that silence can get quite ghostly. It’s lonely and isolated enough staring out into a room full of chairs that are still up on tables, without the kids in the computer ignoring you as well!
  9. “Can you make sure you’ve got the text open please? It’s in the assignments. And I’ve pasted it into the chat. I can post them out ahead of the lesson if you need. Send them on a pigeon?” Ok, so the latter part of that isn’t true but we could easily have just had the comment as “IT’S IN THE ASSIGNMENTS MAN!!” Suffice to say, it can be very, very…very frustrating getting students to open up the texts they’ll need for the lesson. It doesn’t matter that you posted the assignment days earlier with the instruction that they’d need to have the texts open. It doesn’t matter that you’ve sent it to some of them on email. It doesn’t matter that out of the first 5 things you said when welcoming them to the lesson 4 of them were “Can you make sure you’ve got the text open please?” And it doesn’t matter that you reminded them, in the chat, 12 seconds ago what the text was called, where it was and what they should do with it. 30% (at least) of your class won’t have a clue what you’re talking about! But it’s Ok. You’re the consumate professional who can stay calm and remind them AGAIN, YES A-BLOODY-GAIN in your best Disney teacher voice, what it is they need to do. But thank the lord there’s a mute button! Which brings me on to…
  10. “I’m just going to put myself on mute/turn my camera off/both” The ultimate censor, enabling you to karate kick every chair off every desk, walk outside and scream at the sky, open the window and throw marker pens at passing seagulls (they deserve it…the nearest sea is miles away), curl up into a ball, flick ‘V’ signs at the screen, shout things like ‘Which poem are we going to annotate? Which f*****g poem? The one we did last week! Definitely, definitely, not the one we’ve been doing for the last hour!” or volley the same kids’ books around the room. I just tell them it’s in case a colleague walks in and I have to have a chat when in fact it’s because I’m having the kind of spectacular meltdown that you thought only hungry toddlers were capable of.

It’s been a tough old academic year so far! If you’re a teacher, I’m sure you’ll have uttered all of these phrases and experienced all of these scenarios many, many times since September. If you have any I’ve missed out, then please let me know in the comments – I’d genuinely love to read them!

Regardless of what you do for a living or how you’re getting through these ridiculous times, keep on keeping on. I’m so full of admiration for so many people and their stories since March or so last year. Stay safe everybody – I hope you enjoyed the blog and that it managed to put a smile on some faces.