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Acorn Clayton could have been forgiven for thinking that her school in Wadhurst might escape what a teacher elsewhere described to the Guardian as “a year of hell”.
But after having some of the lowest Covid-19 rates in the country for much of the year, the pressure on her and others has been relentless as infections suddenly shot up in her part of East Sussex.
“For me the last month has been hardest due to rates rising very fast in my area, and both my own children having school closures,” said the languages teacher.
“My own school has tried hard to support staff, I really appreciate that I was able to take a few days off to look after my children, our leadership team have families themselves and understand the pressure, but [the education secretary] Gavin Williamson and [schools minister] Nick Gibb have no idea of the harm and stress they are responsible for.”
Personal burnout, exhaustion and the trauma of seeing anxiety etched on the faces of their pupils were cited by other education staff who responded to a callout by the Guardian to share details of their experiences. Many were scared of catching Covid-19, others had already come down with the virus.
“As if having a temperature and laying like an immovable object in bed wasn’t bad enough, the school was calling and pressuring me to update Google Classroom every day,” said a learning support assistant in Hertfordshire. “Despite my protestations that I could barely focus on a screen without my head feeling like it was exploding.”
Like others, Matt David, 28, emphasised his love of teaching but also spoke of the mixture of terror and exhaustion which has ripped through the profession: “I wake up every day wondering whether today is the day my loved ones get sick, whether today is the day I get sick. Even when you don’t think about it, it’s still there in the back of your mind.
“We’re exhausted. I know heads who haven’t stopped since March and it’s not sustainable. At the best of times we work 50-plus hours a week, now there are some teachers pushing 70-plus. It’s not sustainable.”
Others who spoke anonymously included a teacher in Bolton with decades of experience who told of how school lives now revolved around “the bubble”.
“As staff we have to ensure that they are secure, extra duties pile up on a daily basis to make sure we are compliant, the senior staff failing to see the irony of the ‘broken bubbles’ on the school buses or in the siblings’ home,” she said.
She added: “My A-level group ask me what’s happening about their exams, my answer is ‘I don’t know’ … On Zoom I ‘meet’ with parents of pupils who are school-refusing. [Videoconferencing is] not exactly the best vehicle to use when discussing mental health, self-harm and even suicide but what’s the alternative?”
A 40-year-old teacher in Lancashire spoke of working in a constantly freezing school – windows open to maximise ventilation – where pupils were not allowed to wear coats and where her hands are blue and painful most of the day.
She said: “Morale amongst most of my colleagues is extremely low and there are many staff, including myself, considering handing in our notice. We feel like we have been completely abandoned by this government – putting ourselves on the frontline with no PPE and little additional funding.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Not sustainable’: England’s teachers on coping with Covid | Teaching