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Teacher Talks: Bal Sohal

The end of another school year has rolled around, yet it is safe to say that it looks and feels nothing like it has done in previous years. Schools closed their physical doors to students in March leading to various approaches of online learning being trialled, however, the lack of contact with their friends and teachers impacted not only education, but also student wellbeing.

I caught up with a number of school teachers at the start of the summer holiday to get their views on the past term of schooling during lockdown, and returning to the classroom in September. I interviewed Bal Sohal, a secondary school English teacher for all year groups, around 3 key areas: student and teacher challenges during lockdown, views on returning to the classroom and the struggles that teachers may face in supporting their students going forward.

Student and teacher challenges during lockdown

Bal teaches at a multicultural school, with students from a range of ethnicities and backgrounds. This, of course, has its advantages for diversity, however supporting students and parents who have English as an additional language has been far more challenging online. "When we have face to face lessons you can always check if everyone understands the work, but now with us uploading resources to a portal it's harder to be sure."

Another issue is the clear lack of equity as not all students have access to a laptop, or are forced to share one device with multiple siblings. When asking one of her students why they had not submitted any work, he responded, “Miss, where am I supposed to work?” Even with access to devices, finding a quiet space to work has been a challenge for some students who are at home with many family members.

Views on returning to the classroom

Bal’s school has already started preparing to better equip teachers for the new school arrangements. Teachers will receive 4 INSET days as opposed to the traditional 2 days, with additional social distancing and fire safety training.

Whilst Bal is extremely excited to return to school, she shared her reservations on the challenges of social distancing and teachers having to move between classrooms. “I'm struggling with the idea of students being stuck in one room all day, but if even two students in the year have symptoms, the whole year group will return to home learning. How does this work for teachers who teach multiple year groups? We are going to have to touch books for marking as well, there’s just so much to consider”.

Supporting students going forward

Bal had a number of predictions in terms of the difficulties that teachers may face in supporting students upon their return to school. Many of the students will have fallen behind with their work during this period, and Bal now fears the attainment gap for disadvantaged students is only due to worsen. As a result, finding the balance between intensive teaching and maintaining students’ wellbeing will become an additional challenge for teachers in the upcoming months.

Students will now be grouped in ‘bubbles’ by year group, with each class assigned to one classroom for lessons and a designated area for break times. This will inevitably create isolation for students whose friends are predominantly from other form classes and year groups. Teachers will also now be required to teach year 7 students of different abilities in the same class, rather than in sets.

In terms of supporting their students, Bal believes that teachers would benefit from additional training to allow them to differentiate whilst teaching mixed-ability classes, and also learning how to better support the wellbeing of their students. “One of the best ways to escape poverty is through education, we have to make sure that we can still help to break the poverty cycle even if we’re teaching online”. Workshops for students to encourage continuous engagement with online learning would help teachers to achieve this.

While Bal’s school have done an excellent job in preparing for the September return, we cannot ignore that these new school arrangements will impact student and teacher wellbeing. With a multitude of secondary challenges arising as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, students have been forced to adapt to this new way of school life with very little support. It is, therefore, more important than ever that students are equipped with the necessary tools to manage their own wellbeing through the ever-changing restrictions and uncertainty whilst learning from home.

The 4YoungMinds ‘Back to School’ Programmes for students, teachers and parents will be launching on Monday 24tht August. Sign up to our newsletter to receive updates and register your interest.


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