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Teacher Talks: Nikita Marcellin

Nikita, a Science teacher at a Girls’ School in North London, kindly joined me for the second instalment of ‘Teacher Talks’. Online learning approaches have been varied across different schools, and Nikita has been communicating with students via email and assigning work as opposed to virtual lessons.

At the start of lockdown, students initially found the weekly online submissions overwhelming which prompted the switch to fortnightly. However, not long after this, student engagement fell significantly and receiving work from students became a rare occurrence. Nikita and I discussed the other challenges that she and students faced during lockdown and her views on returning to the classroom in a matter of days from now.

Student and teacher challenges during lockdown

A common theme that has arisen is students having to share devices with multiple siblings, made particularly challenging if their sibling was doing their GCSE’s or in University. Many students have unfortunately fallen behind due to the inability to keep up with the workload over the last term and summer holidays.

Nikita’s school has offered drop-ins for children of key workers for additional tutorials and wellbeing checks. As a result, Nikita fears that this may demotivate some of the students who have not had access to the school since March. “I’m just worried that some students may feel undervalued, as if the school doesn’t care about them as much”.

Another concern was for students who are children of key workers, who would have experienced increased isolation from being at home on their own for the majority of the day, as well as lack of structure and support for completing their school work. “Some students disengaged from online learning early in lockdown and there was just no way to reach them without their parents being home. I wouldn’t have seen or spoken to some students in over 5 months when we return to the classroom!”

Views on returning to the classroom

Nikita spoke to many of her students via email during lockdown, with many of them struggling with being out of the classroom setting and away from their friends. Similarly to other schools, students will now learn in one classroom with the teacher moving between lessons. “It’s expected that this change is going to impact the students more than the teachers, especially If they have friends in other classes or year groups”.

Classes will be mixed ability, except for years 10 and 11, with students no longer being taught in sets. “This hasn’t been a problem for the tutorials we ran for small groups during lockdown. I have to admit I’m anxious about having to teach larger groups again, especially with the mixed ability classrooms”.

Having not delivered a full lesson since March, Nikita also fears that the lack of staff training and support over the past few months has left her unprepared to return to face to face teaching. The school did offer virtual tutorials for students, however, these were poorly attended. “I feel like I can’t remember how to teach! I always want to give the best to my students but classroom and behaviour management will be challenging after all this time away”.

Supporting students going forward

With the new one classroom policy, students who would not normally be together will now spend all day learning in the same room. Nikita said, “It’s not just how the teacher manages the mixed classroom, but also how the students interact with each other. I worry about bullying towards those who take a bit longer to grasp the lesson”.

Nikita already felt as though supporting students with their mental health and wellbeing was challenging, and without the help of Learning Support staff, she fears that struggling to differentiate between needs in the class will have a knock-on effect. We also acknowledged the higher levels of anxiety to be expected in the younger age groups such as the new year 7 classes, who may not have received proper transition support from primary to secondary school given the current circumstances.

The next few months will be pressing due to the inevitable heavy focus on academic achievement, however, Nikita recognises that there needs to be far more attention paid to the wellbeing of the students and staff. Young people have been apart from their friends for so long and may already feel anxious about the social aspect of education. Lessons provide many other soft skills such as communication and teamwork, however, this will be affected by the new social distancing restraints in the classroom and students may need additional support.

With so many uncertainties to face in the upcoming months, it is understandable that some teachers may be anxious or have mixed feelings about returning to traditional teaching. Whilst some measures have been put in place to prepare for students to return, both teachers and students will need to cope with new challenges in the upcoming months to ensure that the return to the classroom is a pleasant experience for everyone.

4YoungMinds ‘Back to School’ Programmes for students and teachers are now available on our website. Find out more today!

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