Now that primary aged pupils in years 1, 6 and reception have been invited back into the classroom until the end of the summer term, we wanted to find out how teachers, and students, were adapting to their phased reopening life. We spoke to reception teacher, Beth Williams, and asked her some questions about how she’s finding being back in the classroom after an extended period of distance learning.
What was your first week back in the classroom with your Reception students like?
My first week back was genuinely a lovely experience despite my Sunday night apprehension! Whilst splitting the class in half was a difficult process, I loved having a small class that I could give some well needed attention to. The children settled in brilliantly, with some families choosing to stagger their children’s return.
From day one we were straight onto a timetable getting Phonics, Maths, English and foundation lessons completed. It might sound intense, but I really think throwing the children straight into ‘normal school’ helped them to settle more quickly and also ensured we could get some all-important revision done.
We’re in a great routine now and the things that were a real novelty, like putting all of the resources into a big bucket ready to be bleached at the end of each day, is now just part of our going home routine!
Did you have any apprehensions around children coming back to school?
I did, in all honesty, feel like it was too soon. So much around us is still not yet back to normal and at the time of the announcement I just thought; ‘well if I’m not safe to go inside my own Mother’s house, how can I be in a school filled with hundreds of children?!’
Four year olds simply can’t social distance, so I was confused as to why they were invited back first. I had so many questions that could not be answered by anyone around me.
I also think not being able to have in-person meetings with my team has been a real struggle, receiving endless emails with newly updated policies, health and safety measures, the new timetables to ensure everyone gets a turn on the playground and so many more was pretty overwhelming without physically being in the school! I’m definitely a face-to-face person.
Similarly, did you personally have any apprehensions around returning to your classroom?
Well, due to the space we need in order to have bubbles of 15, I’m actually nowhere near my classroom! It’s been completely overtaken and I’m in a different corridor in Year 2. I actually enjoyed being somewhere new… It was less stressful and I didn’t feel sad when displays had to be ripped down or taken out for hygiene reasons.
I expect I’ll be moved to a different year group next year, as this is now my second year in Reception, so having this early opportunity to move and sort out my things was quite satisfying!
What does your ‘new’ classroom look like?
It’s certainly different – having separate desks with one chair at each rather than my usual small tables of up to 6 and huge areas dedicated to construction and art is rather strange!
We set up the desks to be in small circles so that the children could face one another, chat and play whilst still keeping some distance. We’ve also had to ensure all of our play resources are in trays that can easily be moved off the tables ready for cleaning, eating lunch and completing work.
On one hand, it’s a shame the children are unable to take advantage of our vast resources cupboard. On the other, stripping back the resources has actually meant some really imaginative play has come out and most of the children have said they love sitting at their own table when they’re completing work. I’ve found they’re slowly gaining more independence this way too, which is a bonus as they go into Year 1 in September.
Obviously a lot of planning and prep work went into preparing for school reopenings, how have these plans translated into practice?
I feel that our school has ensured the environment is as safe as it can be. As I said before, it really is impossible for children so young to completely socially distance, but we seem to have thought of pretty much everything we can: one way systems, zoned playground, queuing systems for pick up and drop off, cold school lunches on paper plates that can be cleared up easily. We have hand sanitiser dispensers everywhere, Dettol spray and wipes in every room and the teachers and support staff really are being as clean as possible and sticking to these systems really well.
I think seeing these plans be successful and knowing parents are happy has definitely made me feel calmer. Whilst it’s strange I only interact with 13 children, compared to my normal 30 plus hundreds of others around the school, it does feel safer.
What measures has your school put in place to ensure the safety of staff and students?
As mentioned, there are so many additional safety procedures that have been put into practice. Staff are all keeping a social distance from one another and PPE has been provided for us when we need it.
There’s striped tape all over the place to show us where we can and can’t be and currently parents are not able to have face-to-face communication with us at drop off or pick up. We phone during the day if they want to discuss something so we really are only in close contact with our bubble.
It’s been great to see our academy trust also taking a real concern with the mental health and wellbeing of staff, offering free counselling or telephone consultations with a confidential health provider outside of work whilst ensuring workload is balanced so we can leave school as soon as possible after the children have gone. We also have half days on Friday to allow for a deep clean and PPA time.
How are you communicating the importance of hygiene and social distancing to your students without causing more anxiety about the virus?
I was surprised at how comfortable and normal the children were with the virus. I have incredible families and they’ve clearly been doing so much great work with their children.
The children all understand why we wash our hands and how to do it properly, they help me clean resources and know why the tables need to be wiped regularly. They were SO excited to be given their own personal pot of play-dough. They have also taken so well to lining up and using their arms to ensure they are a minimum of arm length apart from the person in front of them. If any of them sneeze they know to go straight to wash their hands.
I do wonder if this is because I have always been aware of hygiene in the classroom and communicating this to them calmly. From day one back in September, a sneeze in their hand meant a trip straight to wash their hands and if anyone caught a bug I would always explain why we needed to have a week without play-dough. Calm is key – no big deal to the grownups, no big deal to the children!