Perfectly Podded Pupils: 3PF in Lockdown and Reunion

When I closed the door of 3PF on the afternoon of Friday 20th March, I had no idea when I would see my class again. As adults, I think we all knew by then that we were on the edge of something very big and very serious that would disrupt all our lives completely. I gathered up a few books that I thought I might need, and I packed up the three bears who have sat patiently in my classroom for years, put them in my car and took them home. They are now in the attic, which is the bear equivalent of being furloughed.

The next few weeks were strange indeed. Although I had put activities on our online learning platform, I had no contact with the children and no idea whether they were doing the work. They just seemed to vanish into an enormous void. I sat in my garden in the sunshine watching the spring advance, thinking how coronavirus was making such a mockery of the new life I could see everywhere. The huge grey RAF C17 transport plane that circled low over Solihull seemed very threatening and ominous because no-one knew for certain what it was doing.

When it became clear that we wouldn’t be returning to school for the Summer Term, we had to adapt very quickly to a new way of working. We chose Seesaw for its child friendly accessibility. Gradually, I have become more accomplished in working with Seesaw, in pushing its limitations to find out how much I can achieve. I share with my teaching colleagues a quiet pride in my Seesaw lessons.

The one thing I can say is that, being a typical teacher, I enjoy my holidays and make the best use possible of my time out of school. However, this year, as the Easter holidays wore on, with all the certainties of life stripped away, I couldn’t believe how much I was missing the children. On the first day of term, what I wanted more than anything, even if I couldn’t see them, was to hear their voices.

I soon found out that I got to know my class in a totally different and surprising way. I saw their living rooms, their kitchens, their gardens; I saw them in their pyjamas, in their T-shirts and shorts and their cool shades. I can’t deny that I found the whole experience fascinating! I will never forget Ameh’s volcano experiment in the garden, nor the joy Amryn felt when her roses bloomed in their tubs.

Above all, I worried about them, and I wondered how they were coping. Mrs Sliney posted a range of PSHE activities on Foldr for children to access as they wished and, more recently, she launched the Worry Box to allow pupils to bring their anxieties to us and give us the chance to address them in confidence. On that first day back at school last week, I was keen to hear how the children were feeling. I wasn’t surprised by how much they could tell me about coronavirus. Arjun knew that it could affect the lungs, and Ruben explained that there is as yet no proven medicine to cure it. Hattie was aware of research suggesting that bald people are more susceptible. Alexander was particularly knowledgeable, talking in terms of underlying health conditions that would put certain groups of people at greater risk. Noah and Aisha were aware of this, and spoke from personal experience in mentioning the dangers posed to asthma sufferers and those living with cancer, although Noah also informed me, more positively, that more than 3.7 million people worldwide are known to have recovered from coronavirus.

Work completed, some children filled the rest of their time with walks and bike rides. James was lucky enough to get a new bike, as did Freddie, who covered miles around Knowle on two wheels and on foot. I think, like me, the children learnt to take pleasure in small things, such as baking and growing plants. Other children discovered the usefulness of e-readers for the first time. Of course, there is nothing in this world to compare with the feel and the smell of a brand new book but, this spring, having books appear in front of you, untouched, in the safety of your own bedroom, was very reassuring.

I had a strong sense that the children were missing each other, and maybe even missing me, and when I started the 3PF Blog on Seesaw, it became more obvious still. Freddie was lucky enough to meet people on some of his socially distanced walks. Once the situation eased a little, Ruben and his family escaped to the Malvern Hills to walk their dog, Buddy. Emily went with her family to see the ducks in Brueton Park. Overwhelmingly, however, the message was the same. They missed each other.

A major highlight for the children was the re-opening of McDonald’s, whereas I was only concerned about Waterstones and Homesense. However, when the time came for Eversfield to re-open, I felt certain they would be devastated not to be coming back. It was particularly hard for those with siblings who returned. I know that Zeba felt very lonely when Zena returned to Reception, and Raina missed her little brother. Ruben felt more content because he still had Buddy to keep him company, and there were a few others who confessed that they were glad to see the back of annoying brothers and sisters!

Above all, the children in 3PF wanted to be back together. As Aisha said rather eloquently, we can have work at home but we can’t have our friends. Ruben agreed, adding that he knew personally that he could work much better at school than at home. So when the email about returning to school popped into parents’ inboxes the other week, the children were jubilant. Sania danced all around her house, and Noah jumped up and down so much he banged his head. As for me, I felt shocked and a little apprehensive. I will admit that I said a selfish little prayer of thanks when I learnt from Boris that I wasn’t in one of the year groups scheduled to return. Like many of us, I expect, I have grown used to the safe cocoon of home, but even I realise that now is the time to move on. I have felt very isolated from my colleagues and friends at Eversfield, so it was lovely to go back, and I can’t wait to see the children again.