“Are you coming in?”, I asked.
“I can’t today”, he replied.
I let him be. After circle my colleague spoke with him. He could not hand in his phone today. If he had to hand it in he would not be able to stay at school. His anxiety was palpable.
It was agreed he could have it, just for today… students with complex needs need flexible teachers.
Now I know what you are thinking. Social media was his need, contact with those beyond the walls of school, maybe a way to check in with his girl.
I knew that wasn’t it. He had been able to hand it in before. What was different about now?
“What?”, I responded slightly confused. Oh, sarcasm… I went to laugh, but he didn’t. He looked at me with absolute fear in his eyes. “I have laid awake all night thinking about it. I need to look up the facts, read the news, follow what is happening. It is freaking me out.”
That was two weeks ago.
On Monday my school will begin to operate ‘remotely’ and I am sure in good time many more schools will follow. Across many teaching networks I hear of schools busily working on developing online platforms, planning video conferencing and writing new complex assessment plans to make adjustments for kids who have access to technology, home workspaces and safe environments.
I draw a deep, heavy breath.
“Breathe”, I repeat to myself. “Breathe.”
You see, like my student, I am anxious.
I don’t teach the regular bunch of independent (or even semi-independent) learners found lingering in mainstream high schools. I teach those that are at risk, lonely, depressed, scared and vulnerable. That is why I breathe so deeply. What happens to MY kids in this current crisis?
The students came in for one last day as we wanted to break the news to them in person and make sure they felt reassured. These are the kids that were chronically absent at previous schools. These are the kids walking the streets at night. These are the kids that will tell you school is not for them. An onlooker would think they would be rejoicing, but as a staff we knew their response would not be so.
“What. The. Actual. Fuck?”, said one boy.
This is the same boy that comes in each morning and asks within five minutes if he can go home. My response is always no and he always stays the day, but I did not expect him to be quite so angry. “I can’t do school from home!”, he continues. “There are too many distractions. I was just getting my shit together.”
One girl stood up and left the room before her tears hit the table. Our counsellor followed her. Another piped up, “But my mum can’t help me with my maths or anything, she didn’t even finishing year 8.” This young lady wants to be the first in her family to finish school.
One boy who started the day claiming that he loved that he didn’t have to school hung back until the other students were gone and said, “This is actually so shit.” Yes darling it is.
When I first heard the news I was devastated. School is a safe place for my students. This is not only the place where they come to learn, this is the place where they are fed, clothed, counselled and socially supported. This is the place where they can sleep safely. This is the place where they can access essentials like sanitary products, toothpaste, soap and deodorant. This is the place where they have contact with supportive adults. For some this is the only place where they engage socially with others, for some it is their respite and others the only place they feel loved. What will happen to them now?
I took a breath and considered for a long time why this was necessary. The answers came flooding through my brain like comments on a LIVE Coronavirus Update.
- Your students are the ones in our community that are vulnerable.
- 40% of their sole carers are their grandparents or other elderly relatives.
- One fifth of your students identify as first nation people.
- They generally have poor health and nutrition.
- They come to school when they are sick because home may not be safe.
- The parents that work tend to have low paying service industry jobs where they are at risk of contact – hospitality, cleaners, retail.
- Many wear the same clothes everyday and have poor personal hygiene.
- Social distancing in the community is difficult when you are couch surfing every night.
- Our school is only two classrooms large. We spend all day in contact.
- We cook and eat in our classrooms every day.
- We can’t source food for 24 students each day with the current rations.
- We don’t have cleaners - we fill this roll.
- We can’t get the cleaning and sanitary supplies we require.
- We pick students up in a twelve-seater bus each day or they cannot get to school.
- Your school team has three teaching staff in total. If one is self-isolated staff will burn out quickly as it is difficult to retain casuals in our school.
- Staff have relatives that are immunosuppressed, pregnant and elderly.
- Most of the volunteers who are an important part of your school’s success are generally older then 60.
- Your leadership team moves across seven schools in the state from Macquarie Fields, to Redfern, from Wollongong to the Central Coast.
And the list goes on.
I open my computer and send an email to our principals. Thank you for prioritising the wellbeing of students and staff in these crazy, crazy times. It takes strong leaders to make tough decisions and I know this one wasn’t easy.
I take another breath and set to work. I am going to implement remote delivery the joy-fueled way.