However much he wants to go back to school, Adam Boxer knows the time to reopen isn’t now
It’s 11.08pm. I finished my day’s work about 45 minutes ago. My heavily-pregnant wife, an NHS keyworker, works in our loft from 8am until 4pm. Meanwhile, I look after our three-year old. At 4pm, we swap.
I plough through my emails, trying to complete the myriad of tasks that are the bread and butter of a head of department’s life, as well as setting work for my students. I stop to help with bath- and bedtime, do various household tasks, go shopping when we need to and so on and so forth. Then I go back to work, aiming to finish by 10pm, but often only stopping much later.
I’m also a teacher for the Oak National Academy, helping to provide distance learning to millions of students across the country. During the week I plan my lessons and develop my resources, quality assure and peer-review my colleagues’ work, read up on the training and briefings that I can’t attend live.
My wife doesn’t work Fridays, so she looks after our daughter and I work all day to get a bit ahead of myself. Sundays I film all my lessons for Oak.
I say all this not because I’m looking for pity. Believe me when I say that I count my blessings every day. I’m saying this because I want to make one point really clear: I want to go back to school. Desperately.
Worst of times
I love working and I know that I signed myself up for a career that isn’t easy even in the best of times. But I’m struggling now because it’s hard, and these times fall deep into the ‘worst of times’ end of the spectrum.
When I go to school I move between my various roles of teacher, HOD, husband and parent with ease, and I’m not burdened by crushing guilt each day that I’m not being a good enough dad. My head knows I’m doing a good job, but my heart aches for daughter – for the friends she doesn’t see, for her grandparents she can’t hug, for the strangers she refuses to wave to like she used to. I know she’ll be fine, but it’s hard. And in among that, competing for room in my emotional energy reserves, is the nagging guilt that I’m letting my students down.
Every teacher I know and have spoken to wants to go back to school
So I want to go back to school. Because when school is open, I know I’m really good at my job. I get stuff done and I do what I love doing – teaching students – and I do it well. And then I get home and I don’t need to worry about whether my girl is getting a good deal during the day, and I can be a good dad and husband.
Let’s be clear, every teacher I know and have spoken to wants to go back to school. I’d be surprised if you found a teacher who didn’t.
The problem is, just because I want something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. We live in more complicated times than that. However much I wish the virus was gone and finished and cleared up and over and we were in the green Covid Alert Level 1 – it isn’t and we aren’t.
The question of when we go back is not answered by assessing how much I want to go back. If it were, we would have been back six weeks ago. The question is answered by assessing whether or not it is safe.
It isn’t safe yet
The reason unions and teachers are saying we shouldn’t go back isn’t because they don’t want to, but because we don’t think it’s safe yet. You might disagree and think it is safe, but you surely have to at least acknowledge that it’s possible someone could disagree with you? Not because they are some feckless over-unionised work-shy wastrel, but because they don’t think it’s safe?
I’m worried about the safety of my school community. And if I’ve read the guidelines and suggestions and FAQs and policy documents and thought, ‘Oh boy, they haven’t thought this through,’ it’s not because I’m enjoying my lockdown sipping lychee martinis on the veranda and don’t want to go back to year 10 period 5 on a Thursday – but because I don’t think it’s safe.
So here’s the question: can you acknowledge that teachers know a little something about children and schools and might have a different opinion to you, an opinion that is not based on 1980s union belligerence but on expertise and knowledge? I hope you can.
I hope you can listen to teachers. I hope you can listen to them without rejecting their voices out of hand. Because if you do reject them, if you ignore their experience and skill and fail to invite them to the table, then some very bad things could happen. And again, urging caution and hesitation rips at the very fabric of my being because, as I might have mentioned, I really, really want to go back to school.
This article is adapted from Adam’s blog post, I want to go back to school.