Teacher: ‘We feel so exposed to the new virus variant’

On condition of anonymity, a teacher outlines the everyday classroom fears for teachers trying to get through winter

Friday, 3rd December 2021

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I’M a primary school teacher in Islington teaching a reception class of four and five-year-olds.

The new Omicron coronavirus variant is making teachers very sad and depressed: the fear of another lockdown is hard both for us and the children.

My class has spent a third of their life in lockdown. You can tell from the way they socialise, how they relate to one another has been affected.

Their capacity to problem-solve is reduced. They’re so used to spending time with their primary carer that they are much more fragile, and find it difficult to think: how do I deal with an obstacle, how do I negotiate?

Their resilience is low.

We’ve already had two lockdowns. We can’t have another one.

I didn’t come into teaching to look at a screen and online teaching is like herding cats with the very youngest children.

It’s impossible to do things. It’s one thing when you’re in a class with the children, but it’s a very different thing when you’re trying to get 30 children to look at a screen.

During the lockdowns, the academic gap got bigger.

Some kids were given lots of help by their parents while other parents didn’t have time to help their children.

Some kids were just given a phone and joined the lessons while lying on the sofa. So the academic gap widened but there is also an across-the-board global delay compared to other year groups.

As a teacher, I have been coming into school from the very beginning.

I know people with nice jobs like lawyers, or those working in art and design, and they’ve only just gone back to work. As someone over 50, I feel vulnerable working directly with the under-12s, the only group of people in the country who are unvaccinated.

In a class of four and five-year-olds, wearing a mask is not possible, you can’t imagine the amount of lost hats and scarves at this time of year.

The idea that they could move around and keep their masks is not realistic. So we can’t introduce masks and vaccination is not a possibility.

That means ventilation is the only way to go. It fills me with dread thinking about ventilation.

In most schools, typically what you get is a crack of the window and that’s it.

Cases are very high among primary school-age children, and often nothing has been done beyond opening a window or a door.

In cold weather, are windows still going to be open?

It’s so cold you can’t expect teachers to sit with their windows wide open, and there are legal limits for how cold a classroom can get.

That means we need fan systems that suck fresh air into a building and circulate it around the rooms.

You have to keep air moving every hour to reduce the risk of transmission.

Every classroom needs a fan system and we need bigger ones for the assembly halls.

We also need smaller class sizes: there is no social distancing in primary schools. We had the Nightingale Hospital during the first lockdown – why can’t we have Nightingale schools to get us through this winter?

At the moment there are 30 children in a class – let’s have classrooms of 15 children max!

They drafted in retired doctors to help during the lockdowns.

We should draught in ex-teachers this time. We need an emergency programme over the next few months.

The government response to Covid has shown that big shifts are possible. We need another big shift in schools.

I think something dramatic does have to happen: as teachers we want all children to come into school.

This time last year cases were going through the roof. Over the Christmas holidays, teachers got organised and said they weren’t going into schools.

We said: we’re not putting ourselves at risk.

If Omicron gets worse, we may have to organise again.

Omicron hits north London

Boris Johnson’s update this week

A FAMILY in neighbouring Camden is isolating with one of the first recorded infections of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the country.

No cases of the new variant first discovered in South Africa have been traced in Islington but Haringey has identified a case.

The discovery came in a week that NHS staff were urged not to socialise in big groups in the run-up to Christmas.

And the government has ordered new measures to help control the spread.

Prime minister Boris Johnson returned to his press briefings this week and said face masks are now mandatory in shops and on public transport. There was another push for Covid vaccine jabs as well, with booster injections being brought forward.

Other Omicron cases this week were recorded in Liverpool, Norfolk, Sutton and Westminster.

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