To do nothing was never an option in our house. My mother always found things for us to do. There were always things to sort, rooms to tidy, jobs to do. Approaching her eighty-third birthday in two weeks’ time, her philosophy of life remains unchanged: doing nothing is not a choice that would be made by any healthy or sensible person.
An upbringing of busyness was reinforced by more than thirty years of work within Irish Protestant communities, where a work ethic was part of the identity of members of the Church of Ireland, where being active and industrious were important.
Thus it is that the lockdown is frustrating not because of the shops being closed, nor because travel has been restricted, but because there is a feeling of doing nothing. The sudden curtailment of the school year meant that the GCSE students would have no opportunity to show how much they had learned (and, for a newly qualified teacher, there would be no test of whether his teaching had been effective). Truncating the year at short notice, the government has given no indication when normal life will resume, no indication of having an exit strategy that will allow the re-establishment of normal life.
It is not as though there has been nothing at all to do: there was duty in school with key workers’ children during the first week of the lockdown; online lessons and marking during the second week; then last week and this week would have been the school’s Easter holidays. It seems like much longer, but we have so far only lost two weeks.
The online work and duty weeks will continue, and, if indications from government quarters are true, (the fact that they are indications about which the teaching unions are complaining would suggest there is some substance to them), we might lose five weeks more, and then there might be a return after the half-term holiday at the end of May. It is hard to imagine that some of the students, who thought they were off until September, would react to being told that they must return to school on 1st June.
If the rumours are true, then the school closures caused by the lockdown will only have lasted ten weeks in total, seven weeks of term time and three weeks of holiday: in the big scheme of things, not a long time, unless you are struggling doing nothing.