Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, which keep the students standing outside before the lessons for the day begin, tutor time has been restricted. Last year my tutees would arrive at my room from eight o’clock onwards, and there would be an opportunity to chat and sort out any problems they might face during the day. This year, that opportunity for pastoral care has gone. The only conversation that can be had before school is with those arrive in between half past eight, when the school gates open, and twenty to nine, when they are all instructed to line up in their teaching sets and to stand in silence.
Things that were possible last year, like printing off lost timetables, looking things up, storing bags in the cupboard at the back of my room, are impossible this year. I don’t even have a room this year, the English, maths and humanities rooms are now occupied by Year 7 and Year 8 teaching sets.
It is judged safer to keep the students in year “pods,” so those in Years 7 and 8 spend all day in the same room, the teachers going to them. Years 9, 10 and 11 have the opportunity of a more “normal” timetable, although the staggering of break and lunchtimes and the confinement of the students to particular areas means they cannot mix.
The only indoor tutor time that remains is a twenty minute period after lunch, four days of the week. There are suggestions of activities that can be used during the time, I prefer to let students use the time independently while trying to talk to individual students – at an appropriate distance.
Today, I was crouched on the floor, trying to have a conversation across a table with one of the group, when one of the assistant headteachers put his head around the door and asked to borrow a book.
I looked around the classroom. Some students were reading, some were using their phones to do homework on the online platform used by the school, some were chatting quietly, but there were others sat in silence, sat staring ahead, as if in a trance. There are people who have reached the point of complete exhaustion.
At this point last year, there was excitement and cheer. The end of term was approached with laughter and enthusiasm. This year there is a mood of detached resignation. The question, “are you looking forward to Christmas?” is often met with a shrug, or a comment like “sort of.”
I am not convinced the government has acted in the best interests of those in my tutor group who have been exhausted by the rafts of measures and sequences of lockdowns. It does not consider us a Covid risk. I teach sixteen different sets, over four hundred students, in eleven different classrooms, and no masks are worn in the rooms. Yet while not considered a risk and not protected, we are subjected to rules designed to protect people seven decades older.
Anyone who checks the government’s own website will see who are the vulnerable, who are those who need protection. The government response should have been to protect them. It should not have been to leave my students depressed and exhausted.