Locked Down But Not Out

Where to start reflecting on a year that has had some very high highs and very low lows (and not write in clichés)?

So, I prepared myself and my students by setting up my google classrooms and practicing Google Meets and as soon as students were given the go ahead to start school holidays early, I stayed home as well. I worked on my virtual classroom and turned curriculum around to focus on units that we thought would be easier to teach from home. Instead of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we began the year 9 history curriculum – Making a Nation. We thought we would be back to normal by term 3, even if we had to stay home term 2.

At first teachers thought that the two weeks of the Easter school holidays would be the time needed to ‘flatten the curve’, and all the work we did preparing our classes was ‘just in case’. Still, they waited and finally a week before school was to go back they told us we would be working from home.

These were the markers that showed the passage of time:

There was “Tiger King” – the whole world seemed to be watching this all at once!

Easter came and went without church services and family gatherings.

I cut off my pony tail and went short!

14 April was my first day in the virtual world with staff meetings and then BAM 15  April I logged into my classes and set about the task of teaching students remotely. I was determined to make this fun and from the beginning, I absolutely loved it.

Every day I dressed up in Camilla and put on makeup, sharing pics on Instagram with the hashtag #camillaclassroom. Classes were supposed to be shorter but I found my year 9s didn’t want to leave! There was a regular group who stayed back to talk, show their pets, tour their houses and make tik toks. I just went with it – I had nowhere else to go and if they needed the community, so did I.

After the first two weeks, I was exhausted but happy. I had set work, taught work, assessed work, prepped for the next fortnight and sent this to my classes, called parents to check in on them and the students. I worked harder than I ever had before but with such good will! I was often still working into the evenings, something I would never do before.

ANZAC Day came. We heard soft music playing at dawn, and looked out of our bedroom window to see our neighbours rugged up and huddled together with candles, listening to The Ode. I felt so guilty! Earlier in the week I asked my students to send me drawings of poppies which I shared and tagged the Australian War Memorial in, who then reshared the images.  My daily puppy walk passed many homes who had left tee lights out in milk cartons decorated with poppies – evidence that many families were up at dawn, at their letterboxes, participating in Dawn Services. Everything was being celebrated differently but just as poignantly. “Lest We Forget” – not even a pandemic would make us forget.

And then it seemed to be over and we were back – a few weeks before the end of term 2, VCE students went back and then two weeks later, the year 9s. We managed this transition in various ways – I taught year 9 from home and went into school for face to face VCE. I made Graduation certificates for my homeroom and had a “Remote Learning Graduation Day’. I printed their digital avatars and we did a class photo for ‘history purposes’.

We still were not allowed to do Unplugged Days and had to experience Shakespeare performed via Zoom. The Globe theatre was closed in Shakespeare’s Day due to the plague, so I guess we were lucky to still be able to enjoy a performance due to modern technology!

By the time the June long weekend came about, we were allowed to travel so I headed off with Dad and Ling to Merimbula and Eden NSW on a  road trip, seeing the devastation of the bushfires first hand and trying to help those areas economically.

Things felt normal and people were excited to be out. There was still social distancing, hand sanitiser everywhere etc, but there was a feeling of hope that it was all over.

The winter school holidays saw me walking endlessly with the puppies – I think 13km was the most we walked. The days were sunny but cool, the puppies had boundless energy, and I listened to books as we walked. I thought life was pretty perfect. I loved the routine.

Semester 2 arrived and things were starting to look a bit worrying on the pandemic front so we again taught a mix of remote and face to face – the seniors attending class face to face and the juniors from home. I had signed out from the Google Classroom jokingly anticipating that Id be back when the second wave hit.

Jinx.

I had told my year 9s to take everything home just in case and they were prepared for round two.

Melbourne started to lock down certain areas as clusters of cases grew. There was a feeling of dread and we started listening/watching Dan (Victorian state premier) provide daily updates on numbers and restrictions. This became a new routine as well.

23 July was the day mandatory masks came in. We were still teaching face to face so students had to wear them and we were required to wear them in office spaces etc but not while direct teaching. I remember driving in from home and seeing people waiting at bus stops wearing masks, and I burst into tears. It was suddenly very real and confronting.

Walks with the puppies and Shyanne were still routine. Our local café, Vans, remained open and we often broke the walk up by having a coffee. What we were really doing was trying to support a local business.

The dogs began a series of break outs culminating in them getting locked in the pound and costing us $1300!

By, August, the cases were getting out of control and Dan brought in serious lock down measures.

We were remote teaching full time again but this time it felt different. The kids weren’t turning their cameras on, I wasn’t dressing up and they weren’t hanging out after class the way they used to. It was harder, the good will seemed to have gone and we didn’t feel the same hope. I even interviewed for a position at another school. I look back at that and realise that I wanted to be valued and wanted by a community because I was feeling so alone during this round of teaching. I had taken on the Union rep role and felt nothing but a trouble maker. I just didn’t feel like my contribution to my school community was acknowledged or valued. I would cry easily and felt anxious about work. Never with the students though. They were the highlight of the day most of the time.

Are you ok? Probably wasn’t!

Lockdown 2.0 made a distinction between regional and metro areas – with things being very harsh in metro (curfew, 5km limit etc). People were not allowed to cross the ‘Ring of Steel’ from metro into regional without a permit. Bacchus Marsh is regional (only just!) and a police block was set up at the first exit from the free way. The few times I had to cross into metro to go to the workplace felt very surreal. My permit was always checked on my way back

Things that distracted us this time:

  • Spoonvilles
  • Anti-masker rants from Bunnings and Brighton ‘Karen’s’
  • “I do not consent” (seriously WTF?)
  • Rewatching familiar TV (LOST for me)
  • Watching old TV for the first time (West Wing for me – and I ADORED it!)
  • Messenger group chats
  • Online shopping
  • Zoom drinks nights (sometimes these were marathon!)
  • Walking those puppies!

Highlights of this time were the first ever parent teacher conference online. A definite success!

By September I had begun to get my online teacher mojo back. Dressed up, hung out after class more and even volunteered to go into school to supervise the few students who had to attend on site.

The units I dreaded teaching online were fine – Romeo and Juliet, WW1. I even took my google classroom on a WW1 Avenue of Honour walk in Bacchus Marsh. There was always something that you could do to make history more engaging.

September saw the loosening of restrictions in regional Victoria and I was able to have my nails done for the first ime since Feb. The nail technician literlay laughed out loud when she saw my nails.

Rude.

We could visit friends again and what a bonus that our good friends Sam and Steve had moved here this here! And we had the added bonus of living next door to other great friends so were able to have a drink and walk the dogs again.

Travel throughout regional was allowed so I spent a lovely two nights at Wedderburn to say goodbye to Shyanne who was moving away to metro after living with us and Josh’s mum for the last 3.5 years.

Harry and Shyanne broke up during lockdown. Harry didn’t cope too well and school was a right off for him. His routine involved staying up most of the night gaming and chatting with mates online and sleeping all day. He did what he had to do like all of us (and made it through the other side).

We were able to eat in restaurants and go to the pub by October – just in time to celebrate birthdays! Finally a chance to wear the treasures I had accumulated through lock down!

Once again, I signed out of the Google Classroom and prepared to go back to school.

Masks and social distancing were still required but boy were the kids excited (and so was I!) At first just the seniors and then after a week or so, back fully face to face. No graduation this time because who knows right!

World Teachers Day was celebrated well with a lovely gift from work that became a delicious focaccia!

Overshadowing this exciting time was the marriage break up of our dear friends. Dog walks became listening, counselling, and praying walks. We went from three dogs to four, as Max became a regular feature in the backyard, playing with the huskies and even sleeping at my feet as I taught online.

The ‘ring of steel’ came down and regional Victorians could venture to Melbourne and vice versa. Just in time for Rosie’s 50th! Not what we had originally planned for her birthday but gee were happy to be together in Footscray eating Vietnamese!

We finally had our first Unplugged day in the city since February and the year 9s were so ready for it! We played games in the domain Gardens and then picnicked in the Botanical Gardens. It was so relaxing and a great end to the year where they have missed so much in terms of the year 9 program – trains, City Camp and city excursions where they learn to be independent.

The 2020 school year finished with many tears for a class that I got to spend little face to face time with. They were one of the best classes Ive had and it was such a shame that our time together was mostly virtual.

Things leading to Christmas and New Year felt mostly normal. It is going into 2021 that compelled me to reflect on a a year like no other. A year no one saw coming but in hindsight was always possible (if history teaches us anything it is this!)

So the big things I’ve learned about myself (and others) this year:

  • I can teach in all sorts of ways and can learn new things with enthusiasm
  • I can create community in the digital space (I kind of knew this already having been involved with one of the first ever online churches over 12 years ago)
  • I love a good routine.
  • I love being at home with my family – (we had some moments but we did not end up hating each other).
  • Josh is my rock even when I don’t think so.
  • Marriages are not always what they seem and no one should be complacent.
  • I need to feel valued and liked professionally.
  • I hate confrontation  (I KNOW! Go figure).
  • I actually still love my job and got my mojo back.
  • I love my work colleagues and have treated some very poorly this year.
  • I don’t like it when people don’t do things the way I think they should and I can be a real bitch about it.
  • People are in different places when it comes to what they accept and don’t accept about OHS and I should just let it go.
  • I need to seek forgiveness from many friends for my attitude at times this year.
  • Taylor Swift can write a fucking great song.

I think that’s enough  – I’m starting to get very down with myself but what I wanted to make clear is that I am self-aware of what a pain in the arse bitch I have been at times this year. This is my anxiety and you have all been graceful in handling me – I want to acknowledge that.

I realise that tomorrow (New Year’s Day) doesn’t magically reset and things go back to normal. As I write, NSW has quite a few large outbreaks and Victoria have returned to some restrictions as we are on the brink of a new cluster. Our streak of no community transmission has ended. We don’t want to let all the good work  and sacrifices that we’ve made see us go back to working from home (though look how ready and adaptable teachers are!)

So, 2021 – whatever you bring, just know that we can and will handle it. Teachers are amazing. Students are resilient. Businesses are adaptable. Families are important. And Trump will be gone. What else is there?

May 2021 be a year where we apply the lessons we learned this year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s