Jill is from West Lothian and works as a pupil support worker in a primary school. Here she reflects on work during the early stages of the initial lockdown.
Easter Monday morning and I should be waking at my leisure in our newly acquired campervan on a remote beach in the Outer Hebrides. Instead I’m rudely awoken by the alarm at 6:30 and for the first time in three weeks I’m immediately back into work mode.
I work in a primary school as a pupil support worker, which means that I enjoy all the best bits of a teacher’s job- seeing children progress on a weekly basis, hearing their funny one-liners and feeling that you’re actually making a difference to someone’s day, if not their life, without the pressures of needing to strive for impossibly ambitious attainment targets and crippling workloads. Of course, it’s not all roses. The lack of pressure is reflected in the paltry rates of pay (surely we’d be better off working on the checkout at Aldi) and at the first sign of blood, vomit or other bodily secretions it’s a pupil support worker who is sent for. But, overall, I can’t complain. I enjoy my job, the children make me smile and I’ve missed them during the last few weeks of lockdown.
School came to an abrupt end for the children on Friday 20th March. It was especially poignant for the Primary 7 children who left without all the usual transition events and leaving rituals which help to smooth their passage from primary to secondary school. I felt a wrench too, as this was the first Primary 7 year group that I had seen straight through from their first days as shy, hesitant Primary 1’s. I’d followed their progress through the school- assisted with Jolly Phonics and number lines, encouraged them at cross country and bike-ability after school courses, and, just a couple of weeks ago had helped them to make soup and to produce a soup recipe book to raise money, ironically for an end of year treat. I’d seen them blossom into articulate, helpful, confident pre-teens, only to see them hustled out of school without ceremony, at a respectful social distance and without any idea of if or when they would return.
Fast forward a few days and local councils, not renowned for reacting quickly, had worked at remarkable speed to produce a workable plan of action for all our children . Teachers were soon into the swing of on-line teaching and hub schools were established to cater for children of key workers who could not possibly work from home. Volunteers were sought from education staff and despite concerns for their own safety, many more volunteered than were ever needed.
Hence the early morning alarm. Approaching my first day at the hub I’m a seething cauldron of emotions. My daughter, who is a probationary teacher, has worked in another hub and reported back so I have some idea of what to expect. I’m apprehensive, in case I’m left in charge of a group alone and I run out of ideas- I’m not a teacher after all; I’m concerned for my own safety- gloves and aprons are provided and hand washing is rigorous, but masks are not worn, I guess to make things appear as normal as possible. Why am I doing this, especially on a public holiday? No one made me do it! I could have stayed safe in my own household and I’d have been paid regardless.
My fragile emotional state is only exacerbated by the fact that the school I am heading to is that which both my children attended many moons ago. It’s a decade since I last crossed the threshold, since my son’s leaving ceremony, but I still feel a special connection. I still feel that I’m a parent not a member of staff. Every classroom holds memories for me, whether it is of significant milestones or of being there as a parent helper. The dining hall still smells of cabbage and I can visualise each child’s faltering appearance in school productions on the makeshift stage. The large field attached to the school reminds me of sports days where we enjoyed or endured every kind of Scottish summer weather and where, being sporty types, their performances were usually a little more confident.
I reflect on how far my own children have come from those early days and I realise why I’m doing this. Every child deserves the best we can give, especially in these strange times. I take a deep breath, choke back the tears, sanitize, open the door, sanitize and sign in.