A written story by Pam, a teacher in the West of Scotland who shares her experience of both teaching and volunteering in a care home in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
I knew at the start of the 2019/20 academic session that it wasn’t going to be a normal year. After nearly 20 years teaching in FE, six of them studying part time with the Open University for a Maths degree, I was ready to make a big leap into the unknown – switching to secondary schools. Unwilling to leave a full time permanent post for the uncertainty of zero hours’ supply contracts I compromised, reducing to three days in college and securing a part time fixed term post with a local authority. Hard work and a huge change… and then COVID hit.
While my school classes switched to Teams and various apps to track homework and encourage pupils to engage, my college classes had largely completed their numeracy work – lockdown coincided with a timetable change and this combined with losing my 3-4 hour per day commute meant I had some time on my hands… when an email came shortly before the Spring Break asking if we wanted to volunteer for the Council I filled it in there and then. Quite what they were going to need a maths teacher for I wasn’t sure, but with a background in psychology I thought Health and Social Care seemed the most likely box to tick.
A few weeks later I found myself on an industrial estate for three days’ training – moving and assisting an invisible friend and watching carefully as the trainer washed an alarmingly lifelike dummy. We were each allocated to a residential care home and a day or two later I had my first shift, working alongside Social Care Workers to support 15 older adults. There’s a certain reaction you get in most situations when you tell people you’re a maths teacher – safe to say this is amplified when the setting is a care home during a pandemic!
I continued to volunteer through to the summer break and the residents took my presence entirely in their stride… personal care I managed fine, but socks were my nemesis and as an 84 year old critic pointed out, “it’s just as well you’re a teacher hen, ‘cos you’re nae use at this!” Shifts were exhausting, 12 hour stints in a building even hotter than your average PPI school – the virus ever present despite PPE and testing (and the cleanest hands I’ve ever had), with staff off and routines thrown into disarray. And it was rewarding, incredibly rewarding. It was a glimpse into another world and it was fun – in the middle of a pandemic, in a care home, we laughed, laughed at everything and at nothing and laughed because sometimes, if you didn’t laugh you’d cry. And at times it was simply surreal – half a dozen staff and residents carefully distanced in the lounge to watch Dominic Cummings’ cringing press conference, at other times the residents’ competing televisions and open doors meaning that you caught snatches of the daily briefing over the sounds of a Western and the canned laughter of a sitcom.
I’m now back in school (a new job in a different authority). The school is great and it’s wonderful to be back in the classroom – but the virus is as ever present here as it was in the care home. Physical distancing is impossible for many classes and while COVID may not present the same risk to me or my pupils as it does for our care home residents, I feel less safe. For their sakes, I hope the decision to return to full time schooling doesn’t trigger a second wave.