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School After Lockdown: A Year One Teacher’s Perspective

About 11 months ago By Zuzana Vrtalova

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​A few weeks ago our Year 1 teacher Nicholas was able to start teaching his students again. However, he had to adjust to some key changes in the daily school routine while helping his students to do the same.

Classroom Preparation

As soon as staff knew how many children were going to return, we began to get our classrooms ready. This involved removing all unnecessary furniture, such as shelving units on wheels. We spaced out the tables so that they were 2 metres apart in width and length.

We put clean trays on each table and filled them with a selection of pupil books, stationery, and some maths resources (multi-link cubes and a number line). That meant each child would be self-sufficient and could stay in their chair as they would not need anything.

I worked with my TA to prepare lots of display resources to remind children about staying safe. Using visuals, we transformed the classroom sink into a ‘cleaning station’, where children were reminded of the importance of washing their hands. There were also child friendly instructions on how to wash your hands, which were also displayed in the toilet.

There was a huge display in the classroom to remind children to keep a 2-metre distance, with practical fun facts to show what 2 metres.

On the front of our classroom door, we also put a class photo. We decorated this with a border and also put individual photos of pupils all over the door. These were pictures that the children had sent to me on our class page during lockdown. The photos showed children’s cooking for our ‘School Bake off’. There were photos of the pupils amazing cooking creations, including rainbow cakes, muffins, sweet breads, cupcakes, and cookies! This was good to lighten the mood and would show children we were all united when they came back.

The classroom then had a deep clean before the children returned the following week, with all walls and surfaces being cleaned thoroughly.

Children’s First Day Back

Introduction

At the school gates, children stood with their parents on the socially distanced yellow painted lines. The Head and Deputy joined me and the TA by the school entrance. Each parent and child came through the gates one at a time.

Our Headteacher asked each parent 3 health and safety questions about their child’s overall health. If the answers were all ‘no’, the child was directed to a table where there would clean their hands with anti-bacterial gel. The Head directed the parents to say goodbye and leave using the one-way system.

The Deputy Head then ticked off each pupil in turn on a paper register, and the TA and I began leading the children to the Infant playground. Each child in the playground was spaced out 2 metres.

Ten children returned on the first day, and they were led into to the entrance of the classroom. They came in one at a time and were told where to sit.

I began the morning by welcoming the children back and then launching straight into the health and safety rules! I explained that children must maintain a 2-metre distance in the classroom by staying in their chairs and to put their hands up if they wanted anything. The 2-metre distance was reinforced by explaining that this needed to be adhered to when lining up and during break times. Pupils were told that there would be one child in the toilet at a time and the cleaning of hands was also reinforced.

Morning

Due to the staggered times when classes were coming into school and the rearranged break times, I found it hard to teach everything in the morning. Children normally came in at 8:45am, so the 9:15am start already meant we had lost half an hour. By the time the children had entered the class, it was nearly 9:30am. Then of course, I had to explain the health and safety procedures; complete the register and check which Year 1 children had brought in their lunchboxes. This meant it was 9:50am by the time I had started teaching my first lesson which was English. I remember thinking how strange it felt with ten Year 1 children sat in rows by their own tables. I tried to be as reassuring as possible, because it was overwhelming enough for the staff, let alone children aged 5-6.

With snack time and break fast approaching, I had to continue teaching English after playtime and reorganise the rest of my lessons. I remember thinking, how on earth am I going to teach all the lessons today. Even home time was 3:00pm, instead of 3:15pm. Normally, you might celebrate a later start to the school morning and an earlier finish, but I suddenly felt overwhelmed to teach all the lessons!

Just before snack time, we got the children to wash their hands. We were able to send 3 at a time, as we had a cleaning-station, the classroom toilet, and a toilet right outside the classroom in the corridor. This saved time!

After children had finished their snack, we got the pupils lined up outside the classroom one a time and 2-metres apart. As each child in turn exited the classroom, we pumped anti-bacterial gel into their hands.

Playtime was interesting. The children were like magnets and wanted to play with each other. The TA and I had to regularly remind the children about keeping their distance. It was so hard, because at the start of the year we were encouraging the kids to play with each other, and now we were saying keep apart. One child even said: “I don’t like the Coronavirus because it means I can’t play with my friends”. That was hard to take. Trying to explain the situation.

Each class had been given their own set of play equipment. Children played with hoops, bouncy hoppers and skipping ropes. Some children didn’t want to play with the equipment, so sat in the shade, having a socially distanced chat. Whenever a child had finished using the play equipment, we had to clean it with a disinfectant wipe.

After play, it was the same routine of marching the children back to class in their socially distanced line and pumping their hands full of anti-bacterial gel. I managed to finish the English lesson and teach maths.

Lunch time

At lunchtime, the children ate at their tables. I was joined by the Midday Assistant who wiped each table down after every child had finished. After half an hour, I swapped over with the TA, who helped the Midday Assistant pump more anti-bacterial gel on the children’s hand; then line them up again at 2-metres apart, before finally taking the children out to the playground!

Afternoon

When I returned from lunch, the children were sat at their tables ready to begin. I remember thinking, I’ve not taught phonics or handwriting this morning and there are still 2 more lessons to teach as well! I think in hindsight, the routine of the first day back and covering the core lessons was probably the priority. However, being the person that I am, I always like to get things done, and so this was a challenge! We managed to teach RE, handwriting and phonics before the afternoon break. I remember thinking, we’ve only got geography to teach now. Before play, even the children had become a little more accustomed to the routine of cleaning their hands and lining up 2-metres apart.

After we had taught geography and the children had cleaned their hands, it was close to home time. Looking at the children, I could see they were tired. This was something like the school routine now, which was probably quite different to the experience of home learning. Also, some children may have previously been worried about coming back to after 12 weeks away, and not knowing how different it was going to be!

We walked the socially distanced line of children towards the school gate. The Headteacher and Deputy Head were also by the gate. As I recognised each parent, I said the child’s name, and the TA directed each child to walk around opposite the line and towards their parents. The Deputy Head ticked each name off and the Headteacher ensured that parents exited the school using the one-way system.

Weeks After

The children have got better at following the new health and safety routines. They are young and still need gentle reminders about socially distancing during playtimes. I would say one of the hardest things I have noticed is how tired you can feel. That is because I am with the class most of the day: playtimes and half of lunchtime. However, it does get easier as everyone becomes more familiar with the timetable changes and routines.

Key Changes Summarised

• staggered times to enter the school; have play and exit the school, to ensure children remain in their bubbles and avoid mixing with other groups of children

• socially distanced yellow lines for parents and children to use when lining up by the school gate, and for parents to use when collecting their children

• classroom displays and signs around the school based on hygiene and social distancing

• pupils line up with 2 metre gaps at play, and stay at their desk which are 2 metres apart

• children have their own desk with a tray containing their own books and stationery

• pupils to clean their hands more often than normal

• children to play at a distance and have lunch at their desk

• one-way system to enter and exit the school

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