Preparing for the Unpredictable: Entering the World of Education During the Covid-19 Pandemic
New Year’s Day 2020: I am lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling. I had been out the night before, celebrating the beginning of a new year, so I was feeling slightly reflective and sentimental in my tired state. As I lay there, I thought to myself: this is going to be my year. 2020 will be the year of huge change. 2020 is the year I am going to make a difference and become a teacher.
Since August of 2019 I had secured a place on Teach First’s prestigious Leadership Development Programme, to teach secondary Religious Studies. Unlike some, my intention had not always been to become a teacher. Throughout my Master’s degree I still had not decided what to do with my future; the constant mental sound of a clock ticking as time passed by undesirably fast did not aid me to make a decision and stick to it. I had pondered and contemplated so many different career paths, but none had stuck and endured the test of time. However, one constant was that I had always cared about education. My philosophy, since becoming a socially aware teenager, had been that equal education opportunities should be a right for all children, regardless of background or socio-economic circumstance. This deep-rooted desire for justice and egalitarianism motivated me to become a Widening Participation ambassador for my university (KCL). My role as an ambassador truly opened my eyes to the amazing work being carried out to eliminate and eradicate inequality within the world of education. I realised I wanted nothing more than to permanently be a part of this community of people dedicated to helping children and young adults to become the best version of themselves, irrespective of upbringing and other contextual aspects. And, the simple fact is, I fell in love with working with children. This overwhelming urge to help others, and to strive for real change, prompted me to apply to Teach First.
It is now May 2020. My musings from January that 2020 was going to witness a ‘huge change’ from previous years has proven to be an accurate projection, albeit in an entirely different context to which I, and the entire world, was expecting. Covid-19 has altered not only our perception of normal life, but it has utterly transformed society as a whole. I could not have wished for a more ideal time to begin a new career in teaching! Joking aside, the prospect of becoming an educator at a time of total uncertainty is daunting, to say the least.
Teach First’s programme is considered distinctive, even under regular circumstances, because they offer a 5-week period of training, known as ‘Summer Institute’, between June and July, prior to beginning teaching in September. Traditionally, this training would take place in universities across the country. Due to lockdown and social distancing measures, this is now taking place online. Myself, and the hundreds of other teachers-to-be in my cohort, will be an entirely unique breed of teachers, in that we will have had very little in-school preparation, and no in-person guidance before entering our classrooms. When I primarily became aware of the change in training circumstance, I can vividly recall the sense of fear and anticipation sitting heavily in the pit of my stomach.
Initially, my biggest concern was that I would be under-prepared for the monumental task ahead. Would the students be able to detect my lack of experience? Am I going to be a good teacher, despite the unorthodox means of training? How can I be truly equipped and ready to teach in a world where Covid-19 dictates all the rules; a world in which everything is unfamiliar and new? Of course, even under regular conditions, entering the world of teaching is an intimidating prospect. It becomes even more so when the road ahead contains very unpredictable obstacles and feels like total uncharted territory. However, my nerves have been very much eased in recent weeks. Teach First have been nothing but excellent in comforting, guiding, and reassuring their participants; they have remained closely in contact and have clearly communicated the changes and adjustments being made. I am left feeling wholly confident in their ability to commence an outstanding Summer Institute next month, in spite of the unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances.
While the thought of becoming a teacher in the midst of a global crisis is enough to overwhelm even the toughest of people, I am constantly reminded that it is, without a doubt, a time where teachers and educators are going to be depended upon the most. Children and young adults rely on school, not only for their means of education, but for pastoral care, free school meals, a sense of safety and community, and so many other significant factors. Come September, students will have been without their teachers for 6 months, who are, in so many cases, the only consistent, caring, and compassionate adults in their lives. Moreover, it has been predicted that in the UK, Covid-19 will predominantly affect those poorest in society. The virus will lead to long-term drastic income loss, the rising cost of food and accommodation, and an inevitable recession; this will all hugely affect those trapped in a cycle of poverty. Schools and teachers will have an invaluable role to play, to support their students from the poorest homes most impacted. Teach First eligible schools target those students most in need of care, and I am immensely proud to be joining their community of teachers at such a poignant time.
Despite the feelings of trepidation and nervousness, there are stronger feelings of excitement, readiness, and the belief that this is my purpose. There is a significant challenge ahead of me, and for all teachers, but I am determined to give it my very best shot!
Katie Pusey, incoming Teach First participant
Graduate of King's College London