Long Hours and Online Learning – Interview with Teacher Sophie Jackson

Over the past 2 years, the way schools approach learning has undergone big changes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdowns that have followed. When the topic of education is discussed in relation to these changes, most people point to the impact of a changing learning environment on students. However, children were not the only people affected: schools and their staff also had to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment. In order to find out what these changes looked like, I conducted an online interview with elementary school teacher Sophie Jackson.

Hello Sophie, thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview. To start, tell me a little about yourself: how long have you been teaching? What classes do you teach?

It’s a pleasure! I graduated in 1997 and have been teaching for 24 years. I taught everything from 1st to 6th, and in September 2021 I have 31 children from 6th. Before that I spent 4 years teaching in 3rd grade.

What changes has your school made to ensure students continue to be educated during the lockdown?

During the first lockdown, the work was uploaded to the school’s website by age groups that parents could find to see what we expected to do during the week. We set up an email account so parents could send emails while at work, and teachers rotated the days they had to monitor emails and respond at work. We had to make sure that the work set was in line with the curriculum the kids would have taken if they were still in school.

When we returned to school in September 2020, we continued to work on Google Classroom in case the students needed to isolate themselves. We tracked our school schedules and recorded virtual lessons for the kids at home, as well as our lessons during the day. We had a few bubble closures where we then held Google meetings every morning and afternoon to make sure the students understood what we expected from them and were able to access whatever we had uploaded. The principal ran meetings on Mondays and Fridays where the whole school also had to log into Google Meets.

During the second confinement, January 2021, the students already knew the expectations. We continued to hold meetings at the start and end of each day, as well as online assemblies twice a week. The submitted work was responded to upon receipt, and we told parents we would get there within 48 hours of submission. I always tried to do it there and keep it under control.

Through the two closures and all of our bubble closures, families that we hadn’t heard from for a few days received phone calls to make sure everyone was okay.

Have you had students who had difficulty accessing the online resources you downloaded? If so, how was it handled?

We have several large families with more than 3 children in school, some of whom have had to create a schedule for the devices so that the whole family can access work and schoolwork. We asked the government for additional laptops which were distributed to those who needed them most, although we did not receive as many as we requested. Vulnerable children and the children of key workers had places in school if needed, although, as you can imagine, they filled up quite quickly.

How did you find having to adapt quickly to a changing environment?
It’s one of those things you just have to do and most of all it wasn’t too bad even though I was working from 7am to 10pm most of the time. The very fast learning and collaboration with colleagues allowed us to cover everything.

Was it difficult to manage updating your students while having your own family at home?

I was very lucky because my two oldest are motivated learners and just got started, and we are very lucky to have Chromebooks and iPads at home that they can all work on. We only really had a hard time with the print job because our printer is rubbish!

My youngest was a bit trickier, as we had to make sure our Google Meets didn’t conflict. We usually woke up early so that we could start his work at 6 a.m. and finish it as quickly as possible. He would sit next to me and I would try to motivate him as much as possible: he created lots of Lego models !!

What on your lessons? Did they keep control of the workload?

My classes have been amazing! They tried so hard to stay on top of everything and we really appreciated that they did what they could, while the adults were also working and had to help their siblings. We were happy with what they were trying to keep doing and only asked them to try to do their best under the difficult circumstances. Each family was obviously different, but I can honestly say I’m so proud of all of their accomplishments over those two very, very different years.

Finally, let’s return to a more familiar learning environment. Are there aspects of online learning that the school has taken up in regular lessons? Do you think it’s a good idea to do this?
We always make sure that all work is kept in Google Classrooms, as we still have a lot of isolated students at different times. We’ve also set homework assignments on Classrooms to make sure kids know about them just in case, and our learning conversations and parent nights are now on Google Meets. I think it’s a good idea to keep the online side of learning going and having the kids work with that every now and then because we still don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

I would like to thank Sophie Jackson for agreeing to participate in this interview. Hopefully this overview of what lockdown was for teachers changed some people’s perception of the effects of lockdown on everyone involved in education.


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