The author of this story is a high school teacher in regional NSW. This is a day in her life during Term Three in September.
The alarm goes off; I hit snooze a few times before dragging myself into the kid’s room to gently nudge them out of their slumber.
The kids are dressed, and the aroma of coffee draws me towards the kitchen. My daughters happily chat away, and I double-check my timetable for the day – Year 7, playground duty, planning period, Year 12, lunch, Year 9.
Nearly ready. As I look at myself in the mirror, I think to myself, “Is today going to be the day I burst into tears in front of one of my classes?” I’ve been on the verge of tears all week, but as the end of the term draws nearer, my raw emotions bubble closer to the surface. It’s getting harder to keep my brave face on for the kids – both my own children and my students.
I drive into work, mentally running through the checklist of things I need to get done before I start teaching for the day. My bottles of hand sanitiser are nearly empty – I really need to remember to get those refilled before roll call.
I pull into the school gates. I take a few minutes to listen to a few more minutes of my podcast and close my eyes and imagine that I’m somewhere else. As I turn the ignition, I slowly open my eyes again, and take a deep breath before I get out of the car.
Hand sanitiser sorted. I make sure I get the banana-scented brand – the students object less to that one. I sit in my classroom, away from the usual banter of my faculty colleagues. Being immunocompromised and unable to physically distance from other teachers in my staff room, this is the safest option for me at the moment. It’s isolating, but nothing compared to isolation of working from home.
A fellow teacher knocks and sits a good two metres away from my desk. As we start talking about the current unit of work we’re teaching to Year 7, she tells me that she’ll be away for the next couple days. Her mother-in-law in the UK has passed away, and although they are unable to return for the funeral, they will be virtually attending via Zoom at 1am the following morning. She’s going to stay home an extra day to support her partner. I can’t imagine how hard it is for her family at the moment, and as much as I would love to continue the conversation, roll call is about to start.
As the bell rings, I approach the classroom door armed like a gunslinger with two different types of hand sanitiser (I’m hoping it feels more like a choice that way). “Gel or spray?” I ask as I greet them at the door. Not all teachers have continued with the hand sanitiser on entry to the classroom, but it feels safer than nothing. Students are as well spaced as seating and square meterage allows. It’s still hard to reconcile the physical distancing rules outside the school gates with what happens during school hours; it almost feels like living in two different worlds. At least the initial fear has decreased; after returning from remote learning, you could see the fear on many students’ faces at the lack of physical distancing in the classroom. Something like the normal chatter has returned, but it’s still not normal. The pandemic hangs in the air as an invisible, yet palpable, reminder that this is the new normal.