I started writing this post a month ago. I didn’t finish it at the time and haven’t posted for a month because of the effects of COVID. (And I get that not feeling like posting , or not having time to post, is hardly a major disaster.)
I came back from Japan on Monday 2nd March. The plane flew in around 10am, and martyr that I am, I went to work for a special evening event. I was asked a lot if I was meant to be in isolation for a fortnight.
“No, I went to Japan, not China.”
Pointless now. Everyone has to go into isolation for 14 days, not that anyone who isn’t a permanent resident or citizen can come in. Even citizens are struggling to find a way in. And if I were to make it to Queensland, I’d have to go into isolation.
The first week of the March was much like any other week of work with a little bit of life thrown in. Meetings, paperwork, stuff, things to do, staff to talk with. Bookclub. My monthly massage. Gym and personal training session. A trip into the city for a professional learning day. But the latter was eerily quiet on the train. No sneezing. No coughing. No clearing of throats. People have never been like this in Australia. You could feel the uncertainty, the tension.
But it was really a week much like any other.
Until our federal government made an announcement about social distance. On my way to work on Friday morning, I rang my supervisor to see if I should cancel the upcoming excursion to the Easter Show. Up to the school but probably won’t matter, the show may be cancelled anyway. (Which it has been.)
When I got into work that Friday morning, I went to get details on the Easter Show excursion from the admin staff. Turns out we had quite a few excursions over the remaining five weeks of school.
Should I cancel them? All? Some? Why? Our PM says he’s going to the footy and that schools should continue as usual. I cancelled a few that were on later in the term and for which no notes had gone out to parents. I cancelled the Easter Show but was going to wait until the Monday to talk with the students and email parents. I set people to find out some more info about other places – like the zoo – and decided I’d make a decision first thing the next week.
Ummed and ahhed about the excursion that was going to Luna Park on Monday. Was it too late to cancel? Monday was meant to be cold and wet so there probably wouldn’t be many people from the general public.
That weekend the Easter Show was cancelled. And more people were being diagnosed. Why hadn’t I cancelled the Luna Park excursion?
On Sunday, I ran the teacher in charge of the excursion. Fuck, fuck, fuck. We can’t let the kids go. Calls and emails. All good. Cancelled. All the students were informed. The power of social media to get the message out.
Really, in the scheme of things, cancelling excursions, and our school based activities, is not something to stress about. But some said we were overreacting. Others that we weren’t doing enough.
And then things started speeding up and work went into overdrive.
Next govt announcement: no gathering over 500. That Friday night I went to the local club for dinner (my last, as it turns out, for a while) and then to the local high school for their musical. Another last – this time a mass gathering of people.
Every day in the week beginning the 16th was a week in itself. Events moved so quickly. Much of the advice from our employer was not realistic. Keep teens 1.5 metres apart? It can’t be done when they’re in the school bus. But anyway, they stand and sit close, are physical with each other, share phones and pens and food. I couldn’t imagine the difficulty at primary schools; if you have two Grade 2 girls together, they WILL be playing with each other’s hair.
“Schools will have special cleaning.” Except it never eventuated. Turns out the contractors knew nothing of the promised cleaning. Until the last week of school when we had only 5 students.
Hand soap, paper towels and sanitiser became impossible to get. Our dispensers had refills that come in a bladder. But they were sold out. So we had to improvise.
Bets were on as to when we’d close. The official talk was all about being open, but hey, you should prepare for online remote learning. Mmm.
And the farm animals. Who would take care of them if we closed? So I got my first lesson in how to care for all our animals – ducks, geese, chickens, goats and sheep. And the parrots.
How to hold meetings? I learnt how to run a meeting with Microsoft Teams. And practised twice from home in the evening. Once with three others. we all had alcohol!
Our Premier announced parents should keep their children home if they could. At my school, they did. We had around 10 students each day for the last couple of weeks; 5 on the last two days.
Having teachers turn the practice of decades (of centuries?) on its head was nothing short of amazing. Yes, we’ve have School of the Air and distance education but they have evolved and trained their staff over time and have structures to support teaching and learning, not least a much much smaller student load. In days, we went from full face-to-face teaching load to working from home and teaching remotely online. All teachers! Even those who professed limited IT skills were running Google Classrooms and Microsoft Teams, AND digitising their lessons, AND checking on the welfare of students AND continuing to mark, give feedback, plan work.
I was overwhelmed by the positive emails of appreciation, thanks and kind concerns from parents.
But it was bloody exhausting. I hadn’t slept properly for weeks. Waking every night, new problems I hadn’t thought of, things to do, people to check on.
When I went home on Thursday before Good Friday, I knew I needed to sleep. Soundly. And I did. Nine hours.
And now we are about to start up again with things changing every fortnight, meaning lots of planning and complex organisation; with parents and staff feeling very uncertain and confused, meaning lots of careful communication and comforting; with expectations of the impossible, meaning lots of … miracles?
I always like to laugh, and I don’t like to post a blog post without a picture, so I will share a moment of hilarity. At the end of term I was looking for a picture for a friend’s Facebook thread. I ventured where I hadn’t ventured before. Google image search “kids sitting on Easter bunny’s lap”. I shared it the next day with two colleagues at work. The hysterical laughter drew in more people, practicing social distancing, of course. OK, maybe it’s more a sign of how tired we were and how on edge, but I still think the photos are freaky.