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Re-Opening Schools in Ireland – A Primary Teacher’s Perspective
This article has been written by primary school teacher Lorraine, from All Things Primary, who shares her lockdown experience in Ireland and school re-opening plans for September.
Times are very uncertain for many people around the world at the moment, but I don’t think it has ever been as uncertain for teachers and school communities than it is right now.
In Ireland, schools have been closed since March 12th and are scheduled to reopen in under 5 weeks time. Unlike the UK, the school closures here were blanket closures – there were no provisions for the children of key workers to come to school like there was in the UK. Everyone was sent home, regardless of their circumstances, and waited patiently to go back to school in two weeks. Then an extra three weeks. Then schools were closed until further notice… And finally, they will be closed until the new academic year. Now that academic year is just around the corner, and we have had no concrete guidance, no set of regulations, no funding. We are still being told we are on schedule to reopen, as normal, for the new academic year – for me, in my school, that is August 27th Less than 5 weeks.
Thinking back to March 12th… it was surreal. Sitting in school at the end of that day, knowing we were closing for two weeks (and realistically probably longer), it was very difficult to know how to feel. Happy about an unplanned ‘break’? Worried for the kids and when you would see them again? Panicked about where it was all leading to?
The following weeks were a scramble. I had to try and adapt all that I know about teaching and alter it to suit parents who were trying to home school their children. There was a lot of swapping and changing, tweaking things to make it easier for parents to engage with, and hoping that they would. It was less than ideal, and a very difficult change of routine for lots of people, but we got to the finish line and now it is time to look at the new starting line!
School Re-Opening Plans
This September, I have Junior Infants, which is the first official year of Primary school in Ireland. These 4 and 5 year olds have missed a huge chunk of their pre-schooling education – the chunk that is typically spent on getting them ready for ‘big school’. We have all adapted so much in recent months, but I don’t think we are finished adapting yet.
Each September, I receive a bunch of bright eyed and busy tailed infants who are (generally) delighted to be coming to big school. They have out grown pre-school and the activities they engage in there, they are ready to move on to bigger and more challenging things. They are ready to move on to the next curriculum. Ready to make new friends and meet new people.
I think September 2020 will be like no other. I am excited to get back to school and do what I love, and I know I will love it. But I do think it is going to have some individual challenges that may not be as widespread in previous years.
– Separation Anxiety
The first challenge I think we will face is separation anxiety. For a lot of children, they have spent a huge amount of time with parents and close family, and no one else. And for a huge amount of these children this may not be their norm. They may be with childminders, or in a crèche etc. But when its time to go to school, I am sure we will see a big increase in the number of kids who will find being separated from their loved ones very hard. Of course we are used to some tears on the first day, but I think we might need more tissues this year.
– Academic Gaps
There will be the obvious academic gaps to try and bridge. A lot of the children will have missed almost 4 months of their pre-school education, which is so important to their development. So I will be taking a big step back with my learning objectives and books, and spending much more time on setting up activities to develop fine and gross motor skills, social skills, phonological awareness and so on.
I will be setting my classroom up much more like a preschool setting, with an abundance of play areas where purposeful learning can take place.
Where I will be able to observe and engage with the children to assess where their learning is. The national school curriculum can simply wait at the back of the cupboard until I feel that the children are ready. The building blocks of early years education are too vital to mess up!
A New Normal
In Ireland, we have been advised that all children will return to school in September and that children in the early years will not be expected to social distance, and that’s pretty much all we have for the moment. We have no idea what school will be like in September, but I am hoping for as much normality as is possible. If children are healthy, and schools are taking realistic measures to keep people safe, then surely healthy children should be entitled to come back to school as normal?
Throughout this pandemic, the younger children have been absolute superheroes – each and every one of them.
They have had their whole lives turned upside down. Everything that they know – their routines, the people they interact with, their friends, their surroundings – changed over night. With little explanation, that they can comprehend, that we, as adults, have struggled with at the best of times. Coming back to school as normal will give them the message that they NEED – that it is OK! We are going to need to nurture them and care for them and make them feel safe, even more than before. We will need to reassure them that they are OK, that school is OK, and that their families are OK.
Is this going to mean the virus wont spread through our schools? Of course not! All we can do it try to minimise the chance of that happening, BUT in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on the children.
Lorraine is an experienced teacher based in Ireland. She started her teaching career by training in London and working in an inner London city school after qualifying. She has since returned home to Ireland and has continued teaching a range of class groups right through the primary years but her passion is with the early years.
Lorraine began documenting her teaching ideas on Facebook to enable her to document teaching ideas from a wider range of classes. You can keep track of All Things Primary on Facebook or Instagram – or check out some fun Infant Teaching Ideas on her website.
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