How I… teach during lockdown – Saima Saleh

If anyone had told me that remote teaching would be this hard – I would never have believed them. What’s there to worry about? No time wasted travelling to and from school, far less marking, one or two Zoom calls a day as well as a daily a message to my class… A breeze! Or so I thought.

Well here I am, in my third month of lockdown and time has a different tale to tell. The ‘new normal’ has been exhausting! Having to get used to a totally new way of doing everything has been way more tiring than I thought it could be. Yes, there was a potential to have a bit more sleep – no daily 6 a.m. alarm to worry about. However, I didn’t expect to be affected by the Covid-19 news the way I have been. Sleepless nights and a fuelled anxiety have meant that I haven’t rested well at all. I constantly worry about everything and everyone around me- with elderly parents who can’t get out, to vulnerable friends and neighbours and of course, my own children.

Zoom meetings have become part of my ‘new normal’. I have learnt all the techniques and tricks to successful online meetings: I am sure this will be the way forward for so many as we come out of lockdown. It’s all been great as long as the technology hasn’t failed, or that I haven’t forgotten to set an alarm for my meetings. I have absolutely loved seeing my pupils on Zoom calls – I didn’t think I would miss them as much as I did. Just hearing about what new skills they’ve picked up or the fact that they had mastered life skills such as cooking and D.I.Y, was fabulous – this is something that I would never had known about otherwise.

Never did I think planning and putting together remote learning packs would take as long as it has. I have been meticulous in sourcing/making the right tasks with the right amount of challenge for my pupils. Not being able to teach them new concepts has made me feel as if I have let my pupils down, but it couldn’t be done. Not knowing how much support my pupils were getting at home meant that I was ‘in the dark’ about how much work they were actually doing or even if they were being supported by their parents, who had their own work to do.

Having the joys of no SATs this year (I am a year 6 teacher), should have offered a welcome reprieve but it didn’t. I didn’t realise that some pupils would actually get so upset over having no tests! Tests aren’t for everyone, we know that, but they are a form of summative assessment that many teachers rely on for data. We are now left thinking “Do we actually need that data?” especially now that teachers all over the country have had to fall back on their own assessments of pupils’ progress.

Being a RE subject lead, I have made sure that we as a school sent home sound RE activities. This has been a particularly good time to use the NATRE Spirited Arts competition to send home, giving our pupils a highly relevant and creative task to enjoy completing. Through contact with my pupils via Zoom calls, I know that many of them have thoroughly enjoyed having the time at home to sit and reflect on life, in order to write about their compositions and more importantly, they have enjoyed involving their parents in this process, which I feel is an ideal opportunity to give their parents a clearer understanding about what RE is like in schools today. I have found the home learning tasks provided by NATRE as well as RE:ONLINE to be lifesavers!

The breakdown of lesson content on the RE:ONLINE website has been extremely useful: I have loved the useful headings of activity, knowledge, lesson planning, starter and assessment to help guide me in my planning. I managed to continue teaching about Buddhism (as I had started this unit with my year 6 pupils before the lockdown began) thanks to RE:ONLINE. I was able to easily source a website giving my pupils information about Buddhist beliefs and use the suggested activities from the RE:ONLINE website to give my pupils. Being able to do this has been instrumental in easing my workload. I know that the lesson content I have given my pupils is of sound quality and I know that they will really enjoy the tasks which have been set for them.

I have really enjoyed finding links showing how religious worship has changed all over the world and using these to form the basis of new lessons. An example has been sharing current images of Mecca with my year 5 pupils, teaching about how worship has been forced to change, especially relevant during the month of Ramadan. This is turn raised questions with pupils about the importance of having a place to worship and what difference not being able to visit a mosque, church, synagogue or any other building would make to a person of faith. I have learnt that pupils have enjoyed discussing these ‘Big questions’ with their parents at home and that the classroom is not the only place where a debate can happen!

Moving forwards, I do believe that the way we teach and plan units of work from now on, will change for the better as we have learnt to think from a different perspective. I certainly know that the staff in my school have all been signposted to where to find certain resources and will now have a bank of where to access super quality lesson ideas and resources.

The lockdown has taught me one thing: that I am a dedicated teacher who loves teaching. This is what I was always meant to do! Teachers are highly resilient and they find a way of making things work. Whenever the wifi played up or my school’s remote server broke down, I sought to use the time I had doing something productive. The amount of amazing cpd opportunities available for free has been countless – for this, I will always be so grateful! The RE:ONLINE website has offered a plethora of resources and learning opportunities that I have shared with teachers in my school. NATRE and RE Today have offered excellent webinars at cheaper rates – an opportunity I couldn’t resist: such a great way to provide cpd for all staff. This has been one of the many advantages of the lock-down – a time that I will never forget!

When we do go back to school in some shape or form, I do know that I will never take anything for granted and I will cherish every moment with my pupils and my colleagues.

Saima Saleh

RE SLE, Year 6 teacher and member of the NATRE Executive

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