Meet Barry the vulnerable teacher in isolation | Education Support

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Vulnerable teacher coronavirus

Meet Barry the vulnerable teacher in isolation

Barry, (the old-school teacher who defies the SLT), has a health condition that makes him 'vulnerable' and is teaching from self-isolation. His experiences described here are based on true stories shared with Emma Kell by different teachers in the last fortnight. 

Barry just found himself clutching the edge of his desk in what seems to be a subconscious effort to anchor himself. Barry’s never minded his own company, so this is unfamiliar and disconcerting. Barry doesn’t like being told what to do and deeply resents the term ‘vulnerable’. The picture of his granddaughter on his screensaver makes him physically ache for the shampoo-and-biscuit smell of her hair. Social distancing means he doesn’t know when he’ll next get to cuddle her and it’s like a sucker-punch.

Barry knows, in a matter-of-fact kind of a way, that he may not survive this virus if he gets it. Never one for superstition, Barry can’t help wondering at the powers beyond us that have rendered humanity as we know it unsustainable. If humans can’t regulate their own population, then… The term ‘natural wastage’ applied to his long-serving colleague after she retired last month has never seemed more portentous.

As a historian, he tries to imagine how this global pandemic will be taught to future generations, but, as with all thoughts, he can’t keep a grip on it for more than a few seconds. His coffee’s gone cold again.

Where did the last hour go?

Barry’s daily email reminder has detailed all the tasks he *should* be completing every day to justify his ongoing salary. ‘Now is the ideal time to get ahead!’ trills the exuberant deputy in a text message peppered with supposedly uplifting star and rainbow emojis. His classroom is now a series of ‘platforms’ with names like Flymo and Zippee. Barry diligently copies over the login details, switches off the screensaver on his computer (‘your working hours will be logged,’ staff have been assured) and goes out to the garden.

Barry’s learning a whole new vocabulary of gardening. He now knows that pieces of lawn are ‘sods’ (but why ‘sod off’? he wonders) and potatoes a ‘chits’. A fox wanders brazenly across the lawn, claiming its rightful ownership. ‘Morning,’ says Barry, taking social contact where he can. The fox ignores him.

Barry’s phone pings again. It’s the 168th message of the day on the school WhatsApp group. He ignores it. He hears a harassed-sounding parent trying to riddle fractions with a fractious ten year old next door and wonders if it’s the same woman who screeched at her partner to ‘go self-isolate on your fucking own, you tosser’ as the sun set on Day 2 of the lockdown.

Barry’s inbox is full again. Before all this, his clever daughter taught him how to bulk-delete messages. This, he does, but for those from his students. He’s supposed to change the font to green for feedback. He changes it to purple. “Mum’s down to her last teabag and is well-stressed” says Jake in Year 10 in response to Barry’s daily request for contact.

‘Essential items only,’ orders our great leader from the radio. Glenfiddich counts, Barry decides, and makes his way to the car. Eerie how the street that would usually be empty of cars has not a single parking space available. Sirens in the background. I could have written a better film, Barry thinks, as the neighbour kowtows to him from the other side of the road.

On his way home, Barry pulls up outside a house on the other side of town. He removes the five bags of shopping from the car, carefully freeing up his bottle first, and leaves them in a crumbing porch. Alongside them he leaves antibacterial wipes lest he be (as his nephew ominously warned) a teacher super-spreader… Barry has broken all of the school protocols, but Jake’s Mum will have her teabags tonight.

All of Barry’s experiences described here are based on true stories shared by different teachers in the last fortnight. 

Barry was first written up as a semi-fictional character for TESDr Emma Kell is a teacher, researcher, speaker and author of How to Survive in Teaching 

How we can help 

Teachers and education staff who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

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