No way to say goodbye | Education Support
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Saying goodbye - teachers and education staff

No way to say goodbye

7th July 2020

Even in ordinary times, goodbyes can be hugely challenging. The most standard rites of passage can provoke extraordinary levels of anxiety. Two years ago, my own daughter, now in Year 8, declared her intention to put up a tent outside her primary school and refuse to vacate the premises. The imminent upheaval to her friendship groups, her routines, her daily physical spaces was sometimes too much to bear.

For those facing the end of an era, be they in nursery, Year 6, Year 11, Year 13, or indeed completing university, the discombobulation during these extraordinary times is acute. Whilst some of us may have regarded the upsurge in American-style proms, spray tans, limousines, and in one local case, a helicopter, as a little excessive, in recent years, events to mark these transitions are so important. Chances to acknowledge the achievements, the quirks and the unique contribution of each individual child, chances to scrawl on T shirts, to sit quietly together or sob loudly in public spaces have become integral to such transitions. To have opportunities extinguished, along with every other social event beyond the household in recent months, we have to acknowledge, is a blow for many.

For teachers moving on, regardless of whether the transition is much needed or reluctant, I can confidently say that I have never known a teacher leave because of the children. Regardless of how many times we are reminded that there are always others that will need us, always other places we can make a unique contribution, saying goodbye to a particular set of children is always difficult. Indeed, it is a truism that the children most likely to have kept you awake at night with the various challenges they presented are those most likely to struggle with your departure (memory of a child who had persistently disrupted my most lovingly planned lessons appearing from nowhere with a bunch of red roses when I left).

Whilst we will miss our colleagues, it’s the children who are the hardest to leave. The little, even if apparently silly, moments stick with us, as do our students’ moments of humour, compassion, frustration and growth, and will stay with us for far longer than any set of academic results they might obtain.

Given that we continue to live with so many unknowns and that we are all constrained by necessary limitations to our contact and movement, how can we alleviate a little of the anxiety and upset caused by the lack of a decent goodbye?

Keep communicating

Now more than ever, communication is key. A good old-fashioned phone call and check-in with children still working at home has consistently come out as being hugely appreciated by families.

We appreciate how intricate and complex the planning has been, but chances to have virtual tours of new schools, meet new tutors and teachers through video calls, where possible, hear from existing students have gone down tremendously well with families.

The overwhelming majority of parents recognise the strains and challenges that schools have faced in recent months – be open about what you can and can’t do; what you do and don’t know, and let them know how you and your colleagues are doing.

Get creative online

Early during lockdown, my ten-year-old daughter commandeered my laptop to meet with friends online and ushered me from the room. When I re-entered an hour later, the room was strewn with quiz questions – the theme of the quiz was ‘how well do we know one another?’. An integral part of her home-learning routine has been having her close friends on video call whilst they work through maths questions together. Birthday parties have been marked on Zoom. Young people have been remarkably creative at moving their daily communications online and we should make the most of this. If an in-person goodbye isn’t possible, consider a remote one.

Postpone

Many schools have expressed the intention to have in-person goodbyes as soon as this becomes possible. It’s far from ideal, with the kinds of challenges schools are set to face in the coming months, but it’s hugely appreciated by young people. If you can possibly do this, please do!

Counting blessings

So many reflections around Covid-19 become circular and come back to the same themes. Many of our young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, those who are from black and Asian and other minority backgrounds, those living with abuse and neglect and poverty will have been hit far harder by this period than many. Goodbyes have taken on far greater significance: goodbye to any naivety which claims that we have achieved equity for our communities; goodbye to the complacence which says our systems and structure protect us from harm; goodbye to any sense of economic invincibility. The ramifications of such goodbyes are going to mean nothing can ever be the same again.

With such trauma, there are also green shoots of opportunity:

  1. A deeper appreciation of why we truly teach.
  2. A realisation that the pastoral support they will need to feel safe again is arguably infinitely more important than concerns over academic progress.
  3. An acknowledgement that if we’ve been lucky enough to have children with access to technology, television, nature and books during this period, we can and must count our blessings and note our privilege.

There are huge challenges ahead to bridge the inevitable gaps in knowledge and skills that will arise. If we can face them collectively and with true equity as our central focus, there is hope.

How we can help 

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

What can you do?

If you’re in a position to help others in these extraordinary times, please consider making a donation so that we can continue to answer the increasing number of desperate calls and grants applications we are receiving. Thank you so much.