At the beginning of this year, I was bracing myself for a return to work following a year of maternity leave. This was my second maternity leave in five years and though I had worked a couple of years part-time in the middle, knowing that I wanted a second child, I was never really able to get my head back into career-mode. So for the few years prior to 2020, my life was very much about working part-time, doing my job as Head of German and a teacher of Spanish (well, I hope) and then coming home and caring for my toddler and also soon-to-have second baby.
So in January of this year, upon my return after mat leave, I bounded into school, walked into our languages office and with pent up nerves, excitement and adrenalin, prepared myself to see my lovely colleagues, many of whom I hadn't seen for a while. Only to find that there was no-one there! Suddenly feeling a sense of disappointment and with a pang of guilt for leaving my children, I held back the tears. Silly I know, but I think the nerves took over! I put the kettle on (always my first task in a morning) and luckily one of my colleagues came in and snapped me out of whatever little state I had got into. And then after about twenty minutes, as is always the case with this job (and I am sure many others), it was like I had never been away. I was grateful for the head popping his head into my lesson and offering support; reminding me that nothing had changed 'it's just learning and they're just children' or words to that effect and I got through the day without any more tears.
The first few weeks back were great. I work in a wonderful school, with fantastic students and lovely staff and on the last day before breaking up for the Feb half-term break, I remember belly-laughing with my HOD and a fellow German teacher and telling them how glad I was to be back. As much as I love being a mum, I also love my job and feel very lucky to be able to do the two!
Little did I know, that only a couple of weeks after half-term, we would be in lockdown due to a worldwide pandemic. A few students were being plucked out of lessons here and there after being on holiday in Italy, but like many, I had no idea of what was to come!
So after only a couple of months back teaching, I suddenly found myself gearing up to offer remote learning. My colleagues and I muddled through for the first few weeks. Our school had been particularly well-organised and so we had some things online already but we had no idea how to move forward. How do we teach a foreign language remotely?
And this is where the wonderful world of social media came to my rescue! I already had a teacher account on Instagram but I didn't really engage with it, and similarly I had Twitter but never used it. Facebook was my main source of networking and it was on here that I saw the Linguascope webinars being advertised and I was inspired by the lovely Suzy Bewell who talked about culture in the MFL classroom. Joe Dale and his brilliant webinars on technology in the MFL classroom and how to teach remotely became a lifesaver and I quickly became confident using websites such as mentimeter and whiteboard.fi. It was during a late night webinar watching Joe Dale present to hundreds across the world, that I decided to make myself a cuppa at 11pm which resulted in me spilling boiling water all over me and ending up spending the night in A&E - I will forgive you Joe ;) This was my first experience of wearing a mask too!
I began to become more and more inspired by accounts on Instagram and I tried to find more secondary teachers, particularly MFL accounts, but with little success. Slowly, more accounts appeared and I started the hashtag #MFLinsta and created a list of MFL accounts to help others on the search. I started tweeting a bit too and it was after a tweet about a website shared on Instagram about liveworksheets.com (thank you @laclassedemademoisele) , that Joe Dale got in touch and asked me if I wanted to do a TiLT webinar. Terrified but absolutely honoured to have been asked, I agreed! Following on from this, I was given other opportunities to present and I continue to be extremely grateful for the opportunities social media has given me this year!
Following work in 2019 for BBC Bitesize, writing their new online KS3 German content (something which I did on maternity leave), I was also asked to write a series of German programmes for the Iplayer daily shows. At one point, I was asked to go to Salford to work on set but due to covid, this didn't end up happening. But writing the lessons, speaking on the phone to the script writer and being involved in a large BBC zoom call with all other educational consultants was a fantastic experience! I also worked on the new bitesize game, Festilingo, proof-reading the German.
Alongside my remote teaching, bitesize work, watching endless amazing webinars and looking after my children, I also ran some free Spanish lessons online for my friends' children on a Saturday morning. Something which I loved and I am hoping to offer more online tutoring in the new year!
The return to school in September 2020 was always going to be a strange one. I was soo ready to be back and really happy that we were, despite the changes! I know for many, returning to school has been a real source of anxiety and that I can completely understand. From having to stand in a box at the front of the room, to frisbying anti-bacced whiteboards to any student who had forgotten/lost their own, to quarantining books before and after marking, it is safe to say that this has been the strangest time in my thirteen year career. I miss being able to work closely with students, shoulder-marking and offering verbal feedback, walking around the room to monitor and engage them and being able to do more dynamic activities such as group-work and activities which require them to move around the room. But in return, I have learnt so much this year and built up a fantastic bank of new resources, ideas and skills (especially regarding ICT and online learning). Zoom revision lessons with my Y11 from the comfort of my living room have been a real game changer!
With the first week back in January already being moved mainly online due to a new strain of covid, who knows what next year will bring. It's certainly very different to the teaching I was returning to a year ago. I look forward to writing a review next year and hoping that everything has gone back to normal! In the meantime, I will try to make the most of it by continuing to take advantage of all of the fantastic CPD, support and inspiration out there on social media! Thanks to everyone for your support this year, be it family, friends, colleagues at my school or my 'virtual' colleagues. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a much better 2021!