Inside Schools: Trainee Kyla Bruff talks reopening, readjusting and the new normal

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Inside Schools: Trainee Kyla Bruff speaks on the experience teaching RE with Citizenship as a trainee in one of our academies. Touching on the initial hesitations and settling in, Kyla explains how students and staff together have managed to look to the future positively.

As we restarted lessons in the classroom last month, teachers and students face so much uncertainty. There was much trepidation and fear about the return to social interaction, what it means to be in an enclosed space with others and readjusting to intensive days of high-pace interaction. Throughout the constant inundation of news that we have all received leading up to schools reopening—the positions of teachers’ unions, views of parents, concerns over lost learning time, tutoring, and catch-up—it seems something important was forgotten.

Namely, students and teachers face this readjustment period and uncertain period together.

When I entered my year 11 classroom for the first time since December, I had an intensive plan for revision of past learning. I was ready to be positive and had braced myself for open discussion regarding the cancellation of GCSEs. I was up late at night thinking of how I would now motivate my year 11 students to work hard. But when I saw them, something changed. None of that was necessary. I realised we were in solidarity together in this strange and uncertain time. 

No one refused to work, and no one complained about cancelled GCSEs. Instead, we opened by talking about their plans. Who has applied to sixth form? What subjects? Who has applied to college? What program? Life will go on, and they are excited about the future. The negativity I had experienced through the endless news cycle about exam years was not at all what I experienced in my classroom on that first day. My students may think I am exaggerating or being ‘cringy,’ but I think we genuinely enjoyed being together in period 3. Ah, live interaction; the thing we sometimes don’t realise we miss when we are in control of our own worlds at home, but often draw great and unexpected enjoyment from when in the moment.

Then came the dreaded interruption of my lesson for covid-19 tests. Great, just after rebuilding rapport, warming up the students with a starter activity, and beginning my revision lesson, commotion starts and they leave for the swab. But I also forgot that regular testing is the new normal for all of us. I’ve been tested many times, as have the students. When they came back approximately 15 minutes later, we were able to find our groove again easily enough. As they trickled in, we commiserated on how uncomfortable it is to stick that that thing up in your nose. To my surprise, while waiting for the other half of the class to return, one of my students asked if we could debate a topic in citizenship—“any topic at all.” He seemed to be asking for me to just throw something in the air for us to talk about. I was delighted. I knew my lesson included a review of the role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in protecting the rights of UK citizens, so off the top of my head I suggested we debate prisoners’ right to vote. This led seamlessly into the Hirst v United Kingdom case (in which the ECHR ruled that a complete ban on prisoners voting in the UK violated the European Court of Human Rights). The debate suggestion was an exciting way to get the students’ focus back on track. As more of them progressively joined the class and were invited to give their view, I didn’t even notice the refocusing was happening, precisely because they initiated it! I didn’t have to lead alone today!

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