Khasruz Zaman, former corporate lawyer, joined Now Teach in 2018. He now teaches Maths. In this blog he reflects on his decision to career change and what it's like teaching during a pandemic.

When it was announced that schools would be closing, my feelings were mixed. Given what we’d seen unfolding across Italy, Spain and France, it felt inevitable that the UK would also be going into lockdown, the only question was when.  Initially, I thought we might try to hold off until Easter, but as each day passed it became increasingly clear that this would not be feasible.

When the government decision was made on 18 March that school gates would be closing on the Friday (i.e. just two days later), there was an immediately noticeable reaction from our Year 11 students.  Over the course of those two days, they came streaming into our classrooms, asking ‘What is going to happen?’, ‘What does this mean for our GCSEs?’ etc.  Many of them had been ramping up their revision in recent weeks and months, and were upset about being denied the opportunity to show the extra progress that they were making. 

It was helpful that the decision to cancel examinations was made quickly after the announcement of school closures. This enabled us to provide greater clarity to students on how the process would work and reassure them that they would be graded fairly.  Some of them also seemed a bit shocked that their time in secondary school was coming to such an abrupt end, with the realisation that this was the moment when they would be taking the next big step in their lives and making the transition towards adulthood.  As this started to sink in, the atmosphere changed to one where they started saying farewells, with lots of students (and not just the ones you might expect!) coming in to say ‘Sir, we’ll miss you and this school!’  It was another reminder of just how important school life is for our students.

All this is, of course, so very different from what I was doing before – less than two years ago, I was a corporate lawyer and partner at a City law firm.  Whilst, unsurprisingly, there have obviously been lots of challenges (particularly on the behaviour management front) during the transition, there hasn’t been a moment when I have seriously questioned my decision to retrain as a teacher.  And if anything, at this moment in time my commitment has been reinforced.  I previously thought that dealing with the 2008 financial crisis would be the defining moment of my professional life, but this pandemic has eclipsed that and provided a fresh perspective on what truly matters.

At this time, I worry most about the wellbeing (and progress) of our most vulnerable students and it is likely that the lockdown will further widen the gap between students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers from more affluent backgrounds.  

In terms of setting work for students, at our school we are adopting a practical and pragmatic approach, taking account of the home and personal circumstances of our students.  We have tried to be flexible in our approach, given that so many of our students will need to share computers/equipment with siblings – and most of them will not have the space or resources to be able to study undisturbed.  We are setting them a reasonable amount of work to do each day and making sure that we are available to support students and respond to any questions/queries that they may have.  This is complemented by some live online teaching, as well as recorded video lessons.  We have also ramped up what we are doing on the pastoral side, ensuring that there is regular individual contact with students and, where appropriate, making home visits to check on the most vulnerable students. 

A small number of students are continuing to come to school and there is a rota for teachers to take it in turns to go in to support those students.  On the days when I am on the rota, I am able walk to school, which reinforces my feeling of being a part of the local community – this is just one of the many ways in which my perspective on things has shifted since I made the decision to change career.  Now more than ever, I see the value of what teachers do and I am comforted by the feeling that this is so much more meaningful and worthwhile than what I was doing before.

This is a time for all of us to pause and reflect on what we should change (in ourselves and across society) and do differently after this outbreak ends.  As we return to a sense of normality, I hope that we will do more to recognise and value the contribution of all the people who enable our society to function – doctors, nurses, carers being amongst the most obvious examples in the current situation; but, as we are increasingly finding out, there are so many others (from so many different backgrounds) who play a vital role.

I hope that we in the teaching profession will do more to adopt some of the innovations that are currently being made, including making greater use of technology and developing better platforms to support independent learning outside of the classroom.  I don’t want unnecessary upheaval and changes just for the sake of it (there has been more than enough of that in recent years) but we must not miss this opportunity to stop and reflect and ask how things can be improved. 

I would also like to see the profession (especially those in positions of leadership and responsibility) wholeheartedly embracing flexible working and recognising how teachers can contribute to schools in so many different ways.  I think that this is vital if we are going to solve the issue of retention, but it is also just as important if we want to have a vibrant, varied and dynamic teaching profession, in which case we must ensure that there is much greater diversity among teachers in terms of age, background, life experience, etc.