Starting teaching during a global pandemic

Marist College English teacher Kelsey Aldersley started her first teaching job just as New Zealand went into lockdown

Starting your first job teaching can be intimidating at the best of times, but imagine having your first day on the job during a global pandemic. This is exactly what happened to PPTA member Kelsey Aldersley.

A recent graduate of Victoria University of Wellington's Masters of Teaching and Learning program, Kelsey teaches English at Auckland's Marist College. Unlike most beginning teachers though, the first time she met her class was through a screen.

After finishing teacher training at the end of last year, Kelsey spent a while looking for jobs in Wellington before widening her search to other major cities. "I will be forever grateful to Raechelle Taulu and Hazel Brook for allowing me to start my career at Marist College," she said.

Kelsey credits a former teacher with inspiring her to join the profession. "All of us have that one teacher we had growing up that made us want to go to class every day and mine was my English teacher. I am very thankful for him as he sparked both my passion for the subject and teaching. I now love storytelling and sharing information with our younger generation to inspire them to continue their relationship with education and share their knowledge with others," she said.

Immense support from the Marist community

After a few months waiting in anticipation for a job, Kelsey was excited to finally get started – and then Covid-19 struck. "I found myself stuck at home in isolation, but now I had something to do. I spent my copious amounts of spare time planning my units and memorising student ID photos and names. I was able to keep track of online learning very factually and get to know the students through their work."

Kelsey was able to see each of her 30 students working simultaneously and was able to give feedback to all of them each period. "Teaching without behaviour management was a treat," she said.

"I really enjoyed my start to teaching. It was a gradual introduction to my students and the Marist culture. I loved participating in staff Kahoots and even though I wasn't even in Auckland, I felt an immense support from the Marist community."

Covid-19 simply part of new experience

Kelsey's first reaction to the job offer was to tell everyone she knew. "I had to tell everyone that, not only was I employed, but I was moving. My move to Auckland was a surreal experience – sometimes I still cannot believe I live here.

"I am usually quite an emotional person, but I was almost emotionless packing my things and leaving my Wellington life behind. Covid-19 was simply part of this new experience. I cannot imagine a reality where it wasn't part of this journey."

Kelsey Aldersley

Kelsey had little preparation around remote teaching and learning before suddenly finding herself having to do it.

"Luckily, I am a younger teacher, and therefore quick to learn how to use technology, and I had also used Google Classroom in my teacher training. I had my personal laptop set-up remotely with Outlook and KAMAR. I learnt very quickly to just go with the flow and do what I am able to. It was also easier to ask for help digitally," she said.

Digital teaching is less physically exhausting

During lockdown Kelsey made a point of starting each of her first lessons with a video call so the students could get to know her face. "I personally didn't enjoy meeting the students this way. It was hard to interact with that many students at once through a video call, and so I quickly moved on to leaving comments on their documents. It is much easier to have one-on-one contact with students online and there were hardly any behaviour management issues during this time."

"As said previously, I was weirdly emotionally disconnected starting this job. I was very reactive to everything happening. Digitally teaching is less physically exhausting than actual teaching. It is much more relaxed, and you can take your time with responses. You are hardly ever caught off guard.

Digital teaching no substitute for classroom teaching

Kelsey says she personally loved beginning teaching digitally. "It was such an easy way to gently transfer into the routines and workload that come with teaching. Having the time to look over each student's work allowed me to get to know their work style without any hesitation or negative behaviour."

At the end of the day though, digital teaching is not a substitute for classroom teaching, she said. "A student can learn so much more in a classroom. They can ask for help at any time, share their progress and difficulties with their peers and build a strong character and community. Online teaching doesn't allow for any guaranteed interaction between students. One of the biggest challenges was getting to know students that never came online for the whole six weeks of lockdown learning," she said.

Teaching at school is much better

Kelsey is finding teaching at school much better than teaching from home. "I have my own desk where I feel comfortable leaving student work. I have my own physical planner now. I have my own classroom that I can change around and decorate as I want to, and multiple ways to teach students."

Upon returning to school – or in Kelsey's case, beginning – there was divide between the students who liked and disliked learning online.  "Most of them enjoyed the free time but didn't feel like they were supported at home and found it difficult to ask for help – especially asking for help from someone they'd never met. They also didn't get to know my teaching style through online learning, and so many students felt relieved in coming back to school to an actual human being."

Fast-paced transition

The transition into physically being at school was very fast-paced, Kelsey said.

"The end of lockdown was confirmed and I had to move up during level four restrictions. Getting to know my way around the school was easy – as Marist is a smaller school – and I felt immense support from the staff here. Meeting the students for the first time both confirmed and subverted expectations. Some of the most active students online were the most chatty in class. Lower achievers were either online a lot, or not at all. Otherwise, I enjoyed the transition. We were meeting without being strangers. I knew more than just names and ID photos. It was an easier transition into the workplace than expected."

Marist College having previously been the seat of a major Covid-19 cluster of course ramped up the anxiety around being physically back at school.

"Coronavirus being present at the school previously was terrifying. The remaining stickers from the forensic cleaning were a constant reminder. Our protocols helped with the anxiety – spaced seating and wiping desks and doorknobs every lesson. And eventually, the anxiety faded, and the risks subsided."

Forever grateful for love and support

Kelsey did not need specific support from PPTA during her time teaching through lockdown, which she is grateful for as she had a lot on her plate. She did however attend the digital Provisionally Certificated Teachers Conference (see page 8) which she thoroughly enjoyed.

"I just wish more people had participated and I was able to meet more PCTs in the Auckland region through it."

People often ask Kelsey if it was difficult starting her career during a global pandemic but she does not have a specific answer for them.

"Yes, the pandemic effected my teaching, but I don't know any other way. I'm new to teaching all girls, I'm new to Catholic school protocols – I'm new to teaching. All I know is that I am forever grateful for the love and support that has surrounded me during this time," she said.

Do you have a lockdown story you would like to share? Email news@ppta.org.nz

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Last modified on Monday, 31 August 2020 16:13