GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

A message from China

Schools are beginning to open in Wuxi, but strict measures remain in place to monitor the virus. A teacher in China shares her experiences of the past four months.

I live in Wuxi, which is about two hours south of Shanghai. It’s a huge city with six million inhabitants, so roughly the same population as the whole of Scotland. I work in an international school as a Kindergarten 2 coordinator and class teacher, which is the equivalent to Reception in Scotland.

It was Chinese New Year when it first started and I was in Thailand for the holidays. Getting back into China was fraught. Thankfully my school helped me get home by arranging transport from the airport. When I returned to Wuxi I had to complete a health declaration at my community office and was given a QR code. Codes dictated where you could go. The code could be red, orange or green. I got green so was allowed to go to the supermarket. If you got red you had to stay in quarantine for 14 days and would have a community worker allocated to you to bring food and essentials to your apartment.

I live in a huge compound with 29 high-rise blocks, each with 32 floors. We have beautiful manicured gardens. Before the crisis, you would see loads of people out cycling and walking in them. When I returned nobody was out. In my community someone went around with a megaphone telling people to get back to their apartments. In other parts of the city and in parks, drones hovered over the pavements and paths relaying the same message. It worked. People did as they were told. Wuxi only has 55 recorded cases. We are used to following government rules here.

Keeping up engagement with pupils

It has been 11 weeks since the schools closed. Teaching online is a challenge, particularly for my Kindergarten class. We can’t do any formal online teaching at this level as it is against government guidance. So instead we have been providing the children with activities and reading them stories. We have also started to produce videos.

Some children haven’t been out their house since this all began as people have been terrified of the virus, so we are producing exercise videos to encourage them to keep active. Some of the kids are even doing Joe Wicks’ workouts! The children are now over the novelty of online teaching, so we are going to switch it up and start online check-in meetings with them and their families. We then plan to move to two lessons a week, which will give them a bit more structure without straying into formal teaching.

My colleagues who teach older children have been able to deliver more structured lessons online. They found it very challenging at the beginning. The set up was all new and they hadn’t used the technology before. A lot of my colleagues are from other countries. Many had returned home for the New Year holiday and ended up staying there, so we had people all over the world not only trying to teach online but on a different time zone.

It was quite a challenge. They had to be available online to do their lessons or if the students had questions. The upside is that we have learned so many IT skills over the last few months. And virtual meetings are a great way to see people that you haven’t met face-to-face in such a long time.

Normality begins to return

 Almost four months after the outbreak in Wuhan and things are slowly getting back to normal here. Parks are open. Schools are staggering the return of pupils; so far pupils in Grades 3-11, which is the equivalent to P4-S5, have returned to my school. I don’t know when Kindergarten will open. The school was meticulously deep-cleaned before anyone was allowed in: outside, inside and all the resources. Kindergartens here must be fitted out with UV lighting to kill germs, and they are looking to introduce this to other parts of the building.

Staff came in for a training week on health procedures before any pupils returned. The logistics involved in monitoring the virus are huge and include checking pupils’ temperature in the morning and at lunch; reviewing their QR codes; sending them to an isolation room if they have a temperature and then potentially onto a fever clinic. Both teachers and pupils wear masks in class and we must change these regularly throughout the day. It’s not a move that has gone down well with parents as it is uncomfortable having to wear a mask all day.

My advice to teachers in Scotland

 I have quite a few tips. One is to structure your days. I was getting up at the same time that I would normally get up for work. But instead of spending time commuting I spent that time cooking a really nice breakfast, which is something I wouldn’t have time to do normally. Eating healthily and exercising once or twice a day is a must. Enjoy slowing down and doing things you don’t normally have time to do like re-reading your favourite book or teaching yourself a new skill. Make sure to check-in with someone every day, having that contact ensures you don’t feel isolated.

Try not to spend too much time watching the news or on social media otherwise you could get quite depressed and obsessive about checking for updates. I read the news once a day and try to stay away from my phone, otherwise I feel bombarded. If you are at home with family, enjoy spending time with them; you are never going to get this time back. And my final bit of advice: follow the government rules and help the NHS. If you don’t, then it won’t get back to normal for a long time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maria Watt has been working overseas for 10 years. She first worked in China between 2009 and 2012 and returned 18 months ago. She loves China and is happy to be back there. Her last teaching post in Scotland was in Arbroath.