“Suck it up and deal with it”: Tough talking from International School Aberdeen’s music teacher as he describes life back in the classroom

Life needs to return to normal. Everyone agrees with that.

The summer of 2020 has been a write off and now, after seemingly coming through the battle against coronavirus, the next challenge is trying to reboot the economy, which is seeming a far harder task than it was when a similar economic crisis happened in 2008 with the banks.

The UK Government is pushing people towards returning to offices in an effort to mend the catastrophic effect lockdown had on the High Street.

One of the keys to freeing up people to go back to the office has been getting their children back to school.

-“Social distancing is really bad”: Cults Academy student

International School Aberdeen’s head of music Kent Walter makes no qualms with the direction we’re headed in order for society to return to the distant 2010s when everyone could just be.

Kent Walter has been teaching for over thirty years and began his international career in Ethiopia

Rare insight into what’s happening in the classroom with difficulties for school teachers to speak to the media

Speaking to a teacher at a local school in Aberdeen employed by the council is proving to be a hard task, however Kent Walter, who teaches at the private ISA in Pitfodels, was happy to speak to The Reporter and intimate what is happening in school in the ‘covid era’.

Mr Walter said: “So many things have changed. Doors and windows must be open at all times to allow circulation of fresh air. It’s urged that we should not leave our work space unless we absolutely have to or to go to a classroom to teach. The school gets a deep cleanse every night. There’s no after school or sports activities.

“In my class we’re doing some percussion work if we can get instruments cleaned between things, however the government is sitting strong on no wind producing instruments in schools for some time. The students are playing (at home). They then send in recordings that I help assess and put together.”

“People who are affected by what is not going right, or getting frustrated with changes – they need to back off a bit.”

Mr Walter has had an extensive career teaching internationally. His first post was in Ethiopia in 1987 and he’s been at the International School in Aberdeen for almost two decades.

“It was during the famine that I was teaching in Ethiopia, so I saw a lot of hard times, but I have never seen anything like this.”

Fears lockdown effected development

Students returned to the ISA on the 20th of August, with teachers preparing to reopen from the start of the month. Mr Walter, born in the States, said he needed a bit of British backbone to help mentally prepare for a return to the classroom.

Mr Walter said: “When it was announced we were coming back with teachers I had to admit I was nervous. But then again, in situations like this, you gotta have a stiff upper lip and make it happen.

“I do feel safe. I have to say that up front. We have the facilities at ISA to accommodate social distancing. And everyone is respectful in wearing a mask and keeping their distance.”

The music teacher does have fears lockdown will have adverse effects on pupil development and that teachers need to take a step back before moving forward.

Mr Walter said: “Children are going to be behind if they did not manage with the online learning. That would definitely put them in a predicament, but us as teachers, we are beginning to realise that we need to take two steps back rather than keep going forwards to make sure children are brought up to speed.”

The International School in Aberdeen has seen many changes to make sure students are safe

What’s going wrong?

Mr Walter describes how it’s difficult to say what is going wrong with the reintroduction of pupils to school, however he says if problems do arise, they are more likely to come from within than without.

Mr Walter said: “First thing I want to say is that’s not a fair question to ask anyone right now because everything changes so quickly.

“If anyone is getting angry about ‘well you told me this yesterday and now you’re changing your mind today’, I think what you need to do is just step back and say everything’s going to be on a day-to-day basis.

“Unfortunately society has allowed us to not look people in the eye and to mumble, so we need to remember that the masks have a lot of opportunity for us to be changing our behaviour.”

“I think what is not going right is those who are allowing their stress levels to be a bigger emotion than it needs to be. We have to live in a flexible lifestyle right now whether you like it or not. I think the people who are affected by what is not going right, or getting frustrated with changes – they need to back off a bit.”

View on Holyrood’s handling of return to school

One of the key aspects in the reopening of schools was the effectiveness of communication channels between central government, local government and the schools themselves, with ISA taking instruction both from Holyrood and councillors based at Marischal College.

Mr Walter was satisfied with the clarity of rules saying:I’ve never been a Sturgeon fan but I have great respect for the way she has handled everything. I’m pleased with the communication levels we, the teachers, have received.”

Council members of the ‘Education Operational Delivery Committee’ were approached for comment on the situation but so far none have replied.

ISA students went back on the 20th of August
To send a child to ISA Middle or High School costs over £14,000 a year

Turn masks into a fashion statement

One of the most contentious issues was whether masks should be introduced in schools or not, with each devolved nation having a different policy on when and where to make them compulsory.

In Scotland the FM announced the compulsory implementation of face coverings on the 25th of August, to be imposed on 28th, with students at secondary schools being told to wear masks in corridors and communal areas, and anyone five or over having to wear a mask on school transport.

Mr Walter believes the call for face coverings to be made mandatory was done too late but since implemented, there has been no problems.

Mr Walter said: “Our students in general have been very respectful about the masks. I know they are fed up with them, but I talk to them, I ask them everyday ‘hey anyone tired of their masks yet?’ and everyday they say yes, but this is just what we have to do.

“You gotta just say to kids – we’re in this together, just suck it up and deal with it.

“Some students are taking it as a fashion statement, which they should. Take a negative and turn it into a positive.”

On the subject of the effects face coverings have on teaching Mr Walter said its an opportunity to adapt to a better form of communication.

Mr Walter said: “I think now we have to learn to communicate with our eyes a lot more. Unfortunately society has allowed us to not look people in the eye and to mumble and so we need to remember that the masks have a lot of opportunity for us to change our behaviour.”

Mr Walter tributes ISA facilities as having fantastic social distancing capabilities
Teaching restarted in Scotland in the middle of August to very different circumstances

Exclude them if they refuse to wear a face covering

Last week the Scottish Secondary Teacher’s Association fell out with Education Secretary John Swinney over a debate round the exclusion of pupils who refuse to wear masks.

Mr Walter supports the SSTA’s standpoint, saying: “I’ve seen a couple incidences where people have been escorted off the premises or fined if they do not wear their mask. I think there needs to be more of that. There’s no way round it. Just by wearing a mask you decrease the chances of spreading the virus.”

Mr Swinney disagrees saying it’s the school’s responsibility to build up, “cultural understanding and awareness of the importance of wearing face coverings.”

But does Swinney’s stance put more burden on teachers who already have big enough workloads? Mr Walter doesn’t think so.

“I don’t have an issue with it.

“I have to police the kids for running in the halls, I have to police them for bad language, for talking over me, I mean I’m policing them all the time, so one more thing to police them about is no big deal to me.

“You’re in a classroom of students – if you allow behaviour to go on past the first day it is never going to leave your class. Now, if you bust that behaviour and say this is not acceptable in my class then the behaviour is brought under control.”

Having got over the hurdle of getting children back in class, Mr Walter says the main thing is kids are reunited again.

“The biggest thing is they are happy to be back with their friends in the building. I think they were getting really tired of mum and dad being their teachers.”

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