‘Peripatetic’ a word by which I am referred to at work where I teach. Many a times funnily, or rather sadly, it seems to me like one of those words describing a disease. I was told by colleagues at the very start when I was considering making a shift to the peripatetic service, to “think about it properly for peripatetic teachers have no sense of belonging whatsoever”. I brushed this concern aside for I passionately wanted to teach my subject of specialisation at primary level. Well they were right. I found the idea of teaching many different students in different schools exciting, but it all came with a lot of challenges which are still to date, after many pleas to concerned authorities, unresolved.
Peripatetic educators are like nomads. Nomads have no home, travel from one place to the other, carrying their belongings with them and do not always feel welcome. Well it’s the same for us. We have no classrooms allocated to our subjects even in newly built schools, I have been asked to teach in unequipped dusty store rooms, noisy halls or even outside in a yard gazebo in the past. I have been told “we have no room for you” frequently. We are barely if any, given educational resources to teach with. No they do not plan for humanities at all! Our education system focuses primarily on academics. We seem to forget that education is in reality all about preparing the student for life! We forget that education should be student-centred! PSCD, ethics, music, art, PE, aren’t they all important areas which enhance the quality of our students’ present and future lives?
This past year has been really hard on everybody, students, parents and educators, peripatetic teachers included. Since we usually share schools our role had to endorse major changes. Because of Covid 19 health protocols there were more teacher shortages than usual. All teachers giving services in the primary sector who fall under the peripatetic description, were listed according to seniority and were asked to voluntarily apply for a class teacher post for the pandemic period only. Since not all empty spaces were applied for, we were then called to take a class or do replacements, meaning teaching classes when the class teacher is absent, sick or on quarantine.
Since I have been an educator for over twenty years I was asked to be a replacement teacher and we were all assigned one school. Eventually in January we were told to start online lessons for our subject from within the school itself. We could not visit different classes because of contact tracing. I was told to cater for my school only. So not all schools in my college had lessons in my subject. We were asked to do replacements always as a priority according to the school’s daily needs and to change our subject’s timetable accordingly.
Although I myself have experience in teaching various primary year groups as a class teacher, I have had no such training since 2008 when I started giving peripatetic services. The training I have had from that year onwards was solely in my subject of specialisation and in digital technology. It has been no joke at all! Every morning my colleagues and I would be completely unprepared for what awaited us, replacing any class from Year 1 to 6 or online teaching. Replacements were very frequent, often daily and sometimes twice a day, which defeated the bubble concept completely. This hindered our planning for our subject lessons. Sometimes class teachers left work for us to follow while we replaced them, other times not.
In my case replacements were distributed fairly among peripatetic teachers in my school. Yet in the primary sector not all peripatetic services and subject teachers were given replacements. Some services went online and were not asked to do any replacements. A fair system would have allowed the rest of us peripatetic teachers to give our online lessons making sure that our students receive the education that they are entitled to by law.
Doing online lessons for our subject was a big challenge. We encountered many technical internet problems in our school, we had to hunt for an empty class from where to deliver the lesson and let us face it, we ended up lecturing not teaching. Humanities are experiential subjects. They cannot be ‘taught’ online. Students need to actively participate in the learning process.
Covid-19 has put a great emotional challenge on everybody not least on our children. Our students had to stick to their bubbles, to their desk, to their bare classrooms, often following online lessons daily. Their whole well-being, which includes mental health was neglected. The support which we as humanities educators usually give them, was simply taken away from these youngsters!
I do understand that a pandemic requires all of us to adapt to the situations we are facing. I am simply asking as a worker, to be treated with dignity and justice. This is what all educators teach their students after all, to be fair and respectful!