Q & A with teacher aide Linda Jordan

AKO chats with Linda Jordan, a teacher aide and team leader at James Cook High School in Manurewa, about the challenges of lockdown and technology and the profound importance of being supportive and understanding.

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What has it been like for you and your school moving into Level 4 and then into Level 3?

When we first found out that the school was moving into lockdown, things were a bit hectic, but the school pulled together really well. In the back of our minds, we needed to know that our kids were still all right.

And then with the transfer back to Level 3, I was amazed because nobody was expected to come back to work. It was, ‘If you are comfortable coming back to work then, yes, we would like to see you. If not, then there’s no pressure.’

It felt like nobody was judging you on why you didn’t want to come back. For me, I’m supporting my mum, who’s quite frail. I’m also supporting my daughter, who is a solo mum, and my grandchildren. I didn’t want to take the risk of rushing back to work and having to mix with other people as well as dropping off groceries to my family.

We have just four students physically at school now. It was set up ready for at least two bubbles, because we had nine families respond to a text message that went out to say that their students would be there. But there are four students, two bubbles, still working.

How has your role as teacher aide changed now that you’re not physically with the students you teach?

I’m sitting at a computer from 8.30am until about 3.15pm, everyday. I do Zoom sessions with students, I do Google Meet sessions with students, I’m on the phone with students. That can be anything from checking in to see if they’re okay, because a learning pack hasn’t arrived or they don’t have a device they can work on, right through to working through pages on Google Classroom.

Has it been more difficult to have that connection with students who may need a bit more support?

Definitely. I have one student that I’m checking on who has undiagnosed autism. And it’s really hard to get him to do the finer things. I’ve been able to help him in the classroom and we know he can do it, but we can’t get it through to him via the internet or phone conversation.

How are you managing your relationships with colleagues now that you’re physically separate?

We are making sure that we connect with each other outside of work hours. Some of us had a relationship anyway, we’re friends, and those friendships have got stronger.

“I’m not checking up on you – I’m making sure you are okay as a human being.”

For some people, I think they’re finding it really difficult, so we have to make sure we connect with them. I’m one of the team leaders for teacher aides and we make sure we’re in constant connection with our team members to make sure they’re not feeling left out. To say, “Yes, we do still care about you.” And, “I’m not checking up on you – I’m making sure you are okay as a human being.”

Has there been any good that has come out of the last six weeks or anything you want to take into the classroom which you’ve learned over this period?

Learning about technology. My boss sent me an email this morning saying, “I need to be able to show a video on my next class Zoom and I’ve just trialled it but there’s no sound! How do I do it?” And I sent her a link to a video, and she sent me one back a few minutes later saying, “Thanks, I’ve worked it out”.

We’re having to learn how to use technology to make sure we can do our jobs to the best ability.

We’re having to learn how to use technology to make sure we can do our jobs to the best ability. I think it’s also helping to bring some of the teams together. We have a large team of teacher aides at James Cook High School, over 20. Everybody can now get onto a Zoom meeting so that we can actually connect with each other in some way to make sure everyone’s okay.

It’s nice to hear about a school that’s being so supportive and accepting of their staff and making them feel comfortable in whatever situation they have in their own personal lives.

I must say, I feel privileged to work at James Cook High School because everybody has been so caring. Right from the very start of this, when people contacted the school and said they needed to be working from home, procedures were put in place straight away to make that happen. That’s just followed all the way through. And our principal and our acting principal have just been amazing.

I think educators themselves can be really proud about what we’ve done over this time. We’ve moved heaven and earth to make sure the students and families we work with everyday are supported.

I think educators themselves can be really proud about what we’ve done over this time. We’ve moved heaven and earth to make sure the students and families we work with everyday are supported. The stories I’ve been reading about what schools are doing now show that we work as a community, we’re not just one little piece of a puzzle. I feel that schools are a catalyst in that puzzle and pull our communities together.

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