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Moments of light: loss, work and research

I lost my grandfather. It wasn’t to the Corona virus. In fact, we had known for a year that he had late stage stomach cancer, but it was no less awful in the final days. He died shortly prior to the lockdown coming into force and while thankful that he should not have to suffer isolation in his final moments, the wound is a sore one. I grew up and lived with him after my mother passed away at the age of eight. He was my father, my tutor and the kindest man I’d ever known. I found myself, in the midst of this terrible, unprecedented pandemic, without a parent, with two months to complete a doctorate level pilot study and having to adapt to a new style of teaching from home. 

Shaun Keeling
Second Year EdD Student

Outline of a man in a field sitting at dawn watching the sun set

Permit me to apologise here in the first lines of the main content of this blog post. This is not, as it would initially appear, a tragic tale of woe. Instead, it serves to chronical how through a changing style of teaching and by shifting my methods within research I found salvation through occupation. That isn’t to say that I am quite over the recent death, indeed I still feel that each day will be just a little worse than it could have been had he been a part of them. What I do argue is that within these moments of darkness, which I do not lay sole claim to, there exists instances that can still shine light onto the darkness. We see such every Thursday, when we all take a moment away from our own focuses and stand on the doorway to cheer for the frontline heroes, who each day risk their lives for the good of us all. We see it in friends in video chats putting together quizzes to amuse one another. We find it bundled in the food packages left on the doorsteps of those in need. There is still light and good to be viewed deep inside of this tragedy.

"School is not closed, school has not stopped, it has shifted."

I find good too, through my perspective as a primary school teacher. Our doors have never officially closed as we now work on a rota system for the children of key workers but the school halls for the most part lay unused, whiteboard pens sit firmly lidded, and the playground bell remains silenced. However, although the school is hushed, so too can not be said of the spirit of our staff and of the will of our parents and children.

A new ‘normal’ in education has formed and we find ourselves now dependant upon technology, uploading daily lessons in a variety of subjects, appearing as YouTube stars with a surprising amount of views, and communicating often with every parent and child by telephone. School is not closed, school has not stopped, it has shifted. And through this new platform I have found a revitalisation of my own desire for the creative approach, uploading cooking videos, poetry readings, play-a-long quizzes and competitions for the children to take part in. In response, we are greeted with a wealth of working at home content from our children who too find themselves featuring on our YouTube channel and having their work presented on our blogs. I have had to adapt as an educator and through that metamorphosis I have found new life in the curriculum and one source of light within the darkness of my personal tragedy.

Self-interview  

In research I have also made breakthroughs. Having taken to caring for my granddad in his last few weeks, I admit that I had let my studies and focus on research matters slide into insignificance. Due to this, I found myself, at the beginning of March, facing a hand-in date for a 6000-word pilot study that was only two months away. Without a word written, and a lock-down serving to make meeting participants difficult, I seemed faced by a daunting if not impossible mountain to climb and thank goodness that I did. For me, it is not in leisure that I strive but in the face of pressure and time restraints. I too held the knowledge that my grandfather, who had watched both my PGCE graduation and the graduation for my master’s degree at BCU, would want me to press on and succeed. To quote  ‘stop whittling (worrying) and get on with it.’ So, get on with it I did and found myself attempting a method I would have never before considered. I used a self-interview that placed myself as the sole participant. In terms of viewpoint, I am an interpretivist and find great value in the lived experience of others. However, being of a unique position as both student researcher and primary educator, I proceeded to find value within my own experience. The conducting of the interview itself was fascinating and cathartic. I found myself requesting questions be repeated, speaking to an imagined ‘other’ and learning opinions and definitions that I didn’t know I held.

"Moments of light"

Although I still await the marking of my assignment, I feel nothing other than pride and achievement. I submitted a day ahead of the deadline, whilst creating YouTube content, teaching the children of key workers, dealing with grief, discovering the benefit of exploring new methods, uploading daily, ensuring friends are entertained and safe on Zoom or Teams, keeping my appointments, providing references and I carried on (though I can’t say that I always kept calm). I feel in this moment that even if I need to resubmit in October then that detracts nothing from the steps that I have made. Regardless, I have succeeded. There is a tendency in the media to focus on the disasters and negatives in life but for every terrible and heart wrenching moment, there are equal moments of good and success. Through my place in education, in both the sense of research and teacher, I have found my moments of light. I truly hope in this current pandemic, there are others who may say the same.