My COVID-19 Ivory Tower: An uncomfortable place to be

Debra Laxton, Senior Lecturer in Education/ Early Childhood Lead at the University of Chichester, explains why she currently yearns to be on the front line of early years provision.

Debra Laxton
Debra Laxton

Never have I missed being part of a school or early years setting quite so much, 

Never have I yearned to return to my own reception classroom or nursery space quite so much,

Never have I wished for those personal relationships with families and children quite so much,

Never have I felt quite so displaced, so ineffectual in my role, so distant from the real world,

Never ever have I felt the desire to blog, to share my strange range of feelings with random others,

And yet, here I am…

I think it was yesterday, as schools and settings opened their doors to more children that my position really sank in. My eagerness to be a part of the foray has taken me quite by surprise as I feel an almost literal tug pulling from my core. I added a heartfelt post on my professional Facebook page, but this seemed inadequate. I needed to explain myself more.

Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate about my current role and what we are doing now is important. I work in Teacher Education within the Higher Education sector. My specialist area is early years and I co-ordinate the early years initial teacher training programme (0-5 years) and teach QTS early years specialism modules.

I feel I do something worthwhile. Without sounding corny I think that I do make a difference although some days that may be more than others! My job is delightfully varied, I love the difference each day brings and am excited by the opportunity to share my knowledge and beliefs, to learn from others, engage in challenging dialogue and carry out research of interest to me.  

I have spent my entire life since leaving school at 16 working within the field of early years. I gained my NNEB (Nursery Nursing Examination Board Certificate) in 1985 at Kingston College of Further Education. Since then I have nannied, worked in three schools in the London Borough of Hounslow alternating between the nursery and reception classes and worked at Chichester Nursery School and Children Centre before making the decision to change my influence from directly working with children and families to inspiring others to do this with genuineness, empathy, knowledge and skills.

I wanted to instil a love of learning in early years educators, for them to really appreciate the value and importance of early childhood education and become excited, enthusiastic professionals working effectively to engage children and families alike. I worked in Further Education at Chichester College on the L3 Childcare and Education programme before moving to Higher Education at the University of Chichester and specifically Teacher Training. 

As my career has changed its course, I have never before craved for a return to nursery or school. We are told so often at the moment that these are unprecedented times, and surely no one can argue, so perhaps this feeling is completely understandable. It is complex, I know I do not want to return permanently, I do not even believe the return for all children is right (just yet) and I certainly do not believe that reception was the right year for the first phased returners. But still I am driven by my feelings. 

I know what it is to some extent. I feel guilty and inadequate, that what I am doing is not enough for children and families. I sit in my Ivory Tower (or the upstairs spare room at an old garden table): 

  • Managing the pandemic from our University perspectives, making ever changing preparations for teaching online and a return to campus at some point.
  • Reading all the information from the DfE (often late to publish with little time to implement), 
  • Reading the many research reports
  • Reading so many strong thoughts and feelings on Twitter and Facebook
  • Hearing the struggles schools are having to make decisions 
  • Skyping student teachers struggling to make sense of what is happening
  • Skyping reception teachers planning for the phased return
  • Emailing the nursery where I am a Governor 
  • Skyping the school where I am a Governor

And at the moment I miss it. There, I said it. I miss being on the front line. I miss being at the coalface. I miss being on the shop floor. Sitting here, in the rear trenches, I facilitate conversations with anxious educators, hoping that dialogue will solve constantly arising issues (as it almost always does) and trying to provide an odd pearl of wisdom whilst always maintaining a reassuring voice. But I am safe up here, whereas you are down there supporting that child and family you know so well.

How I wish I were you. 

Then of course I feel guilty for wanting that. Who would want to swap what I have for potentially risking my health and that of my family? Perhaps I am just selfish, but these emotions continue to squirm their way around, not only my head but I feel their physical force.

I want to be directly involved in the school/ setting decision making. I want to be weighing up all the advice and deciding whether to have play dough or water in my environment, how to use the outside area most effectively and how often to wipe the surfaces and clean the toilets! Most of all I want to ensure children are happy on their return, that they have as much freedom as possible, that they do not feel pressured by restrictions that may be placed upon them and I then want to be able to reassure their parents that we are doing all we can to keep their children safe and happy. 

Then, and it should never be underestimated, I miss the buzz and adrenaline that comes from a school community, that sense of collaboration and teamwork. The ‘we are in this together’ that a school community creates making it a special place to be. 

I am sure my yearnings to be part of the day-to-day school/ setting environment will decrease as the school return becomes the next ‘new normal’, but that does not negate the importance of what educators are doing.

I want educators to know that the vast majority of society know that you do an amazing job every day, but during this pandemic you have been outstanding and perhaps it is nice for you to know that some, like me, wish we could be there alongside you right now. 

Whoever you are, thank you for hearing my voice.

Take care and stay safe


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