An address to pupils, and later their parents, by the Master, Helen Pike, on Thursday 19 March:
We live in such a busy world, and we are such a busy school. I imagine that a week or so ago, some of us were envisaging that a Covid-19 closure would be like a snow day or two. You might even secretly have been welcoming it. A chance to have a lie in, catch up with some friends, a gaming binge, a break from the regime.
And now this. A period of enforced self-isolation, with your families. This will provoke varying and unique levels of joy, dread and benevolent indifference in each of you. There is almost something of the Jane Austen novel or the Chekhov short story about it- except that you have Netflix. It’s amazing to think that people seek out the kind of enforced isolation that you are soon to experience: Henry David Thoreau, who took to a hut in the forest and invented anarchism; or Blaise Pascal, who argued that all a man’s problems stemmed from his inability to sit quietly in his room.
The following weeks bring challenges. I don’t have answers for all of them, but I am a firm believer that having a grasp of the questions is at least as important, if not more. I am also a firm believer in all of you. If ever I want something doing really well at MCS, I ask you to do it. So over to you to work through these things.
1) This is not a question but a fact. You are stronger than you know. Trust me. I know that.
"You are stronger than you know. Trust me. I know that."the Master
2) Self-isolation isn’t a helpful term. Yes, we need to bit of physical distancing at the moment, hence why you have a bit of room between seats in here for once. But the last thing you need is to isolate yourself mentally; here we need the leitmotif of E M Forster’s Howard’s End: Only Connect. The full quotation is about the relationship between passion, prose and love. As usual, I’ll linger on the love part. Don’t get into petty fights at home. Try not to say things you’ll regret. Use your time gently and well.
3) Feeling anxious and afraid is normal, natural, rational, and above all fine. The problem here is the uncertainty. In normal circumstances, whenever we sing ‘God Be With You Till We Meet Again,’ we know all things being equal exactly when that ‘meeting again’ will be. Terms begin and end to a rhythm set by the Usher and me years in advance. Now, what you are experiencing is a paradigm shift. This time, with a pandemic, even the Usher’s daily updates to your parents cannot decree when the school will reopen. This grieves me more than I can tell you, but I can promise you that we shall reconvene the moment it is safe to do so.
"I can promise you that we shall reconvene the moment it is safe to do so."the Master
4) Be kind and patient. To yourself, and to all around you. In person, and on social media.
5) Keep talking. To each year group, I have something to say:
To our Second and Third Form: you make noise all the time anyway. Don’t stop now – stay in touch with one another. Supporting your classmates is more important than ever now.
To our Lower and Upper Fourth: this pandemic has hit at peak puberty. Don’t retreat to your room and turn your duvet into a cesspit. Wash. Speak. Read.
To our Fifth Formers: I am gutted for you. All that GCSE slog, and you don’t get to own the room and show the examiner all that you know and can do. But please be assured that we have your back. Whatever happens regarding exams – and there will be clarity soon -, we will be on it. This is where being at MCS and our track record, plus all your work so far, will come good. Next term, you will start your Lower Sixth work, just in a different way. Whatever happens, the learning you have done has enriched you.
To our Lower Sixth: remember we are here for you. Will we have forgotten this time next year all you went through? No. We have your back, too. You will continue to work towards your A Levels next term as normal via remote learning. And we’ll figure out a fair way of selecting Senior Prefects in due course.
To our Upper Sixth: I know you will all still be reeling from yesterday’s news. So am I, and so are all of your teachers. This is an unprecedented situation, but what I can promise you is that we are here to support you. Quite apart from exams – and there will be direction on this soon -, you are our Leavers and we will celebrate you. We will make something happen. I am hopeful we will be able to reconvene in the summer, but if it has to be a virtual experience then so be it. We have our ways.
" I know you will all still be reeling from yesterday’s news. So am I, and so are all of your teachers. This is an unprecedented situation, but what I can promise you is that we are here to support you. "the Master
6) Remember that family members annoy you and love you. That goes with the turf.
7) Be kind. I’ve said that – it bears repeating.
8) Read. Project Gutenberg and Google Books have thousands of books online. Many of you have Kindles. Visit the library before you go and take some books out – we can’t fine you for their being a bit overdue at this point, can we? Make the most of that.
9) Exercise at home. I’m rekindling my summer plank challenge. That’s something to look forward to! Get some fresh air every day.
10) Develop enjoyment of the small things. Notice them. Write down something good that happened every day. There will be something. When we return, I am going to ask you if you’d mind sharing some diary entries and reflections about what Covid-19 meant to you. The thing is, I’m a historian, and we haven’t witnessed a pandemic since 1918. What you are oing through is something that nobody living, apart from very, very few very elderly people, have ever known – and they probably don’t remember it. Your thoughts and daily life have always been precious, but they really are now. As Philip Larkin put it: Where can we live but days? Record how you feel. Share it with your family and friends. Keep talking, and bear witness to what we are experiencing.
"What you are going through is something that nobody living, apart from very, very few very elderly people, have ever known - and they probably don’t remember it. Your thoughts and daily life have always been precious, but they really are now."the Master
11) Registration for lessons will end at 10 am. Yes, 10 am. So if you are one of those people who struggles with the mornings, this pandemic is potentially your friend. That said, get some structure around your days. Firefly will have tasks for you based around your lessons, and there will be forums and other tasks in which you can participate and which you will need to complete. Some of those sessions will be in real time, and some of them will be with a longer time period which will be up to you. Some of you will need to show up for virtual lessons at 9 am. Sorry about that…. Please don’t miss them. We shall be keeping an eye on your participation, because we want to check in with you. If you are not in evidence online, your tutors will be in touch.
It is I suspect a very poorly-kept secret how much love I have for you all. So keep washing your hands – what a life skill that is, everyone – and find something good and even to be treasured in this time. I shall miss you, and I look forward to welcoming you back to Big School.
"It is I suspect a very poorly-kept secret how much love I have for you all. So keep washing your hands - what a life skill that is, everyone - and find something good and even to be treasured in this time."the Master
It takes more than a virus to keep a great school down. Keep in touch, and keep going. Stay safe and well, and keep the spirit of Big School in your hearts until we meet again.