IF the quotes of history are to be believed, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk once said: “A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

The former president of Turkey, famed for his progressive reforms, died in 1938, but his opinion of educators resonates now as strongly as ever.

Since the Government’s decision to close the country’s schools, teachers have gone above and beyond to ensure educational standards are upheld - even if that means to their own detriment.

Downing Street’s last-minute U-turn earlier this month, influenced by the rising intensity of the coronavirus pandemic, has seen students and teachers alike swap classrooms for living rooms, and whiteboards for laptop screens.

But the technology so many of us now benefit from is not available to everyone, so physical study packs have also had to be prepared for some pupils.

The Government has distributed more than 560,000 devices since the start of the outbreak to support remote education.

But teaching pupils online can never truly replicate face-to-face interaction, nor the joy of being present when a pupil makes an educational break through.

Nonetheless, north Essex’s teachers are doing their best to make the most of a difficult situation for the sake of children’s futures.

Liz Bartholomew, headteacher at the Mayflower Primary School in Dovercourt, said: “We have had to completely adapt and we have rewritten the whole process of teaching really.

“We are trying to be as flexible and supportive as we can.

“We know that for some, doing three or four hours a day will be impossible, so we are in constant communication with our parents.

Gazette: Praise - Mayflower Primary School’s boss Liz BartholomewPraise - Mayflower Primary School’s boss Liz Bartholomew

“They are incredibly understanding and patient and we are supporting families as best we can.”

Teaching pupils of primary school age also poses additional struggles, not least when trying to explain the pronunciation of a letter to a four-year-old with a dodgy internet connection.

Staff at Mayflower School have therefore started to explore the benefits of pre-recording short lessons.

“Remote learning is far more challenging than face-to-face teaching and learning,” added Liz.

“Staff are getting to grips with it quickly, but we are not doing many live lessons, as this is not practical for all parents.

“But my staff have been amazing - they are throwing themselves into remote learning with passion and determination.”

Paige Veitch, who’s entire first school year within the profession has been hampered by coronavirus, teaches art and photography in Colchester.

She said: “It has been stressful and exhausting, but we are making it work.

“Having to change all of our lessons to be able to adapt to online teaching, as well as teaching art remotely is difficult.

Read more: Home schooling is under way again - and we want to see your pictures

“Most students do not have the supplies, so we are limited in what we can teach online. We have just put together art packs with supplies, so hopefully that will help them to progress while we are in lockdown.

“I think the students are adapting amazingly, I am still receiving high quality work even in these circumstances.”

For Paige, and so many other teachers, having to surrender the social and engaging aspects of their job to isolation has also been mentally challenging.

“It has been very difficult actually,” she added.

“The thing I love most about being a teacher is the fact that every day is different, and it is a social job.

“Going from that to staring at a screen for eight hours a day has been hard.”

Gazette: Virtual - Mrs Townsend, a Year 3 teacher at Kirby PrimaryVirtual - Mrs Townsend, a Year 3 teacher at Kirby Primary

Despite the mental struggles, another teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes working from home is the safest option for everyone's all round health given the current pandemic. 

She said: "Remote learning is hard on teachers because you just want to be with your class and be able to interact with the children in person.

"It is much harder to challenge a child's thinking or address misconceptions when teaching remotely.

"Despite this, many of us feel safer working at home which, despite the isolation, is better for mental health.

"Most parents that I have communicated with are very appreciative of the effort staff are going to and are happy with the work provided.

"But some are struggling with technology and some do feel overwhelmed."

Jamie Griggs, who works at the Harwich and Dovercourt High School, believes another problem with remote learning is the additional distractions of home life, which might hinder students.

The key to eradicating this has been to ensure his online lessons are as captivating as they would be in the classroom.

He said: “The transition from teaching in a physical classroom to a virtual environment poses several challenges.

“Distractions at home that students would have never encountered in school may also affect their engagement and ability to retain concepts.

“So, we have been coming up with creative approaches to learning.

“As teachers, we take advantage of the resources we have by blending traditional learning approaches with newer, more collaborative tools.

“All are vital in keeping a strange, yet lively online classroom environment.”

As was the issue with the first lockdown, during which schools were also closed, not all families have access to technological equipment.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who came under fire for suggesting parents should report schools to Ofsted if they are unhappy with the quality of remote learning, has said a further 440,000 laptops will be rolled out.

Charlotte Booth-Rylett, headteacher at the Kirby Primary School, said: “The main challenge is the inequality of accessibility.

“Some families have limited access to devices for online learning and not all learning platforms suit all types of devices.

"Not all learning platforms suit all types of devices and we are trying hard to work with a variety to ensure all children can engage.

"We differentiate learning in school to enable all children to access it and we are attempting to continue to do so but adding in the complexities of technology into the mix.

"But it is harder to make an holistic judgement of a child’s progress in these current conditions. The impact will be fully comprehended in time.

“There is a joy in working in the direct company of children that cannot be replicated through a digital interface.

Gazette: Adapting - Kirby Primary’s head Charlotte Booth-RylettAdapting - Kirby Primary’s head Charlotte Booth-Rylett

“But it is our firm belief that an engaging curriculum will maintain children’s interest."

The opinion that face-to-face learning will forever be superior, despite the speed at which digital advancements are now made, seems to be one which resonates with many teacher.

Speaking anonymously another north Essex teacher said: “Remote teaching is difficult.

"It is impersonal and isolating for the teachers and the children and will never be as good as face to face learning.

“I cannot imagine many teachers relishing remote learning BUT we know that we are now as safe as we can be. The anxiety surrounding the rising numbers of cases in our area meant education staff's mental well-being hit an all time low. 

“Teachers are adaptable and flexible at heart and have naturally embraced any challenges that are faced with remote-learning.

“We do this because we love our profession and all the parents that we have been in contact with have been supportive and positive.”

Just like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s observation summed up, it is within the DNA of teachers to put the needs of their pupils before anything else.

And when the schools shutdown concludes, they will continue to light the way, like they have throughout the darkness of the pandemic.

But at what expense?

“My staff are overwhelmed and it is their wellbeing I am concerned about,” said Liz.

“They are going to be wiped out and exhausted when all this is over, as am I.”

Here’s to our teachers.