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The Value of Teachers

The whole debate about whether schools should remain open during Covid-19 has highlighted some of the issues in education that pre-existed the virus and its impact on our lives. The main takeaway, as far as I can see, is how we value teachers in our broader society. And clearly, that is not so much.

I totally get that it would be difficult to try and educate your kids at home, especially while you are yourself trying to work. (Indeed, I always vowed that my kids would not be home schooled because someone - probably me - would be arrested for homicide). I get that people don't want their kids, or any kids, for that matter to be 'left behind' as a result of extended absence from school. But again, this worry serves to highlight another issue with our system - that we expect all kids to complete their education in a specific and set time period, regardless of differentiation. It also suggests that education is linear, with no time or space for the rabbit holes kids will gladly jump into if they are given opportunity. And just like for Alice, the rabbit holes are often where the real education for life happens.

But back to teachers. Having been a classroom teacher myself for many years, I am immediately more qualified to make judgments about what happens in schools than most politicians, who aside from presumably having gone to school at some point, know nothing at all about education. Which is why teachers feel so annoyed that they have once again not been consulted regarding what should happen during Covid-19. The reality of most schools (due, I might add, to funding cuts to education over many years) is that most classrooms are not of a size where 25 - 30 students and their teacher can practice any form of social distancing. I know, I know, ScoMo says that's not necessary based on some statistical study. But the same ScoMo has also emphasised keeping grandkids away from their grandparents to stop the spread, especially to those who are vulnerable. Does he know that there are a good number of teachers and school officers who are themselves grandparents? So they can't see their own grandkids but they can see and be in close proximity to someone else's? It is actually very difficult to teach, whether in a primary or secondary setting and maintain a safe distance from anyone else. And, as far as social distancing in the staffroom goes...the staffroom I last occupied was an overcrowded glorified broom closet. No social distancing possible even if your life depended on it. Which, in this case, of course, it does. Beyond all that, though, regardless of statistics, (and we all know we can make them say whatever we want), it only takes ONE person in a school environment to contract the virus and the curve will be shooting to the heavens in a heartbeat.

ScoMo recently exhorted teachers to stay on track and keep doing their jobs. They were already overworked, underpaid and undervalued: rarely consulted about the education system they are required to work in, with little or no autonomy (i.e. respect or trust) given in terms of what they teach or how. Most teachers have done exactly as he asked and hung in there, working even harder to convert their lessons to be deliverable on-line. Overtime or pay rise to compensate? Don't be ridiculous! Let's not forget this is a system where soap in most bathrooms is considered a bit of a luxury. Technology? Most days, in my last school, working technology was considered something of a miracle, with things not working properly more often than being a valuable asset to learning. From chatting to others, it seems that this is a fairly universal complaint. We have already seen online systems crash, and I would be willing to bet that a seamless crossing over to working online is a rarity rather than the norm. So it is little wonder that there is a push to return to 'normal' schooling ASAP.

All things considered, teachers are getting an even stronger dose of the lack of respect they had before the Coronavirus. This idea that teachers are important as a commodity but not valuable as people is coming across loud and clear. My bet is that this will be the last straw for many teachers (and nurses for that matter - another undervalued member of society) and they will start to leave in (bigger than before) droves; if not because they are afraid of catching the virus, then because the stress of being stretched too far has finally pushed them over the edge. What will life look like after the virus? It should trigger a long hard, considered look at our education system. But it will more likely result in a system with the few teachers who are left burnt out, pissed off and hanging in there because that is how they pay their bills. Is that what we want for our post-corona education system?

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