The wellbeing of teachers shouldn't be an afterthought in the battle of COVID-19

The wellbeing of teachers shouldn’t be an afterthought in the battle of COVID-19

I love my job. I love working with our future leaders. I love motivating them to ask questions and guiding them towards an answer. I love seeing a student grasp a skill for the first time. I love the innate compassion and curiosity kids have, and the surprising things I hear come out of their mouths.

These are some of the reasons why I, and so many other teachers, feel passionate about the work we do. And it is for these reasons that teachers all over the country are feeling dismayed by the way we and our students are being treated at this moment.

Over the weekend, the debate raged over the closure of schools. Disunity loomed as states threatened to break away from federal rhetoric. Meanwhile, teachers all over Australia readied themselves for yet another day in the classroom; braced for questions that we could not answer and restrictions that we would not be able to adhere to.

The Prime Minister told the country that a distance of 4sqm should be observed when in enclosed spaces, while simultaneously stating that schools would remain open. For those of us who are in classrooms every day, the question was: ‘How?’

Teachers all over the country are as vulnerable to this virus as anyone else. As a predominantly female workforce, we know that teachers live with those who have compromised health, as their parents and carers.

We also know that schools are inevitably a hotbed of germs. No amount of hand washing and sanitiser is going to eliminate the damage done by sucked thumbs and hand holding.

Ministers interviewed have talked about how children should be kept away from grandparents, yet there has been no thought given to those teaches who are also grandparents. We have been told that children are low risk agents, however, there is a double standard applied as nursing homes and shopping centres close their doors to children under 12.

At the start of last week, we were told that all technology was off limits until schools had procured disinfectant wipes to clean devices between users. The following day it became clear that disinfectant wipes were many weeks off delivery. In the meantime, every teacher I knew had observed their students sharing pencils, whiteboards, desks, skipping ropes and play equipment. We scratched our heads and wondered what we were meant to do.

As this virus continues to spread, teachers are being asked to double up as counsellors and cleaners. We are trying to reassure our students, while asking them to maintain distance and obsessively wash their hands. We are desperately trying to wipe down surfaces that never end.

On top of this we are trying to develop innovative ways of teaching and learning, so when the inevitable happens and the schools close, we can still deliver the curriculum to our students. Teachers are not being given additional time to develop these skills, nor are they being given professional support to make this happen. We have been told that we need to develop the future of learning NOW, but without any extra time or resourcing to do so.

Yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian stated that teachers would be delivering the same units of work to students who were at home and at school. There was no thought given to the fact that delivering content in a physical classroom is extremely different to delivering content to an online classroom. Teachers were now being asked to complete two jobs.

The role that schools play in the structure of society is clearly a crucial one. We do not want to be disadvantaging our health and emergency workers, and consequently our health system by closing schools. However, it is imperative that we examine ways in which schools can provide support for these families without compromising the health and wellbeing of its teachers and their families. The lack of consultation and communication with teachers leaves many feeling unappreciated and inconsequential– sadly familiar territory.

Now, more than ever, our teaching workforce should be mobilised; made to feel valued and clear of the road ahead. As we hurtle towards an education revolution, we will rely on teachers in ways we never imagined. It’s critical that we are welcomed into the conversation, rather than left waiting for the next press conference to find out our fate.

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