Teachers in the Front Line
Let me start by saying there isn’t a teacher in the country who wants their school to close. We would all prefer to be at the coalface teaching our kids. We wouldn’t be teachers if we felt otherwise. Not only that but teaching “online” fills a lot of us with a sense of dread - this one anyway. How do I teach Drama online? A considerable chunk of the curriculum involves practical work and much of it relies on collaboration. Groups of people working together. Closely. Not at a distance. Social or otherwise. It’s going to be challenging, to say the least.
But, as we all know, we live in challenging times, so we’ll find a way to teach our courses. We know how to be nimble and flexible, we know how to teach on the smell of an oily rag. We’ve been doing it for years - and years. When it comes to teaching and teachers, nothing is impossible. We delivered content to remote schools by the School of the Air long before the internet was ever dreamt of. We are an adaptable workforce. Trust us.
Which is why so many of us find it galling that we have been left behind in the deliberations about school closures. I have listened to interview after interview on the subject from journalists I greatly admire, and teacher welfare has barely been on their radar. All the talk has been about the unlikely event of students being affected by Covid19. For the adults who work in schools, not just teachers but ancillary staff, cleaners, special ed providers, support staff and everyone else, this has been deeply unsettling. Some are going as far to say that school-aged children are unlikely to be transmitters of the virus – which we know to be untrue. That is cold comfort to the adults working in schools who have family and friends who are in the high-risk category. For, as we all know, it only takes one infection to spread this deadly disease far and wide.
Ludicrously, some people have suggested “social distancing” as the solution to the threat of transmitting the virus in schools. You have to wonder if these people have ever been in a classroom or a playground. Asking children to sit 1.5 metres apart in a classroom is palpably absurd. Asking them to “keep the distance” in the playground is even more absurd.
The second argument has been that Health Workers and others in Essential Services need to go to work and that their children need to be taught and cared for. We totally get that. If there were school closures we’d readily put up our hands to volunteer for the task. What we’re asking for is some very creative thinking so that, in the event of this happening as it has in the Britain, we will be able to achieve some form of social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
And let’s be quite clear about this. As many people are arguing for school closures to prevent the spread of the virus, to lower the curve, as there are people who are arguing to keep them open. Dr Norman Swan, the people’s voice in this whole unfolding tragedy, has suggested that we need to close schools immediately. There are as many health professionals arguing for closure as there are to keep them open.
We don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions, but we do know how schools work and what it will take to make them safe environments in the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves confronting. Finding a way to accommodate the needs of those who cannot care for their children is of paramount importance. We all know that. We appreciate that closing schools is a drastic measure and will cause untold disruption.
I don’t pretend to know whether they should be closed or remain open. What I do know is that the adults who work in them should be consulted, considered and protected.