opinion

"As an Australian teacher right now, I feel like a sacrificial lamb."

When you are 60 you don’t really expect things to be unprecedented.

You sort of think that you have had experiences, or your parents had experiences, which they shared with you, that can prepare you for most things. The Great Depression taught us the adage ‘waste not want not’. War taught us ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

Drought, bushfires, floods, earthquakes, births, deaths and marriages (even of the same sex). We’ve been through it all and therefore these things to us have a precedent.

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Then along comes 2020. Unprecedented bushfire season. We’ve been visiting the same holiday spot for over 30 years, and this year, for the first time, we were told we were stupid for going.

“Didn’t you know how bad it was, you idiots?” we heard.

So the 2020 school year starts, and the bushfires are all anyone can talk about.

Then the virus hits the news.

A hint of school closures reminds me that there is a God and he has been listening to me whinging about the disengaged kids I am trying to teach and how I am not sure I have the patience to deal with other people’s rude, disrespectful offspring.

Not all of them, of course, but enough to make you wonder what the hell you are doing and why you don’t take up golf or go on your first cruise.

It is just the flu they say. The flu, unfortunately, will kill people every year. Just old people, they say, until they realise how bad that sounds and then they say those who are most vulnerable and words like comorbidity get googled.

Unprecedented flu season. That is all it is.

Then why has our country closed its borders? Why are businesses closed? Why are people working from home? Why are there some bare shelves in supermarkets? Why are family members self-isolating for two weeks after an overseas holiday?

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Why after 30 years of teaching am I not sure whether it is safe to go to school?

I understand schools are places that allow people to go to work. I remember the guilt lifting once my kids started school and for the hours between 8.30 and 3.30 all was right with the world.

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I could go to work guilt-free because my kids didn’t need me. I also remember sending them to school, trying to hide the last chicken pox mark.

Schools remaining open so that others can go to work could not have come at a worse time for teachers. We feel undervalued, criticised, unable to get students the PISA results so many ignorant people want them to get.

We’re told we’re consistently failing our students and their parents at a time in history when the teaching profession could not be more qualified and more accountable and more bloody great at what they do.

Keeping schools open and placing teachers at risk of contracting the virus seems to be the plan. As though we are sacrificial lambs.

Just this morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the country schools would stay open. The word ‘teachers’ was mentioned only once – in reference to us not coming to school if we are sick.

But what if our students – who can apparently be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 – pass it onto us? Those of us who are over 60, who might have pre-existing health problems, who might care for elderly parents?

Schools are the only place in Australia right now not abiding by the rules of social distancing. It’s not possible for staff and students to keep a safe distance from each other, there simply isn’t enough room. Morrison himself joked that there’s evidence that young people under the age of 16 aren’t very good at following protocols when it comes to hygiene and distancing, suggesting they therefore shouldn’t be in contact with people in aged care facilities.

But what about the individuals who educate those under 16s? Apparently we’re not worth considering.

Really, it would just be nice if when we talk about schools remaining open, the teachers did actually get a mention. Teacher morale is at an unprecedented low. We feel invisible. And in this discussion we are.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature image: Getty.

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