opinion

An ode to our teachers, who are proving to be true superheroes during the coronavirus outbreak.

How good are our teachers? Seriously?

While the rest of us practise social distancing while working from home with intermittent trips to the supermarket to check if there’s any loo paper, our teachers continue to work in schools where the very concept of social distancing is absolutely laughable.

What would social distancing even look like within a school? Classrooms are places where, even in the best of times, teachers are having to continually remind their students: hands off, feet off. And many of the classrooms they teach in are brimming to capacity as it is, so the very idea of meterage between bodies is as impossible as it is absurd.

Watch: Our very own Claire Murphy breaks down your most answered questions about COVID-19. Post continues below.

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And while the rest of us google things like: will a mask prevent corona? Our teachers are standing before their classes, saying the same things they’ve always said: stop chewing your shoelace, does someone need to use the toilet? And please use a tissue.

Now they’ve added a new refrain to the perpetual chorus on hygiene: wash your hands very well with soap, sneeze into your sleeve and wash your hands again, you can’t wash them too many times!

It’s certainly a great time to be a kid because as the evidence shows thus far, children aren’t affected by coronavirus as profoundly as adults.

It’s a pretty ordinary time to be a teacher though because although the general population is being advised to protect themselves in all the practical ways they can, teachers are expected to go about business as usual. I’ve always known that teachers are superheroes but seriously – even Superman had kryptonite.

This isn’t a new story. The expectation we have of our teachers is unreasonable and it has been for a very long time.

Their workloads are untenable, their conditions unsatisfactory and their voices unheard. For too long, our education system has been surviving on the good grace of our superhero teachers – so many of them wish to leave the profession but they stay for the kids and because they love the job so much.

And this is why we see our teachers continuing to turn up to their classrooms in the face of this pandemic.

Certainly – they’re going to work because the government says they have to. But teachers are showing up – not striking – because they know the value of the work they do.

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They know that right now their students and their families need consistency, routines and reassurance. They know that kids are feeling scared and frustrated and anxious. They know that they’re providing the reassuring, familiar face that students and families need. They know that they are key lynchpins in the economic wheel. They know that their students need normalcy and distraction.

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In addition, our teachers are fielding the unique emotional needs of our young people as they experience this major health crisis.

They’re placating little ones with gentle reassurance, informing bigger ones with age-appropriate facts, and assisting the biggest ones with plans to navigate the potential disruption of their all-important senior year.

Right now, teachers are required to give of themselves in personal and emotional ways that are incredibly challenging – most mere mortals couldn’t do it.

And as they provide this service, teachers are swallowing down their own concerns and anxieties and vulnerabilities.

They’re living in perpetual hope that someone will step up and advocate for them – making a call that protects them as individuals and valued citizens.

They’re talking amongst themselves about what the tipping point will be for them personally as they consider their own needs and the needs of their families.

They’re dreading the time-consuming and burdensome task of shifting entire learning experiences online – although when that might happen is uncertain which, of course, adds to their sense of anxiety.

So what can be done? How can we support our teachers as they support our children?

We need to start valuing them – and not just right now when the chips are down and times are tough. But beyond the pandemic, when things are normal and we’re back to worrying about school sores and head lice.

We need to celebrate and honour our teachers. We need to recognise the highly personal yet professional work they do. We need to thank them for the commitment they show to our children every single day and most especially during times of crisis.

We need to stop demanding things of them and start asking them what they need to do their work well. We need to listen to them. We need to elect governments that treasure teachers and who let them do their work without telling them how it should be done. We need to advocate for them and speak up on their behalf.

We need to recognise our teachers for the superheroes that they are and start treating them accordingly.

Feature Image: Getty.

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