As parents and carers across the UK, and the world, are having to grapple with providing an education for children as schools are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will this crisis lead to teachers and fellow school staff gaining the respect and recognition they deserve?
Its long been felt by those working in and around the education sector that teachers are widely undervalued and underpaid. Despite being the bedrock of children’s learning experiences, the dedicated stewards of nurseries, schools and colleges are often faced with depleting resources because of funding cuts, while expectations around the kind of support they must offer pupils continues to grow.
In a 2018 survey by YouGov, 84% of teachers reported feeling that their profession is not valued by society. The astronomical figure represents declining morale among professionals we rely on to show enthusiasm every single day, as they strive to open children and young people’s eyes to something new, and enhance their understanding of the world we live in.
What is lockdown teaching us?
Since home learning began, in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, parents and carers have had to take on a large amount of the daily responsibilities of teachers. Businesses have had to make allowances for staff working from home who are now taking care of, and trying to teach, children of all ages, sometimes having to navigate the curriculum of several key stages. Colleagues are having to navigate the challenge of a small child fighting for their parent’s attention on a Zoom call.
All of a sudden, as a society we’re being forced to grapple with the fact that teachers are so much more than the guards of a building that children frequent each day while parents and carers go about their business. They are entertainers. They are social workers. They are inspirational speakers and motivational coaches. Their colleagues are providers of hot food, a sympathetic ear, and access to technology.
Not only are parents and carers having to try and adapt the usual curriculum into something more realistic, they are having to encourage children to do their schoolwork, help them when they hit a hurdle, and in many cases continue with a full-time job themselves.
What are teachers doing in lockdown?
While most schools are closed to most pupils, its vital to acknowledge the number of clusters and hubs that have stayed open throughout this time of uncertainty to care for the children and young people of key workers, and those with Education Healthcare Plans (EHCPs). Those pupils that most need this supportive and secure environment are lucky enough that not only teachers but entire teams of school staff have coordinated to find safe ways of opening up an education space every day. Without those, many NHS and social care workers would be unable to fill their vital duties to look after society’s most vulnerable.
Those that are working from home are going above and beyond to give pupils and parents alike the best remote learning experience possible. Through Zoom, Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams, Twitter and YouTube to name just a few, a multitude of platforms are being used to offer teaching and learning materials, tasks, and provide feedback. For some teachers, and even whole schools, this is their first experience of remote schooling, and so they’re having to grapple with the challenges of establishing effective ways of working while guiding others through at the same time.
Teachers are taking the time to offer reassurance for parents that their best will be good enough, and a broad and balanced curriculum can mean something different at home than it does in school as traditional timetables have inevitably had to change. And of course not all children have the same access to technology or wifi connection as peers, and so paper-based activities still need to be set, even alongside the government’s efforts to deliver laptops to disadvantaged pupils.
This is all while educating their own children and caring for loved ones throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
And that’s before we’ve even got to assessing exam grades, offering careers advice to school leavers, and preparing scientifically approved social distancing measures in case one political leader or another announces that schools should re-open.
Will this bring change for the profession?
For a myriad of reasons we’re being told life cannot return to business as usual, even when the health threat minimises and is hopefully eradicated. So many aspects of how we live, work and travel will change for the long term – and how the teaching profession is viewed must be included in this.
There is hope from experts that this period will alter the public standing of teachers for the better, as some parents suggest they are as worthy of the Thursday night Clap for Carers as NHS workers. ASCL’s Geoff Barton has called for a “national rebirth” for education when the UK emerges out of the Coronavirus woods. This sentiment of the need for a more human school system is echoed by many headteachers, particularly as staff will be dealing with the mental wellbeing implications of this period among pupils when schools reopen.
Plus, as the attainment gap emerges in coming months, even more work will be required by our teachers to speed up progress where possible, playing in their part in the global goal of ensuring no child is left behind.
A united stand
This recognition isn’t limited to the UK, but people across the world including in the United States, where respect for teaching is even lower than the UK, and Australia are having a moment of realisation in lockdown, that this profession can no longer be undervalued. Not only is this vital for teachers and support staff currently in post, but for future recruits too.
Just before lockdown was announced, a study found that only 30% of teachers agreed that hard work is rewarded, compared to 45% of all graduates. There’s only so long even the most enthusiastic, spritely educationalists can last in such an environment – and currently that stands at a mere five years for one in three teachers.
What’s important now is for teachers, and those looking upon the profession, to read and remember the recent words of Professor Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching:
“If ever you doubt your contribution, refuse to listen to the critics and instead spend your time responding to the warmth and appreciation of your community.”
Read more about the development of school staff via the IG Schools Workforce Handbook.