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January 10, 2021

An Open Message about COVID-19 from a Teacher in the UK.

Notes on Coronavirus from a teacher.

“Frankly, children don’t get harmed.”

That’s a direct quote from a “Tory backbencher” (whatever that is? Politics isn’t my thing) right before they tossed us, armed with nothing but antibacterial spray and paper towels, back into the classroom.

Well, that’s great news about the children! What about us, though? We are the unsung heroes of the teaching industry. And even though I hesitate when I write that—because we aren’t out there saving lives while putting our own at risk like so many are—I do believe it to be true. We are the ones who have been fighting to give our children the best education we can, despite many saying the teaching unions are up in arms, battling to hold off school openings.

I know I can confidently speak for every single person in my profession when I say that we care deeply for your children as if they were our own. We want what’s best for them; we want to protect them and ensure that there are as few far-reaching consequences as possible for them. Why wouldn’t we?

We want to support their mental health—and yours, dear parent(s), trust me when I say that. 

But what about our mental health too? 

As much as the very out-of-touch might think it, we most certainly are not robots who live in our classroom cupboards, always able to whip an Ofsted-ready lesson plan from our derrière!

Primary educators across the country were launched back into a new term following the Christmas break. Right at the beginning of the next peak of the virus. Scientific advisors warned that it wasn’t going to be safe, and yet the British government insisted there was no fear. “Schools are the safest place for our children!” 

 

But what about us?

Will we have PPE (personal protective equipment)? No. Have we been vaccinatedNope

Any chance of us being on the list anytime soon? Not likely

Are we going to be able to keep safe distances between us and the children? Not on your nelly.

Classrooms are not designed for social distancing; they are designed for group work and collaboration. 

If they’re expecting us to teach from the front and arrange the desks in rows, they clearly haven’t stepped foot in a school since the Victorian era.

Before Christmas, my school found itself enforcing the strictest guidelines to combat any outbreaks: temperature checks, hand washing, dousing the children in enough hand sanitizer to make them spontaneously combust, keeping to bubbles at all times, and scrubbing the tables and chairs three times a day (often during our own breaks). 

This was before the new strain of COVID-19 was announced and running rampant, and we realized it could affect children as equally as adults.

We sacrificed our Christmas break—like so many others—at the 11th hour. The thought of those glorious few days that we could relax with family (who we perhaps hadn’t been able to see for a while) was gone. Despite going through one of the toughest terms we have ever faced.

Now, we find ourselves standing on the brink of a new term, poised for battle in nothing but our teaching clothes, brandishing a green pen. It was not okay for us to spend the holiday “boxing day” with our grandparents. But it was perfectly fine for us to be launched headfirst into a confined space with 30 children plus token figureheads from 30 separate households for 6 hours a day without any protection whatsoever.

Photographs of brave soldiers did the rounds on Facebook, wearing nothing but their uniform and a fabric face covering, administering COVID-19 tests over the Christmas period to the poor, stranded lorry drivers. They were lauded as heroes, and rightly so! I’ve heard some saying, “They didn’t sign up for this; they aren’t properly equipped in PPE.” 

Neither are we.

I wholeheartedly agree with their thinking. Unless you ran headlong into a career in the control or research of contagious diseases, who did sign up for this? But we are not seen as heroes. We weren’t clapped for, given free coffees or discounts in shops. The pay rise we had, after our previous seven-year pay freeze, was sneakily tweaked as the counties reshuffled their pay scale at the same time. How convenient.

All I am asking is that if you have no choice but to pack off your children to school this term, remember that we will do our best to keep your child safe and give them the best possible education because that is what we signed up for.

If you have to educate your child at home, please be kind—to us and yourselves. You are not teachers; your home is not a school, it’s where your child feels most loved and secure, and it should stay that way in these dark days of COVID-19. 

Learning how to cope with fraught emotions and frustrations will do them far more good in the long run than fronted adverbials. 

Trust me. I’m a teacher.

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