Teachers aren’t front-line responders – we’re collateral damage

I’m a teacher. Currently, the media talks about us as part of the front-line response team. I don’t really agree that we’re in the same category as the medical profession, who actually trained and signed up to work with sick people or soldiers who signed up to protect.

I see us more as collateral damage. We are here as the powers-that-be think that by maintaining normalcy for children, it will calm the panic.

Students are well aware that things aren’t normal.Credit:Virginia Star

I would like to tell the people making these decisions that the students are well aware that things aren’t normal and we actually want people to calmly panic and change their normal lives so they stay away from each other.

It’s a very mixed message you send children and teens when you say "hey, sure, come to school, it’s all OK here", but then the minute they walk out of the gate, they are told to "stay away, no playdates, no hanging out, keep your two metres distance". We need to cease this "normal" rubbish and all go home and stay there.

As we have limped our way towards the end of term, more students are absent and since "distance learning" is yet to be implemented, there is no requirement to send work home. It becomes stressful as an educator, then, to work out how to proceed — do you continue teaching the units of work you were up to or do something different, knowing that you’ll have to repeat things?

Are we saying goodbye to students just for the holidays or much longer? We have attempted to counsel and reassure students, to explain what is going to happen with school (or their Year 12) and discuss the virus itself. We have waded through the continual deluge of emails about the crisis and the message that we should be prepared for distance learning.

Meanwhile, you are managing your own anxiety about the pandemic and apparent lack of concern from the federal government for teacher health — we are expected to continue working in groups numbering hundreds while the rest of society is asked to work on their own.

It’s hard to smile and sound stoic when you feel like the world around you is falling to pieces. We wonder how distance learning works for vulnerable students or those with no technology. We wonder how we photocopy work to post if we are supposed to be staying at home. Flicking over to "distance learning" isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Teachers recently completed audits of our homes to determine their OHS suitability. Mine failed dismally. We have no space where I can set up a computer away from my children, there are trip hazards everywhere (children again), cords snake to plugs metres away, I don't have an ergonomic chair or a screen at a height where my neck isn’t stretched downwards.

The other day, my laptop narrowly missed drowning in a chocolate milk drink as my son enthusiastically told a story using hand gestures. Internet can be slow if it’s loaded with usage and my phone’s battery is crummy, so I’ll have to sit on the floor next to the plug to speak to students.

The crisis has unleashed immense challenges for teachers in both their professional and private lives.

This audit will mean nothing because I doubt an OHS representative will turn up to fix my problems. In the grand scheme of things, my issues are fairly trivial, but the audit is just another example of the government ticking a box to say they briefly considered our health. And then they left us to manage.

I also feel rising anxiety about how I am supposed to deal with remote teaching at the same time as home schooling my own children. They argue at the best of times, and I never have enough time to sit with all of them and help with homework, so this is going to be a nightmare. I lack time mainly because I’m too busy planning and marking my own school work.

I’m fully aware that we are in the lucky basket — we have employment and a continued (at this stage) wage. There are significant challenges facing our students and their families and we will certainly help as best we can, but the distance will make our usual care far more difficult.

In these challenging times, I suppose I want parents to remember that this will be a first for teachers, too, and many of us will be attempting to manage our own lives and possibly children at the other end of the computer or phone. So expect noise and chaos as part of home learning … we’re used to it, but now we’ll be in it together.

The author, who asked to remain anonymous, works in a government school.

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