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To The Teachers Of Australia, We Say Thank You

And maybe, just maybe, this pandemic will have a silver lining

Over the past week, as COVID-19 reared its very real and ugly head, a fierce debate has raged about the children of this country. Should they go to school? Should they stay home? Who will look after them? What about their education?

Yet sitting squarely at the centre of this debate is you, our teachers. Our heroic, hard-working teachers, who – amidst the panic, confusion and political conflict – have quietly continued to carry out one of, if not the most, important job in society.

For many of you, this must have been scary. Children, we’ve been told, can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, while adults over 50 and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of serious infection. Yet we crammed you all into a classroom together while the public peered in and deliberated about your role and responsibilities. Some of you have said you felt like glorified babysitters, even sacrificial lambs and scapegoats.

It must have been unsettling as the rest of Australia was told to practise social-distancing, a laughable proposition for those spending their days with sprightly primary-schoolers or cynical teenagers. And let’s not even get onto the topic of hand-washing and hygiene (according to reports, some schools ran out of soap and sanitisers, with teachers funding supplies themselves).

It must have been horrible to receive abuse from parents – parents who were no doubt confused and fearful too, but who took it out on you. Mixed messaging from the Federal and State Governments on school closures this weekend was pitiful, and nobody blames parents for feeling anxious and uncertain. But you, our teachers, have been caught in the middle of the crisis. Or rather forced to the frontline.

Right now your future remains unclear. Victorian schools will close early for the holidays tomorrow; NSW schools remain open, though Premier Gladys Berejiklian encourages families to keep their children at home if they can. At the time of writing, Queensland’s teachers’ union is considering strike action. Meanwhile the Prime Minister insists that school will resume as normal across the country after the Easter holidays.

If and when classrooms do close, some will probably downplay what you do (lucky teachers clock off at 3.30pm every day, right?). But far from skiving off, you’ll be working tirelessly to prepare a new online syllabus, to support your students from afar, and to assuage stressed-out parents.

Perhaps there’ll be a silver lining. As parents and children are holed up at home, bickering over screen time and Tik Tok and times tables, a new appreciation for teachers will emerge. (Of course some parents will be faced with a rather uncomfortable truth: it wasn’t the teacher, but little Jackson, who was the problem all along.)

And maybe when this is over, when the sun appears from behind the clouds and our streets are filled with joy and laughter once more, we’ll make a promise not to take things for granted. And you, our dear teachers, will finally get the recognition you deserve.

Until then, we say thank you.

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