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Teachers asked to turn on a dime

  • 14 April 2020
Teachers are used to rolling with the punches; in any school day a hundred plans can change in a hundred different ways. But these are — to use the phrase of the year — unprecedented times.

The weeks before the school holidays were characterised by atypical levels of anxiety among teachers. In addition to the general society-wide COVID-induced stress, schools were deemed 'safe' and 'essential'. This was despite the extreme difficulty of maintaining the recommended social distancing and hygiene practices in these settings. Some schools were even running out of soap, while others had no appropriate hand-sanitiser.  

While we were given assurances by public figures that it was safe to send children to school, there was very little talk about the wellbeing of teachers in these environments. Additionally, the messages we were getting from the government were unclear: we were dealing with Schrodinger's children, who were simultaneously safe from virus, but also were a risk to their grandparents and the community if sent home. If they’re a risk to their grandparents, how were they not also a risk to their teachers?

I say this not to necessarily argue for school closures — no doubt there are some strong arguments for keeping schools open when at all possible — but to explain why anxiety was so high for many teachers. The high baseline levels of stress, the government's failure to provide clear messaging and schools' inability to enact best-practice hygiene policy left many school staff feeling like sacrificial lambs. Even with students at home, some teachers are being asked to physically attend school, where they have to share crowded staff rooms, toilets, and kitchen facilities with dozens of other people, from whom they struggle to socially distance.

Now teachers have, with little guidance and limited professional development, been asked to fundamentally redesign our schools. Good thing we were given a whole extra week of pupil-free days to achieve this goal.

I don't want to sound too ungrateful, because there isn't a playbook for this scenario, but if all it took to build a passable digital schooling ecosystem was a week of hard work, we'd have done it long ago. We haven't been asked to turn on a dime, we've been asked to pirouette.


'We often think of teachers as people who have all the answers. And, indeed, teachers are highly trained professionals with a specific skill set. They aren’t, however, perfect.'  

Teachers are resourceful, but