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We should be thanking teachers for their pandemic response – not attacking them

For most school leaders and classroom teachers the last twelve months have probably been the most difficult of their careers.

Finola Wilson

They have had to get to grips with new and often complex ways of working and teaching remotely, and when they have been able to return to the classroom they have had to implement strict new rules on sanitation and social distancing.

In simply trying to do their jobs they have faced unprecedented pressures and at times risked their own health and safety.

And yet when these educators or their representatives have spoken out about their concerns of returning to face-to-face teaching, both for their own safety and for that of their pupils, they have been attacked in sections the press and on social media for being ‘lazy’, or ‘cowardly’, or ‘whingers’.

These narratives were common in certain corners of the media before Covid, but recently they have taken on a sinister new dimension, with some commentators even going so far as to accuse teachers of wilfully damaging children’s education.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve been told we are all ‘in this together’, yet at times it has felt like support for the teaching profession has all but disappeared. It’s no wonder so many teachers are feeling exhausted, demoralised and under-valued.

That’s why we need to change the narrative, to celebrate teachers and to extol the virtues of what they have done and how hard they have worked under incredibly difficult circumstances.

Teaching is a difficult and high-pressure job at the best of times; studies have shown that teachers are more likely to suffer work-related stress than many other professions.

When schools were first closed to most pupils last March, teachers were expected to adaptovernight to entirely new ways of working. All teachers, even those who were in the ‘hub schools’ looking after the children of key workers, had to set up new remote learning systems to deliver their lessons online.

Not only were they using new and often unfamiliar technology, in many cases, but they were also putting into practice entirely new skills, sometimes at short notice with little or no guidance.

Teaching online is markedly different to teaching face to face. Learning is a transaction, and when there is a screen between teacher and learner the nature of that transaction drastically changes.

We know that holding learners’ attention and getting them to stay focused is a huge challenge in a face-to-face environment, so it stands to reason that doing it online is even more difficult. What’s more, it’s not enough for learners to simply be exposed to the learning, something has to be done with it for it to have any impact.

In addition to dealing with these challenges, many teachers who are also parents have had to home school their own children at the same time. These are the sorts of complexities and nuances that have been completely missed by the media and online critics.

And yet teachers have not only risen to the challenge, but in many cases they have gone above and beyond what is expected of them. They have taken the opportunity to improve their own professional learning, to expand their knowledge, to research new teaching techniques, and to put them into practice.

We’re all tired, we’re all stressed, and we all want this to be over so things can go back to normal as soon as possible. Teachers want those things too. They also want to keep themselves and their pupils safe.

So instead of attacking teachers, let’s thank them for their extraordinary had work, their resilience and their commitment, and let’s celebrate them for going above and beyond for our children.

Finola Wilson is a former teacher and the director of Impact School Improvement, a Wales-based educational company that works with schools and teachers across the UK.