Teaching in Australia in the time of Corona Virus
When did teachers become so expendable?
I wake every couple of hours and even though I am not quite fully awake I take in a big breath. I check for the burn that you get when you have a respiratory virus, the burn that means you are going to wake up feeling unwell or on the cusp of being unwell.
When the air flows freely through my lungs and returns with a soft puff through my lips I turn over and slide back into a restless worried sleep. I dream of children and wake suddenly realising that I have been actively thinking for some time but in that half sleep state of flux.
A couple of weeks ago , we had just come to the end of a relatively normal week where no one looked at anyone with suspicion if they coughed or sneezed and hand sanitiser dispensers hadn’t yet been installed in every classroom, nor had the directive that we don’t shake hands or hug one another even been uttered. A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister of Australia simultaneously announced that gatherings of 500 or more would be discouraged the Monday coming and then attended a 2000 strong Hillsong convention. Apparently Sunday was OK for such large gatherings but on Monday not. Go figure.
A couple of weeks ago we were reminded that this was the same great leader who went on holiday to Hawaii while Australia burned. A man who puts religious freedom above human rights. A man that can’t be trusted to lead in times of crisis.
So excuse me for feeling confused and slightly scared when I hear that while all Australians are encouraged to distance themselves from others; to stop shaking hands, hugging and generally making contact with others, and that most workers will begin working remotely, that schools are to remain open despite the population of most Australian Schools being 500 plus students.
Excuse me for feeling flabbergasted when the Prime Minister of this country, when questioned about schools being open and the fact that there are large numbers of children in schools, makes a flippant remark like “Schools will remain open, just maintain a distance of 1.5m from one another, it’s quite straight forward.”
There is nothing “straightforward” about any of this. If anyone has worked with children they will know that “social distancing” is virtually impossible. Children have no concept of this and I am not about to turn into a dictator and start insisting that they keep away from one another. It would scare and confuse them. It’s enough to just get them to wash and sanitise their hands a few times a day.
Excuse me for feeling scared and confused when I am told (not asked) that to leave my work place because I am feeling vulnerable, will mean that I am abandoning my workplace and will no longer be on the payroll and that I probably shouldn’t go out and make any large monetary commitments right now because “who knows what will happen in the future.”
Excuse me for then expressing concern that we are carrying on assemblies and large gatherings in our own albeit small school. To then have those concerns dismissed without a further thought.
Excuse me for feeling invisible when no one, not even our great leader, utters the word “teacher” when talking about schools. “Children are not overly affected by Covid 19,” we hear. “Children will only get minor symptoms or will show no symptoms at all.” “Children will contribute to herd -immunity.” “Children need to stay at school so parents can work.”
Excuse me for feeling like I am expendable and that my contribution is insignificant. We have teachers who are pregnant, teachers who are over 50, teachers with elderly and frail parents, teachers with every thing that people who don’t teach have. We are part of this population.
We hear that Australia is following the the Singapore model of keeping schools open. Have you seen the footage of those schools? Teachers are supplied with gloves and masks and the children have their temperature checked every morning when they arrive. If their temperature is high they get sent home. Where is the protection for schools and teachers in Australia? Some lower socioeconomic schools have no soap and no paper towels; some schools are so overcrowded that chances of catching something, not just Covid 19, is extremely high.
I work in an independent community school so I originally thought “great, the independent schools will probably make their own decisions about closing”. Then I read that our Prime Minister has “blackmailed” the independent and Catholic schools into staying open or he will withdraw Government funding. What a great leader. He has sent his own children to school but I bet he has ensured that every precaution has been taken so that they will remain safe.
In the mean time we see and hear about the hell that Italy and Europe are going through. How their hospitals are full and there are not enough ventilators. We see the chaos in Australia because people have started hoarding. We have teachers and early childhood carers feeling abandoned and forgotten. We have uncertainty and confusion. Why one rule for some but not for others? Why has there been no logical and measured response to these people who have no idea what is going on? Twitter is full of stressed and distressed teachers venting to the world.
I realise that all this is new and unprecedented for everyone but there is leadership with compassion and there is leadership by dictatorship. I watch with tears in my eyes as Jacinda Adern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand speaks to her people and announces her Virus Alert System and keeps them informed in a calm, controlled and compassionate way. She has a plan and she has informed the people of New Zealand just what that plan is and how it will play out. Scott Morrison has a plan but you can be assured that it doesn’t have much to do with saving lives and a lot to do with keeping the rich in his pocket.
Now and the future...
In the mean time they say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” so I will rejoice each week that I wake and still feel healthy. I will rejoice the fact that I have an income and I will rejoice the fact that through all this the children remain my focus and the reason for me going into work each day.