Editorial: It's time to celebrate us!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 6, 3 September 2021, page no.5
I don’t know about you, but when I saw the most recent health direction on border closures stating that teachers were “non-essential”, I felt like I had been kicked in the guts. There in black and white was a clear statement about what the government, or at least QHealth, thought of our profession.
I considered how they could have expressed it differently. If they had said something like “not critical to the ongoing provision of essential health services”, then maybe that would’ve been more acceptable. But to have them determine that our profession was not essential was demoralising and disrespectful.
For more than 12 months, teachers and school leaders have received accolades for their work in keeping schools open and keeping students learning. The agility with which schools have turned from face-to-face to remote learning and managed the many disruptions caused by the pandemic should not be underestimated.
But it’s about more than that. Schools are the heart of their communities, and teachers and school leaders are fundamental in providing safe learning environments for students and are the point of contact for so many things that go on in a student’s life.
Teaching also provides the foundation for all other professions. Without schools, teachers and leaders, children would not become doctors, lawyers, tradespeople, even politicians.
It is also symptomatic of a greater problem – the lack of respect that we as teachers and school leaders continue to receive. It comes from a simple turn of phrase, such as being called non-essential. It comes from our federal politicians, who fail to include the profession when making decisions about education. It comes from people believing that what goes on in schools can be defined by a series of data sets, when we all know that data only tells part of the story and cannot measure the energy, empathy and encouragement that teachers and school leaders provide every day. It comes from people thinking that teaching and leading begins and ends between 9 and 3 during term time, even though the work that teachers and school leaders do often extends beyond 42 hours per week and into holidays, despite all our best efforts to gain control of workload.
But it also comes from us. Sometimes I think that our profession is its own worst enemy. How many times have you heard a student say that they want to become a teacher and then heard a colleague ask them why, not out of curiosity about what attracted them to teaching but with a “why would you” tone? Whether it comes from feeling undervalued, or from a place of exhaustion, I am sure we have all heard it.
Recently, my daughter, who finishes year 12 this year, has told people that she wants to become a maths/history teacher. It saddened me that, instead of encouragement and pride, she was asked why and then questioned whether there was anything else she would like to do.
If we are to truly restore respect in our profession, then it has to come from us in the first instance. How can we expect others to celebrate teachers if we don’t celebrate ourselves?
How can we expect others to vote for education if we don’t vote for our own profession? How can we negotiate for improved conditions if we can’t show how essential, and how valued and how respected, our profession is?
I used to say that our students are our legacy. After they leave school and have children of their own, they will cast their minds back to that one teacher who inspired them and just “got them”, who made school a safe space for them to learn and grow, and they will speak about them to their children.
I recently heard from a former student, who told me that she and her friend, another former student, often spoke to their own children about myself and a colleague as teachers who they respected and who had left an imprint on them as an adult. It made me think about my "one teacher", and I realised I was lucky enough to have three.
There was the English teacher who helped me find my voice and taught me it was okay to march to the beat of my own drum and not follow the same path as my older sisters. There was the senior maths teacher who responded patiently to my questions about when I would ever use Maths 1 when I left high school. And there was the economics teacher who opened my eyes to a new subject that I loved so much that it became the subject I wanted to teach when I left school.
How does this connect to rebuilding the respect in our profession? Well, we need to start talking about that one teacher. We need to start sharing our stories and reminding ourselves and the community what it is that teachers and school leaders do that is so much more than teaching the curriculum.
So, at your next branch or workplace meeting, I'm asking you to talk about that one teacher. And if you want to share it more widely, record a short video (30 seconds to 1 minute) about that teacher and share it with the QTU. And we will share it on our social media as a reminder to all those that think we are non-essential, or who disrespect us, exactly why our profession is the best that there is.
Imagine the power of 48,000 teachers sharing their respect for our profession. It’s time that we celebrate us.