From The President - How much more?
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 3, 11 May 2020, page no.7
Teachers and principals are working harder than ever before because of COVID-19.
The teaching profession has had to create solutions to problems rarely encountered, in impossible timeframes, in the context of a global pandemic that presents an existential threat to entire communities, if uncontrolled. So far, we have delivered beyond expectation, but how much more can be asked and achieved?
The old adage goes that a frog in water slowly brought to the boil will die before realising it is in danger. This is absolute nonsense of course; all animals are hard wired to fight or flee from danger.
What then of the teaching profession, being called upon by the community to provide stoic service on the frontline by continuing education through multiple delivery modes to multiple cohorts of students, under rapidly changing rules, while managing their own personal and professional wellbeing and that of their family? The incremental increase in expectations is not without limits.
Let’s get one thing clear, the ongoing public discourse describing schools as “closed” served a political purpose and denied our reality. In Queensland, schools were open on day one of Term 2 and providing educational supervision for a limited number of students face-to-face while delivering remote learning for students required to learn at home. Some 90,000 students and about 60,000 staff have been learning and working in our schools, while 500,000 students learn at home. 160,000 of those students learning at home will be required to return to school from 11 May.
There are some members who have called on the Union to advocate for schools to be closed and all learning moved to a remote mode indefinitely. Others have vehemently argued that schools should immediately be available to all. Ultimately, state governments run schools and it is the government that makes decisions about when and how schools are open. Parents, principals, the other education sectors and unions all had views, and the ultimate decision doesn’t look like any one of those but represents an amalgam.
The Queensland plan of a staggered return to school is a mid-point between the diabolical “one day per week per year level over four days” attendance model concocted in New South Wales and the “everyone back immediately” decisions of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. While we have heard much about the relief of some parents at the chance to be freed of their role in monitoring student learning at home, the real consequences of the Queensland plan fall on teachers and principals. By the time you read this, another huge amount of work will have been completed to be ready to welcome four year-levels back to school for face-to-face lessons. Much more will have to be done to be ready to reopen schools on 25 May for all students, that is work that will be completed while continuing to deliver supervision for the children of essential workers and vulnerable children who are already at school and providing remote learning for the students learning at home.
The logistical requirements of the return to school are placing massive pressures on principals. A new regimen of school operations must be developed to enforce social distancing requirements for all adults, parents and school staff inside the school grounds. New school rules must be determined to enforce social distancing for all students other than while those students are in the classroom involved in classroom activities. As educators we all know making rules is one thing, someone must enforce those rules to make them reality, especially for our youngest students. Top this off with new timetables and other matters, and all for a two-week period before more change.
The work of principals has been made much harder by the antics of conservative politicians such as Andrew Laming in the Redlands, who not only actively encouraged parents to ignore the rules for school operation but urged them to call the police if a school principal didn’t accede to their demands. The state opposition has added to this pressure by repeatedly making public statements contradicting the decisions of the state government, not based on evidence, but simply because they have nothing else to say on education.
Schools are short of staff, some thousands of workers being required to work at home because they are themselves vulnerable or living with a vulnerable person. Those workers, including teachers and school leaders, cannot easily be replaced due to mismatches in location of replacements, subject expertise of replacements or isolation factors including bio-security measures and accommodation arrangements in specific communities.Schools are also now required to reallocate budgets committed to programs to support children to pay for basic staffing, given that workers required to work from home are not on leave and their replacement is deemed by the Department to be a school purchase. Principals are in an invidious position no matter how we look at it.
Schools are, and will always continue to be, a foundation stone for the whole community. A throw-away line from some in the media in recent weeks has been how much more teachers and principals are appreciated after parents have had to live and work with their own children for the past few weeks.
Even accounting for the timing of this statement, this is somewhat insulting to parents and educators, many of whom have long and positive partnerships in the best interests of children. Our role as professional educators has never changed. We can and will continue to do our best to do what must be done. As the community as a whole digs deep to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, the natural limits of people and systems are close, if not already exceeded. Solidarity is even more critical now and together we can get through it.