If you hark back to your own days at school and to your favourite teachers, it’s likely that those inspiring and influential educators you reimagined had two common qualities about them – they were firm, but fair.
The very best teachers make an art of this simple understanding. From a firm point of view, that teacher probably pushed you end expected great things from you. They likely even expected you to do things that you didn’t personally consider yourself capable of.
But they also are abundantly fair, in that they bring the love. These teachers know that underpinning big achievements are the softer qualities of support, encouragement and nurturing.
Each kid needs different expectations, and each kid needs different supports. And teachers that get this right are remembered for all the right reasons.
Today, we’re being firm with our Victorian Year 11 and 12 teachers. Let’s be clear. We have now placed an extraordinarily high expectation before these dedicated professionals.
While almost every other citizen is being implored to stay home, stay safe and to socially distance in only a handful of circumstances, our teachers have been told that they must head back into packed classrooms with sporadically compliant mask-wearing teenagers and to make the education magic happen.
Personally, I think most will be up to that challenge and embracing of the palpable risk. You see, encouraging risk-taking in the classroom is kind of their thing.
But sadly, the problem we have is that neither our State nor Federal Governments are prepared to be as fair with our teachers as they are expecting our teachers to be with their students.
To expect the face-to-face teaching of VCE students within a Stage 4 lockdown without any further support, especially in the form of a vaccine, is patently not fair.
To expect, as Acting Premier James Merlino has, our teachers to head back into a clearly risk-laden environment and to not be considered worthy of a similarly expediated vaccine blitz, as per workers in aged care facilities, is not fair.
To expect our teachers to wait their turn like every other citizen – enduring weeks and months while appointments for the preferred Pfizer vaccine is administered – is not fair.
There are countless teachers who are younger than forty, and these people are not yet even eligible for their first jab. There are pregnant teachers, there are teachers with underlying health concerns, there are teachers who are carers for the elderly and infirmed in their families.
A large proportion of teachers are parents themselves who will be heading home every evening to cook meals for their own families. These highly valuable professionals will be blindly guessing as to the risk to which they’re accessing their very own families.
To top it off, these teachers are already drained, demoralised and exhausted. They’ve just completed May, the month where teachers stress peaks amidst a flurry of NAPLAN compliances, report writing and the descension of winter lurgies.
This is all frightfully unfair. And those who demand this of our teachers and those who have failed to roll out a vaccination program that can support the sudden and risky deployment of them all back to the classroom should hang their heads.
Dr Zoe Hyde, a Perth epidemiologist who has made a point of carefully studying and publishing data about schools across the pandemic, has been clear and consistent in her messaging.
It’s a pity that our Prime Minister has lacked any such consistency since April 2020 when he uttered those absurdly convenient words “Schools are safe. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
If this were the case, Mr Morrison, we wouldn’t have needed to close North Melbourne PS in June of 2021. This treating of schools like political playthings is also alarmingly unfair to teachers and it’s a blight on our whole system that it’s still politically prudent.
Hyde, however, has been a beacon of respect and honesty. Her assessment and her ongoing validation of the risks of open schools to teachers and students is relevant, forthright and internationally informed. “Children and adults in schools are equally susceptible to transmit.”
Our Year 11 and 12 students returning to school is more than a matter of assuaging the alarmist view that these students, without a boast-worthy ATAR score, will be wandering the earth bumping into poles due to the time they were educated online for a few weeks.
If we really want these students out of virtual classrooms and into physical ones, it’s time to put our teachers – every last one of them – at the front of the vaccine cue.
Firm, but fair.