To Sir With Love

To Sir, With Love

Dear [insert teacher’s name],

I just wanted to add my thanks for the job you are doing right now.

There’s not much “schooling” going on, I know; the anxiety of what is happening around our children is robbing them of the ability to learn, and in some cases the class cohort is so small it would be foolhardy to steam ahead right now.

I know, too, that children with sniffles and coughs – and it’s probably just the common cold – are continuing to walk through those school gates and into your classroom.

Others, particularly teens, are going along to “see their friends”. I can’t blame them for that. We’ve told our teens incessantly to put their mobiles phone away, and now it’s going to be the lifeline for friendships so many of them need. But that shouldn’t be your problem.

And I know, too, that sitting in front of you are children whose parents have no choice; some of those are in a hospital today readying for the inevitable tsunami of illness we’ve seen around the globe, and others are persevering in essential roles that can’t be disbanded.

But this is the irony. After being undervalued in pay and conditions and having your voice dismissed for so long, you’re all of a sudden “essential”. That’s for two reasons, I suspect.

First, without you, it seems authorities are concerned our teens would be roaming shopping centres and parks and beaches spreading this damn illness. Just quietly, I think that’s my job, as a parent, not yours.

And second, many schools – particularly state-run ones and those in regional areas – are not geared up for online learning. Yet. That’s not your fault. It’s the head honchos who should have considered the need for digital learning in a digital age.

But neither of those reasons takes your circumstances into consideration. The fact that some of you are going to school to stand in front of half-empty classrooms, and that forbids you from visiting your frail and elderly parents. The fact that some of you are risking the health of your own family, by walking into school each day. The fact that some of you are being used as glorified babysitters, while authorities play catch-up and decide how to stop this wretched thing. The fact that bacterial wash and other essentials have run out in some instances, and as one of you pointed out, you can hardly follow children into the bathroom to check they’re even using supplies. The fact that some of you actually cried when you heard Prime Minister Scott Morrison declare that schools would remain open.

I know the maths don’t add up either, because I tried to explain it while home schooling yesterday: “Why five at a wedding, 10 at a funeral, and 1800 at a school, Mum?”

If you’ve got time, and an answer, please email me, because I was stumped.

And while you’re at it, if you can help me understand the heartbreak of having only 10 at a funeral, I’d appreciate that too. In all of this, that’s the thing that makes me cry. How does a family navigate that?

You say, because so many of you have told me, other things don’t add up, either: being abused for being lazy and not wanting to work, trying to abide by distance rules in single classrooms, trying to explain 1.5 metres to a four-year-old, or the need to wipe down playground equipment after every single use.

I guess not much adds up in all of this, and history will judge how we handle it – including this home-schooling caper, where some of us are now learning just how hard it might be to walk in your shoes.

Let’s hope the silver lining here is that we learn, as a community, to value so much more the role of a teacher, and how each day you fill our children’s minds with wonder and curiosity, and a whole lot of other stuff.

Until then, thank you. PS:  And if you have any tips on keeping teenagers engaged for seven hours straight or on answering some of those tricky questions, I’d love to hear it. I’m asking for a friend …

Photograph of Madonna King

Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator. An award-winning presenter of 612 ABC Brisbane, she has authored 12 books and now works across radio, television and online.

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