There is a picture doing the rounds on social media of the scene from the film Titanic in which the violinists are playing while the ship sinks. The picture’s caption says that this is exactly what it’s like to be a frontline educator during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The mixture of “the show must go on”, against a backdrop of impending disaster, is how so many colleagues have felt during the last week.
This week, I have been in school; I have led training for teachers; I have attended a governors’ meeting at my children’s school; I have been a parent at the school gate; I have dropped off my youngest at playgroup and nursery; I have attended briefing meetings in my own academy trust.
All these experiences revealed our education system to be full of professionals who, while still prone to the bewilderment, fear, and gnawing feelings of uncertainty that plague us all, are awe-inspiring in their dedication to the children they serve.
Trying to do right
I have witnessed senior leaders wrangling with once-in-a-generation decisions. I have seen individual teachers desperately trying to do right by both their own and their family’s circumstances, while still being there for the children in their school.
I have seen cheery smiles and warm welcomes from teachers on school gates, when I know they are just as spooked as everyone else. I have seen early years workers encouraging our tiniest learners to keep sticky little hands extra clean, and armies of extra staff cleaning, wiping and sanitising everything they can as often as they can.
I have seen headteachers’ stiff upper lips begin to wobble – but then they draw strength from others, pooling their collective wisdom, generosity and support.
I have seen parents desperately worried about what to do for the best, looking to teachers and leaders for answers they simply do not have.
I have coached early-career cohorts through CPD, watching them attempt to stay focus, despite being desperate to tap on their devices and find out the latest updates. And I have seen unprecedented generosity from educators, who are willing to share resources and planning, and to set up live shared lessons and offer free CPD to colleagues.
Unleashing a wave of professional generosity
The virus has not only unleashed chaos in some areas of our lives, but it has unleashed a wave of professional generosity, as we seek to support each other in any small way we can.
Headteachers and leaders have mobilised resources and drawn up emergency plans in record time. And they have been supported by another unsung group of educational heroes in the form of site and management support staff.
Office staff have dealt with an unimaginable and often frustrated wave of enquiries, while wrangling constantly changing information. Support staff have been deployed to different roles and have patched the gaps in the dwindling supply of staff.
Every person on the school staff has stepped up when the rest of the country has been told not to step out of their front door if they can help it.
While others were advised to stay at home, educators headed each day into crowds of hundreds and often thousands of our young people. This, for many, has taken a huge toll on their mental and emotional reserves.
A humane profession
The frustration and anger that many feel at being asked to walk into a potential eye of the storm has left many with the sense that their needs were not being considered.
Others are having sleepless nights about how our most vulnerable children will stay safe, warm and fed without the army of school staff who help support our communities.
There is no clear-cut answer to anything at the moment. But there is one thing on which we can all agree: the absolute care and dedication of our profession is something of which we should all be so proud.
Teaching is ultimately a humane profession, and never has this been more evident than during the current crisis.
Every cheery smile for the children, every desperately worried SLT meeting, every class lesson taught to depleted numbers, every resource shared with colleagues, every supportive message sent to colleagues who are having to self-isolate, every late-night governor or board decision-making meeting, every deep breath before starting the commute, every double-check for the bottle of hand-sanitiser in the pocket, every reload of the news app is testament to the fact that we are all desperate to do the right thing by our children and their communities.
We must never underestimate how much we are relied upon and trusted by so many to be the voice and faces of pragmatism, support and calm.
So, just like those violinists on the Titanic, educators don’t ever just have one string to their bow. We are not simply there to teach our children, but also to help guide and support them through what will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most challenging recent times for our country.
Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire. She tweets @Emma_Turner75