Coronavirus: Why teachers are like mountain goats

There are five reasons why teachers will get through the coronavirus crisis, says primary school leader Susan Ward

Susan Ward

Coronavirus: Why teachers are like mountain goats

Well, teachers, this sucks – doesn’t it?

In education we often talk about how change is the only constant, but this is taking change to whole new extremes. The steady, dependable rhythm of school life has been obliterated, pretty much overnight. The well-worn furrows of daily routine have been exterminated. We are grappling with change at every possible level, amidst a wider climate of despair, disbelief and fear.

We are running childcare centres, upskilling ourselves in new technology, delivering home learning in its many forms, reaching out to families we know desperately need us. All while trying to keep our own loved ones safe and our own heads above water. Teachers and school leaders could be forgiven for letting the rising white noise of panic overwhelm and just quietly stepping away.

But we won’t, and I will tell you why.

1. Teachers are mountain goats. Yes, the ground has moved beneath our feet. The landscape has split apart like never before, tectonic plates shifting and recomposing in strange new ways. But we are good at staying on our feet when an unexpected canyon gapes open between us and what we want to achieve; we are well versed in pressing on. Finding new ways to get someplace when the well-trodden routes are blocked is our day job.


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2. Teachers are resilient. We think our way round problems. When a student doesn’t understand something, we look for solutions, other ways to explain. Lateral thinking is our friend. Giving up is anathema. Teachers and school leaders are hard-wired to not throw in the towel. We get up each and every time we are knocked down, square our shoulders and try again.

3. Teachers are scrappy. We hold on to things when other people let go. It is that terrier-like tenacity that lets us win over evasive families, make breakthroughs with the chair-throwers and the biters and the "I-hate-you-leave-me-alone" children that we know need us the most. Our bone-deep, stubborn refusal to quit is a skillset likely to come in handy right about now.

4. Teachers deal in people. Our currency is relationships and it is through this that we get amazing things done. The families and children we work with trust us to know what to do, to guide them when they feel lost. This trust doesn’t happen overnight, but through a million kindnesses, a thousand times of being human when you could have shrugged and walked away. Those tiny, incremental gains tip the balance in our favour, giving us the privileged position of being trusted to help in this time of greatest possible need. Our families are turning to us for help, and we will not look away.

5. Teachers play the long game. Ours is not a quick-win profession. Sometimes it takes months or years to see the impact of our work with a child or family. Sometimes we never see it. But we know our actions affect people’s lives and the choices they make for years to come. This new and terrible crisis will pass, and when it does, people will remember how you made them feel when the days were darkest. Teachers are perfectly placed to offer a candle against the dark, its flame unwavering. What we do now will define us as a profession for a very long time to come. We know this and it gives us strength.

Wherever and whatever your contribution at this time of greatest need, know that it matters. Nobody has a blueprint for how to deal with this stuff, we are all just working it out as we go along. Just do the best you can.

Be kind to yourself and your colleagues, keep your families close, and lock arms with your school community  because in the end, it is patience and love that will see us through.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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