My open letter to the public

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Ernest Hemingway

This past Monday started like no other. I was sat at my PC, ready to plan for lessons and get ready for another week of remote teaching. Within minutes of Tweeting about Piers Morgan jumping ship during the pandemic and adding to the already extraordinary list of high profile teacher bashers, I found myself in the eye of a storm. Mr Morgan had quote Tweeted me, seemingly under the veneer of social justice leading to a public pile-on. The racism, Islamophobia and sheer abusive dismissiveness of the profession I love made me realise how deep the disconnect is between this country and its educators. This needs to be addressed, misconceptions need challenging and a consensus needs to be reached about the reality and the rhetoric of life at the chalkface. This is my open letter to the public.

At 8pm on January 4th, the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown. As we had spent the day preparing for student returns and their Christmas break living in uncertainty like the rest of us, schools are closed. Well, kind of closed because closed has the connotations that all that is teaching and all that is learning ceases to exist as school gates are firmly padlocked and ginormous academies replicate apocalyptic film set. Teaching and learning moved online, new pedagogies had to be developed and again, with no consultation or real warning, School Leaders were left feeling like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. The public backlash is not against the government who are responsible for Britain having the highest death toll in Europe or even the private backers of the “world-beating” track and trace system. Our nation’s educators have been the enemy of the public for some time now, with mass misconceptions, appalling commentary, nebulous and vicious rumours, all cemented under the guise of “how hard can it be?” or “lazy teachers love a good moan” and “everyone else is getting on with it, why can’t you?” This needs challenging, addressing and again, a sense of unity is required.

If you get a second, just read through the comments. This needs challenging. It is repulsive.

My personal position of platform is something I am learning about every day. Many people feel like it is not their place to speak about real life issues. However, how can I turn my back on a profession that has gave me so much as a child and has empowered me so much as an adult? I am not a spokesperson for all educators but with platform comes privilege. It’s time to hold a conversation that matters. This bombastic orgy of teacher bashing needs to be dissected and whilst this blog is not an all-exhaustive piece, I hope it does justice for the incredible educators out there who are also demoralised, hurt, struggling but still trying their best during these truly awful times.

Teaching is like any other job.

It really isn’t. To become a teacher it takes tremendous sacrifice, hard work and dedication. We spend years in academia, completing exams, going through the natural trajectory of schooling and higher and further education. If teaching was easy then I would challenge anyone to get an undergraduate degree, complete a post-graduate qualification as they rush through two contrasting placements, and then actually do the job. If it was “easy” why do we have a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. The complexity of a classroom, the thousands of micro-decisions we have to make every day, the skill, social and emotional competence, resilience, commitment and I could go on and on. A teacher is a special person and our role is never simply like a 9-5. It is all-encompassing and challenging career choice we make. It is also the greatest privilege in the world – to be educating the next generation and providing them with the knowledge and skills to be part of our society. The fact that we have switched learning online, it has thrown a major curveball at us as educators but we are adapting, it will take time but we are experts at responding to last minute changes. As remote learning takes centre stage, I challenge any member of the public to simultaneously take a register, share a split-screen, read out instructions, shift between multiple tabs, whilst trying your best to remain calm when you have 30 doe-eyed cherubs waiting to be taught! We have the threat of Ofsted inspections and an Education Secretary who continues to stoop to new levels of incompetence at the helm too. Even schools are not promoting “Remote Learning Leads.” Nothing compares to the pressure we face. No teacher training course or provider could train us for a pandemic! Again, if it was easy, why don’t you sign up or volunteer for the day?

You had 10 months to prepare for this.

This was a comment I read several times on Monday. Did we have 10 months? Moving teaching online changes how we operate, it alters our routines and it does have a massive impact on our planning, workload and our personal lives? Most people in education has little to no time to prepare for this national lockdown. The logistics of moving learning online is not simply something we can pluck out of thin air like a “world-beating” catchphrase. We had the best part of morning and our disrupted Christmas holidays to get our heads around the changes that were going to be put in place. One minute Chris Whitty is telling us schools are safe, the next Priti Patel informs us education staff are at a greater risk. In December, teachers’ were supposedly being asked to partake in mass testing in schools and by January 5th, schools has closed in their full capacity. The government had ten months to find a solution to this pandemic but where is the public outcry? Yet, the press and public are keen to attack Mrs Jones in the Maths Department at any given opportunity. Truth is, with all the U-turns and constant stop-start nature of schools because of awful policy making, we had 10 months to switch to blended learning, face masks in class rooms, year group rotas and an equitable alternative to exams. 10 months have come and gone but the complex nature of our roles means teaching needs to be adapted, refined and even how we assess engagement and progress has been thrown into uncertainty with remote learning. No one can prepare you for sitting at a computer all day. With all due respect to office jobs, remote teaching throws up a new challenge everyday. Whether this is with technology, a student absence or anything else. Yes, we’ve had 10 months but teaching never stands still and we continue to adapt and seek best practice as the excellent reflective practitioners we are. This isn’t easy. It really is surreal. How much our students feel? We have had 10 months of hell, U-turns, increasing workload and since September, we have lived with the constant fear of contracting COVID and putting our own loved ones at risk.

Kids are missing out on an education

This is pretty much Mr Morgan had to say to me. It is bizarre how those who berate “lazy” teachers are now social justice warriors. Where was your outrage when 322 MPs voted against feeding the most disadvantaged children over half-terms? One of the only bastions of legitimate social mobility is education and the prized asset in education is its teachers’. We are contributing to the lives of these children, are you? As you seem to know the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child off by heart, where is this anger with the Education Secretary who still hasn’t delivered his promise of laptop provision for our most disadvantaged learners? There should be no selective amnesia when it comes to social justice. Schools have insurmountable pressures on them to be centres of education, care, support and very often a child’s second home. To berate those who are trying their best to provide children with the best opportunities to get on in life is deeply damaging, especially at a time where teacher morale is virtually rock bottom. These children do not need a celebrity to be their mouthpiece. They need an education system that provided them equality of opportunity, schools that are adequately resourced, staffed and funded and a democratic system that represents their concerns. Children have, of course, missed out on an education but the pandemic is simply exposing the deeper wounds of structural inequalities that have existed for generations. Yet whilst the poorest suffer, the more privileged are thriving and in some cases getting much richer. The current school meals scam demonstrates perfectly how the establishment view the public especially those in receipt of additional support. We need to challenge these inequalities to help fill these gaps rather than resort to racism and teacher bashing which no one benefits from, especially not our young people.

Knowing the education system, it’s inner working places and the politics that govern it is an intimate knowledge.

In Summary

This global pandemic has been awfully managed by our government and one of the pillars of society the government has a vested interest in; education has suffered greatly. How do we support our lost disadvantaged learners? How do we ensure the quality of remote teaching matches that of the excellence in the classroom? This starts with providing every child with equal access and every school with adequate funding and resources to educate and liberate the young people in their care. Public pile-ons, teacher bashing, divisive rhetoric and judging from a position of comfort and detachment is hindering the work teachers’ are doing during these tough times. I challenge us to either meet somewhere in unity or for you to show us how it’s done. Ultimately, we all want the best for our young people, right? Teaching is like no other job. The social nature of our roles means we are also missing out of seeing our students engaged or the raw energy and inspiration the classroom provides us. As much as we miss our students and colleagues, the safety of our communities takes precedence.

If you are teaching bashing or upset with your schools or child’s school, please use the appropriate channels to relay your concerns. If you are really infuriated, why not train to be a teacher? I’m being serious, why not? I’ll even signpost you as we do have a retention and recruitment crisis. Either that or support us as the divisiveness helps no one. May be your anger should be at the missing track and trace system that cost the taxpayer billions and not your local school.

To all my teaching colleagues, you are doing incredibly well. As my late Grandfather used to say, “if you can’t see the goodness, be the goodness.” Thank you for all you have given me and all that you give to our great profession.

Finally, I would just like to commemorate those who have sadly lost their lives during this pandemic. Life is fragile and criminally short. Over 100,000 deaths with more than 1,500 announced today. It’s heartbreaking. Although our often grief-illiterate culture means we have the “keep calm and carry on” ethos, you will be remembered. Ameen. God bless Marcus Rashford too. X

Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan.

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

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