Face-to-face learning is essential if we want to rise from our battered position on international rankings. Picture: iStock
Face-to-face learning is essential if we want to rise from our battered position on international rankings. Picture: iStock

Unions need to get out of the way and let teachers teach

A full-time return to classrooms from Monday is the best news parents of students have had in weeks.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell told parents without fuss: "The general message is: school is open, students need to return and those who aren't there will be marked ­absent", she said.

Bravo to her, standing up in the face of a teachers' union which has sought to undermine plans to go back to school at every turn.

Which, while we all admire the work our kids' teachers do, brings up a ­question: do the organisations which represent those teachers actually put a child's education first?

And should they be dictating how or when our children are taught, in the face of overwhelming medical advice saying school is where they belong?

Because as a mum, when I consider the gigantic Teachers Federation dummy spit that ensued when Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the ­return of face-to-face lessons, it would seem they are entertaining other power-laced priorities.

As mums and dads, we have had enormous sympathy for teachers trying to educate kids remotely.

Do the organisations which represent teachers actually put a child’s education first? Picture: iStock
Do the organisations which represent teachers actually put a child’s education first? Picture: iStock

And the ongoing challenge for parents has been: if I am genuinely working from my home, how can I also home school my children when I'm worried about dropping the ball in my paid role?

No parent who has been home schooling their child for the past two months will ever look at teachers the same way again.

It's time for our children to go back to school, back to their routines, their social groups and friends, their sports, their learning environments and back to their teachers.

And let's not forget the equity issue here. Children who struggle at school anyway were always going to be affected the most by classroom lockdown.

The experts say it's safe, the teachers I've canvassed are willing, the children are definitely keen and the parents are probably cheering the loudest.

And given the significance of a ­recent The Lancet report that classrooms are not a petri dish for mass coronavirus infection, we can rely on data and not emotion for the decision.

What would we have done if doctors, care home workers and nursing staff had refused to return to work until it was safe? And they are the ones ­exposed to people who are already ­infected.

But there's always the obstacle, otherwise known as the NSW Teachers Federation.

President Angelo Gavrielatos complained that the union had not been consulted before the government's ­decision to return to full-time schooling. Why weaponise something as ­critical as this for the "sake" of your members?

A staggered return to school had ­already been planned for by teachers with face-to-face learning gradually scaled up throughout Term 2, he ­argued. "This caused a lot of concern, frustration and anger among teachers and principals across the state. They turned themselves inside out not once, not twice, but repeatedly, trying to come to terms with this crisis," Gavrielatos told a TV reporter.

Students want to restart school. Picture: Richard Dobson
Students want to restart school. Picture: Richard Dobson

"This is a pandemic that we find ­ourselves in. That's what makes what happened last night even more important and more disrespectful."

Hasn't the time for politicising this issue long passed? The reality is that ­online teaching was mind-numbing for students, haphazard for parents and ­incredibly stressful and ineffective for teachers.

And as for any argument that there will not be enough remaining school year to crowbar in the entire curriculum, I'm sure stripping out the social ­engineering topics will allow plenty of room for critical subjects like mathematics and English.

So instead of trying to score some belated political points, shouldn't the Teacher's Federation be using that ­energy to support teachers in their ­return to work?

Seems a more prudent use of the ­annual fees they pay to have the union supporting them ($880.96 per year for a permanent teacher and $587.30 for a full-time temporary schoolteacher).

If they wanted the goodwill of parents, it was a foolish move because it smacks more of a childish tantrum that they weren't told first than any real issue of substance.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has pushed for a safe return to school. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has pushed for a safe return to school. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

What makes it all the more ludicrous is that parents and teachers are connected more now than ever. Parents are more engaged in the educational processes of their children than ever before and have learned more about their children's academic strengths and weaknesses in two months than they have in years, if ever.

If we are to take anything positive from this pandemic, the educational connection forged between parents and children should be embraced and nurtured.

I hope that parents - once they ­recover from the relief that they are not going to have to take another crash course in algebra - will understand that it does indeed take a village to raise a child.

And as parents and educators we owe it to those children to model a positive approach to returning to school - social distancing and safe handwashing practices notwithstanding.

Gladys Berejiklian previously said she wanted kids back in the classroom from Term 3, beginning July 21.

But we will take any sensible opportunity to get our kids back on track, ­especially when we already feel hammered on the world stage when it comes to international rankings.

Learning, not pointscoring, should be everyone's goal here.

@whatlouthinks

 

Originally published as Unions need to get out of the way and let teachers teach

Teachers have not been supported by their unions. Picture: Terry Pontikos
Teachers have not been supported by their unions. Picture: Terry Pontikos