COVID-19 and teaching

TikTok teachers go viral in these #COVID-19 times

TikTok is one of the world’s fastest growing apps, with an estimated two billion total downloads since its inception, including more than 1.4 million monthly active users in Australia. Much of TikTok’s success has been attributed to its appeal among children and young people. However, during COVID-19 lockdowns, a growing number of teachers have found solace—and celebrity-status—through the app.

TikTok teachers

One teacher who has regularly utilised TikTok’s capabilities during the disruptions of 2020 is South Australian primary school teacher, ‘Mr Luke’ (handle: iam.mrluke). Most of Mr Luke’s TikTok videos are recorded in his classroom (sans students) and often involve him excitedly sharing an anecdote from a lesson or his reflections on what it means to be a teacher.

In the last year, Mr Luke has accrued a following of 277 thousand people and over seven million likes for his short clips. Many of his videos are set to pop music and involve him enthusiastically dancing and jumping around his empty classroom.

In an interview with Swinburne teaching student Jessica McGough, Mr Luke described his use of social media as a “juggling game” and TikTok in particular as a “really cool”, “engaging”, and “fun” platform. But he was also quick to mention that he has guidelines for using TikTok in terms of his choice of language and music, aware that his videos are viewed by his students and their parents.

TikTok’s emphasis on music and dance is especially useful for teachers seeking to playfully connect with their students and school community during lockdown.

Earlier this year, teachers at Terrigal Public School (TPS) in New South Wales created TikTok dance videos as a fun end-of-term send off for their students. The videos received thousands of views and a local news outlet picked up the story, interviewing teacher Tayla Lythall who said:

“Due to the virus, teachers have been asked to come up with ideas for online content that kids want to connect and engage with on a totally new level. The feedback has been so positive. Both students and parents have been commenting how much they enjoyed watching it, and for the teachers, it’s been nice to show everyone that we’re normal people just like them”.

These TikTok teachers challenge the one-dimensional and sometimes even patronising stereotypes of teachers as faultless saints or hapless victims.

Viral TikTok teachers of North America

The attention given to Australian teachers pales in comparison to attention received by teachers in the much larger market of the United States, where the app is used by an estimated 100 million Americans every month.

Washington kindergarten teacher Mackenzie Adams recently went viral when she posted a TikTok video of herself delivering a lesson to her kindergarten students over Zoom. With more than 10 million views in less than a week, the video shows a highly animated and energetic Adams teaching her young students online, remaining ever-so-patient as a student grapples with the mute button.

Reflecting on her rationale for posting the video to TikTok, Adams subsequently said in an interview:

“I honestly just wanted to see what I looked like while teaching, kind of as a reflection tool. I wanted to see: am I being energetic enough for them? Am I engaging enough? And I was like, ‘I’ll just take a quick video and watch it back later, probably delete it.’ And about an hour later I got a text from a friend and she said, ‘you know you’re viral, right?’”

Social media commentators and news reporters were quick to praise the video, waxing lyrical about Adams’ energy and patience with her students. For many commentators, Adams’ video was more than just a snapshot into her daily life; the video represented the work of countless teachers around the world trying to make the best of a challenging situation. Adams shared a similar sentiment about the profession:

 “I really hope that teachers are getting the recognition they deserve right now … the outpouring of love has been great”.

A booming new genre

Adams and Mr Luke are not the only ones receiving the love. A growing number of teachers are taking to TikTok to share their experiences during the pandemic. The “booming new genre” of Teacher TikTok has even led some websites to compile lists of the ‘top teachers’ to follow.

For some teachers, it is about connecting with their students and incorporating TikTok into class activities. For others, it is about connecting with a teaching community, sharing tips, celebrating successes, laughing at themselves, or venting frustration – all vital under lockdown and COVID-related restrictions.

Teachers’ TikTok videos under hashtags such as #teachersoftiktok #teacherlife #teacherproblems have views in the billions and capture the everyday, funny, and perplexing moments that speak to the rarely seen chaos, charm, and complexity of teaching at the ‘screen face’ during a pandemic.

The good and the bad of TikTok for teachers

Of course, not all have embraced TikTok’s potential during the pandemic, with recent calls from US President Donald Trump to ban downloads of the app over its questionable use of user data.

Concerns about problematic or harmful content circulating on TikTok have also made news headlines.

When TikTok merged with Musical.ly in 2018, the marketing for the app cleverly side-stepped parental concerns about the potential harms of social media and distinguished itself from apps like Instagram by emphasising TikTok’s focus on safe and child-friendly play and creativity. Yet, recent reports have challenged the ‘child-friendliness’ of the app, including alarm about a video of a suicide that was circulating on the platform.

Many schools sent warnings to parents about the video, however, in one reported case a group of students in a Western Australian school watched the video during class and their teacher was subsequently stood down. This is not the first case of an educator losing their job over a TikTok controversy, and students have also been at the receiving end of vitriol for their use of the platform. Such controversy only furthers the evidence for those who wish to see mobile phones banned and ICT policies tightened in schools.

TikTok is not the first social media app to appeal to teachers. Teacher TikTok reflects a broader growth in the number of teachers using social media platforms, as well as websites including Teachers Pay Teachers, to enhance their professional work and reach. Known as ‘teacher influencers’, ‘teacherpreneurs’ or ‘edupreneurs’, these teachers use social media to craft and promote a particular professional identity, often teaming up with companies to support their work, starting their own education resource businesses, and accruing a significant following: fellow teachers, students, and members of the public.

While some view the increased visibility of teachers online as a form of innovative leadership built on mutually-beneficial commercial relationships, others contend that such practices may intensify neoliberal competition between educators, privileging those who are comfortable juggling the personal and professional online and have the means to create a marketable image. For Mr Luke, his position on this juggle was clear:

“Social media is going to happen, we’re all a part of it. … I know I am. So I think it’s important to distinguish your professional life and personal life and try and not get those two things confused.”

Social media is a significant global force for teachers during and beyond the current pandemic. Platforms such as TikTok are increasingly shaping professional practices, as well as the perceptions of the profession. And this raises important questions about the future of initial teacher education in a post-COVID-19 landscape.

Dr Catherine Hartung is Senior Lecturer in Education in the Department of Education at Swinburne University of Technology. Catherine’s teaching and research explores the educational and political institutions that govern young people’s lives, and the ways that young people negotiate and resist this governance. Connect on Twitter: @catharty

Dr Natalie Hendry is Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT. Natalie’s research explores everyday social media and digital technology practices in the context of critical approaches to education, mental health, media, wellbeing, youth studies, and policy. Connect on Twitter: @projectnat

Dr Rosie Welch is Lecturer in Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. Rosie’s teaching and research engages with the socio-cultural complexities of health education across school, teacher education, institutional, government and community settings. Connect on Twitter: @rosiewelch

Pandemic Collection: Reflections on inequities amplified by the COVID-19 global crisis

The pieces in this collection are our reflections on the ongoing inequities in education that have been amplified or illuminated by the COVID-19 global crisis. We hope our reflections help readers consider how education work might respond to and address these inequities.

All of these pieces were written during early May 2020—prior to the death of George Floyd and the global movement that ensued. Though the reflections in the collection predate George Floyd’s killing, many of the issues raised in this collection are part of the same unequal system that produces Blak/Black death, through the virus and beyond.

We are all staff or higher degree research students from the Social Transformations and Education Research Group at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Our pieces meditate on the ways the teacher has been positioned through the crisis and what this says about how our society sees teachers (Amy McKernan); the many roles played by schools in the pursuit of mass schooling (Nicky Dulfer); the politics of expertise (Jessica Gerrard); schools futures and Indigenous history (Ligia (Licho) López López); possibilities for investing in community as key to education (Sophie Rudolph); opportunities for rethinking the local in relation to global problems (Rhonda Di Biase and Bonita Cabiles); and the importance of attempting to understand each student’s emotional life and journey in supporting learning communities (Michelle Cafini).

Our Pivoting Teachers By Amy McKernan

So what does “mass schooling” mean to us now? By Nicky Dulfer

Saving education: Trust me I’m an expert By Jessica Gerrard

Ancestral 2020 vision: Chronicle of a death foretold By Ligia (Licho) López López

Here’s our chance to refocus on education for community, not just for the economy By Sophie Rudolph

Turning global adversity into advantage: Working towards education for all By Rhonda Di Biase and Bonita Cabiles

Which boat were you in? by Michelle Cafini

Our pivoting teachers

By Amy McKernan

In my job I teach teachers. Some of my students are working to qualify as teachers, some are teachers already established in the profession. This semester, I have been deeply concerned for my students who also teach. They worked through the term one holidays to accommodate two possible futures – a return to school as we knew it and an about-face to distance learning.

They ‘pivoted’, and now they must ‘pivot’ again. They sit in my webinars with grey faces, tired and quiet, somehow still submitting assignments amongst all of this. Somehow, they are still determined to become more knowledgeable, more skilled, and better teachers.

My teacher students have worked even longer hours than before, implementing a whole new way of teaching, and redeveloping months and years of planning for a completely different world. They have drawn on considerable reserves of expertise and ingenuity to keep their school students learning, all the while closely monitoring wellbeing, and performing the emotional labour of caring.

I have watched over the weeks as the teachers in my classes have become withdrawn, resigned to the fact that they were the last to be considered in this global pandemic, that the decision to close schools appeared to be based not on the possible threat to teachers’ wellbeing, but on the economic wellbeing of families who must work and the safety of grandparents who might need to babysit.

I’m not suggesting that the needs of families should not be a factor in decision-making, of course they should. But the silence on teachers’ safety, including the safety of the many immunocompromised teachers, has been deafening. No one seems to acknowledge the likely mental and physical health issues teachers face as they managed the increased workload of teaching students both in and out of the classroom.

There has been an implicit assumption that teachers will take up a significant burden in this crisis. As is so often the case, teachers have little agency and little voice in making the big decisions that affect them. The evident lack of concern for teachers throughout the discussions of school closures has been so sadly reflective of the disrespect afforded to the profession in this country that I supposed I shouldn’t be shocked.

Most of us, including the parents currently supervising the schooling of their children at home, do not have a great deal of insight into the demands of teaching. If we did, teaching would be among the highest paid professions in the country, without question. It is my hope that in the future, when COVID-19 is a memory and the economy is returning to life, the students who are now witnessing their teachers’ innovations are learning that actually no, not just anyone (your parents) can do what teachers do. I hope the respect teachers truly deserve will grow.

I hope eventually we will see clearly the sacrifices teachers made during this crisis (and the way they were sacrificed). I hope we start to understand how important teachers are, and value them enough to stop sacrificing them in the name of economic gain. I hope, ultimately, those exhausted teachers sitting quietly in my webinars will, at last, receive the respect befitting their status as some of Australia’s most essential workers.

Dr Amy McKernan is an early career academic at the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. Her research broadly investigates teaching and learning with confronting histories and narratives of trauma, violence and injustice. She is a teacher educator in the sociology of education, international education, and educational research methodologies.

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So what does “mass schooling” mean to us now?

By Nicky Dulfer

For the first time in my living memory, onsite school attendance has had to cease. Mass schooling, which has been described as a way of providing universal educational access through school attendance, has been disrupted in Australia and around the world. 

We have closed schools and opted for distance and remote learning models to help contain the spread of COVID-19.  For the vast majority of our 3.8 million students, this involves students attempting to learn in their home environments with their teachers providing content, support and feedback remotely.

As a result of school closures in Australia many people are just discovering how many roles schools fulfil.  To students in unsafe homes, schools can provide sanctuary; to the hungry, food; to the homeless, shelter; to the scared, security; to the lonely, friendship; and to the isolated, a sense of belonging.  For those of us who have worked in disadvantaged school settings this is not surprising.  Schools have long been a proxy home for many students.  School libraries can create safe places to sit quietly and read, school breakfast clubs can ensure everyone has the chance to eat something at the beginning of the day, school homework clubs can provide equipment and staff to support students who need some extra help, and school teachers can provide a valued adult relationship for students who seek connection and support. This is not to say that everything about mass schooling is positive.

To many students attending school can mean isolation, bullying, violence and ridicule.  It can mean being taught to be ashamed of personal cultural heritage and difference.  It can be a place that is not safe or inclusive.  For many students, schools are just another place in which they are not valued.

Mass schooling has meant that schools are also often sought after as places to institute certain political agendas. Governments have long understood this.  In the 1970s the Whitlam government instituted the Disadvantaged Schools Program as a way of ensuring schools could help support those students who needed it most. Until the 1980s students used to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ at every assembly as way of ensuring the Colonial past erased all that had gone before.  The Howard government offered additional financial support to schools if they flew the Australian flag.  Mass schooling is also seen as a way of instituting social agendas as schools are a way of reaching all students.  In the 1950s the Menzies government, concerned with malnutrition among children, instituted the school milk program.  In the 2000s concerns around obesity led to significant changes in what is available at the school canteen. Now, students all around the world are being educated on the correct way to wash their hands in classrooms.

Thus, school sites are often used to perpetuate both helpful and harmful political and social agendas.

In the time of COVID-19 one thing that has become very clear is the dependence of modern society on mass schooling.  The provision of mass schooling serves the dual economic function of allowing parents to work whilst educating their children to be useful to the workforce in the future. It also serves the social function of transmitting the social norms of society to students.  Additionally, mass schooling has been used as a place in which equity has been supported.

I believe one of the few good things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the revitalised conversation within our communities about what it is that mass schooling does, can and should do.

Nicky Dulfer is a Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. Her research areas of expertise include issues of inequality and pedagogy within secondary education.

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Saving education: Trust me I’m an expert

By Jessica Gerrard

Dr Norman Swan comes on the radio and I shush my partner. Dr Norman Swan has become a national treasure.

COVID-19 is apparently going to save experts. After years of the apparent growth of ‘populism’ and of the political denial of climate change, it appears it has taken this horrendous virus to demonstrate the utility of expert knowledge.

In the absence of political leadership, in the days and weeks after COVID-19 made its way to Australian shores, it was Dr Norman Swan – ABC Radio National’s health editor – who interpreted and disseminated the medical evidence on COVID-19. It is, of course, experts who are racing to find a vaccine and providing medical care.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has kept universities out of its cornerstone JobKeeper policy, throwing casuals – and the higher education sector – to the curb. There’s even reports of universities asking volunteers to cover teaching because of staff cuts. For permanent staff workloads have increased and universities (and the sector’s union) have already put pay slashes on the table.  

In these sorts of moments, a defensive move is understandable: we have to save education, right? Higher education, after all, is the place in which experts are produced. And isn’t now, of all times, the time to be protecting and nurturing the production of expertise? Defending the worth of and possibility for education for our future?

Expertise, however, is neither neutral nor categorical. Experts do not float disinterestedly above social relations. They are made by society and they have a vested interest in making particular versions of society. Eugenics, phrenology, conversion therapy, hysteria diagnoses – and dare I say it, even JobKeeper – were all driven to some degree by experts.

Expertise rests upon divisions between experts and so-called ‘laypeople’, and this division is marked by power. It also rests upon structural inequalities of education. Despite the vast expansion of higher education, contemporary society is built on a fallacy, not actuality, of social mobility for all. Hierarchical divisions in educational achievement are the bedrock of educational institutions, as are inequitable divisions in labour.

COVID-19 is apparently going to save experts, but it is cleaners who are saving us all.

Expertise is not just about producing knowledge: it is also practiced in relation to the ‘unknown’. The boundaries between the known and unknown are shaped by what we think it is possible to know about; what the social, technological and political relations of the day make possible to know about; and what is strategically denied (*cough* climate change).

COVID-19 demonstrates that the current moment is not defined by a withering of expertise, but its reconfiguration in relation to what is known and unknown (and asserted to be known and unknown) in the function of modern capitalist democracies.

Indeed, the recent proposals that materially de-value the humanities and social sciences demonstrate that the current Australian government is centrally concerned with the form and function of expertise. In this proposed reform particular forms of expertise are recognised as valuable above others.

Moreover, it’s no coincidence that at the time of rising post-truth there is concurrent fetishization of evidence and data. Particularly in education, data metrics are increasingly valued political assets: university and journal rankings, student evaluation surveys, impact scores, citation rates, h-indexes are all presented as numerical proxies for the value of university work.

So, what exactly are we saving? What education are we declaring an interest in for the future?

Perhaps at the very least, not one that unthinkingly asserts expertise as an unproblematic elixir. And not one that presumes that the production of expertise necessarily relies on divisions in labour and systems of meritocracy that structurally require unequal access to education and outcomes of it.

Shush, Dr Norman Swan is back on the radio.

Dr Jessica Gerrard researches the changing formations, and lived experiences, of social inequalities in relation to education, activism, work and unemployment. She works across the disciplines of sociology, history and policy studies with an interest in critical methodologies and theories.

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Ancestral 2020 vision: Chronicle of a death foretold

By Ligia (Licho) López López

Part II

Wati’t, will you tell me the rest of that origin story?

The one where another life begins in the future.

Right. The story of a future inhabited by peculiar beings who will call themselves Humans. Thousands of years from now, in the year 2020 entities from the virus world will decimate thousands of them. Humans will be forced to flee. They will mistakenly think of the virus in the only frame they know: War. So in the first months of a rising decade in the 21st century, they will wake up and will feel as if bombs were dropped on them as they have dropped bombs on others. With no time to pack their bags stuffed with Human supremacy, and the rest of their useless belongings including belonging itself, they will lose being and becoming Human.

What will those planes of existence look like Wati’t?

Full of wonder and wilderness! At first they will be afraid of what they will encounter. With no Normal saint or Economy god to misguide their existence, they will be swept with bewilderment. The first thing they will realize is that they are just one more element of an endless constellation and not the centre of it. Some of the cleverest ones, well they will not be that clever, really! but some of them will smuggle their useless concept of the Individual which will have no currency in other planes. Their existence will be relational. Upon entry to these unfamiliar planes of existence, Humans will disappear and become a collective of moving particles. Friction, magnetism, and sonic waves, not Identities, Borders, or Institutions, will characterize their movements in the new planes.

Remember that genius Human invention they called Schools? Well before being forced by the 2020 virus entity to flee the world as they knew it, Schools were Institutions. In these planes Schools will be sites of encounter. They will be located throughout and will not require a building called “school” for learning to take place. Because some habits are hard to die, some of them will invoke obsolete modern ideas to say “schools are the best place for children to learn.” But the majority of them having learned the lessons from the 2020 pandemic will ask: To learn what? To learn how? To learn whose knowledges? Can knowledges be owned? What counts as learning? What learning counts? Where, with what, and with whom can learning take place? In the new plane of existence, they will realize that moulding children into rubrics, test scores, statistics, international comparative data, and the next capitalist battalion of citizens will bring their demise. It will by 2020 and will again after 2020.

Instead of learning to become settler colonialists, at the site of encounter children will teach and learn about colonialism and the history that forced them to seek refuge in new planes of existence. Instead of taking, children will learn to borrow and give back in full respect of the sentient beings they will be in commune with. Children will return to their wilderness without the Human fear of “being backward” or “falling behind.” That will be pre 2020 history. Colour codes for children’s bodies will no longer be the norm. In fact, there will be no norms, gender or otherwise. There will not even be ‘children’ as the category upon which ‘adults’ manage and attempt to control the/their futures. Through wondering into the histories of human grids and classificatory regimes through online or VR learning, they will regain a sense of humility. That will be the ultimate social and emotional learning lesson resulting in new worlds unfolding. How marvellous!

Maltyox wati’t

Dr López López is a Caribbean, Queer, and Brown scholar of Indigenous background whose life begins in Abya Yala. She has lived, researched, taught, and learned in continental Africa, Europe, the US, and Australia. Her interdisciplinary research is situated at the intersection of curriculum studies, Indigenous and race studies in education, and youth and visual studies.

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Here’s our chance to refocus on education for community, not just for the economy

By Sophie Rudolph

On my daily local walk I pass a primary school which now has a sign on the gate saying there is limited access to the school while remote learning is in place. The ‘learning from home’ situation has meant parents and carers have been asked to supervise and facilitate learning that is set out and guided by teachers remotely. Teachers have been asked to transform their lessons and connect with students and families in unfamiliar ways, many going to extra lengths to reach those who have limited digital resources at home.

In recent decades education has become highly focused on the product of learning – NAPLAN results, PISA results, ATARs, marks and degrees are tallied, scrutinised, lamented, celebrated and compared. This focus on product both overshadows the process of learning and undermines education as a social good – in and of itself valuable. It can easily position teachers as technicians and students and parents as consumers, concerned primarily with their own individual success. However, education is much more than this and rarely is the lived reality of education so stark and straightforward.

During the COVID-19 pandemic children and young people have been frequently positioned as an inconvenience – the supervision and care they require being seen as an impediment to ‘restarting the economy’. The government was quick to push for learning to be transferred back to schools so that parents/carers can be freed to return to their roles within the economy. However, this overlooks the unpaid and underpaid labour that is done under regular circumstances to support the economy.

The lessons of this time therefore offer opportunities for valuing and nurturing some of the parts of education that have been disregarded by the shift to focus on educational product. A post-pandemic education system could take seriously what feminist global studies historian Tithi Bhattacharya argues are the ‘life-making’ activities of social reproduction. This is work that is largely done by women or in highly feminised professions and it is work of a social nature, not purely an economic nature. It is the process and relational aspects of education, not the product. Imagine if we thought about children and young people as important, thoughtful and valuable members of our society now, rather than just future workers getting in the way of the economy. 

If education were to value community more thoroughly, we might see greater time in schools spent building relationships with local First Nations communities to nurture understanding and awareness of Indigenous knowledge. We might see teachers, students and local community collaborating more to find solutions to problems affecting their communities. We might see curriculum that valued the funds of knowledge that children and young people have for pursuing their learning outcomes rather than waiting for NAPLAN or ATARs to tell us what students can and can’t do. We might recognise that the job of teaching involves emotional work and that teachers require time to recharge so they don’t burn out and leave the profession. We might think about restructuring work so that communities – teachers, students, families, carers and friends – have more time to come together more often to share in the process of learning and living together.

We could take a lead from young people who ask us to imagine what is possible, and work collaboratively to cultivate education communities that care for the human and more than human world, and not just for their ATAR outcomes and unfettered economic growth.

Dr Sophie Rudolph is a Lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne. Her research and teaching interests centre on issues of education equity, politics and ethics, through historical and sociological analyses.

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Turning global adversity into advantage: Working towards education for all

By Rhonda Di Biase and Bonita Cabiles

When listening to an expert panel talking about COVID-19, one particular comment resonated with us: “We will learn a lot about the virus, but we will learn more about ourselves”.  The subsequent discussion referred to our learning as people, as communities and as nations. We add to this, learning as a global community, and we reflect on this here.

In discussing the race to find a vaccine, this same panel highlighted differences in the way this particular global challenge has resulted in an international collective effort. A spirit of collaboration, not competition, has developed in the race against the virus.  Can this global momentum to collaborate be harnessed in new and creative ways in a post-COVID world? 

So too does this question apply to our vision for the world we want post pandemic.  Can we continue to work together in unprecedented ways?  Can our common goal become to realise the vision embedded in the United Nations’ globally endorsed Sustainable Development Goals?These goals include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, and reduced inequalities. This pandemic provides impetus for a more deliberative discourse around issues of equity in education, including how we ‘do aid,’ without reverting to business-as-usual. The vision embedded within the Sustainable Development Goals offers fertile ground for international interdependence working towards education for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a disruption to the status quo of schooling that has exposed more sharply the cracks of education, especially among the most vulnerable. It has powerfully cast a bright light in many countries on what seems to be a perpetual state of crisis in education.

However, financing, which is a key to bridging educational inequities, remains compromised. In the latest UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, Sustainable Development Goals Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, laments the sobering decline of development aid for education. In the aftershocks of COVID-19, will the global community be willing to work in a spirit of cooperation to ensure equitable education for all; or do we, instead, become inwardly focused and leaner and meaner as nation-states?

Our question is not unfounded. In news about international cooperation in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 the focus of discussion is already around who or which countries will get access. Will access to any successful vaccine depend on money or kindness, on power or a sense of equity and justice?  We ask similar questions about education and aid. We fear that as countries tighten their geographical borders and focus on impending recessions and debt and deficit; the sense of compassion, care, and solidarity may also end within their borders.  Low and middle-income countries, after the pandemic will, more than ever, need to work within a global community as they advance their respective national/local agendas of equity, justice, and inclusion in education, that have been exposed through this pandemic.

Local contexts offer extensive experiences and knowledge about how we can (re)think and (re)imagine collaboration to respond to and acknowledging the long-standing educational crisis that COVID-19 has pushed us to confront. Within this discourse, perhaps it is also time to foreground the voices of the local communities to construct ‘glo/b/cal’ cooperation, whereby local conditions are centred in global initiatives and international development.

Rhonda Di Biase is a lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne. She is currently a co-convener for the AARE Global Contexts for Education SIG.  She has previously worked at the Faculty of Education, Maldives National University as part of a post-tsunami aid project focusing on implementing student-centred learning and through an Endeavour Executive Fellowship. Her research interests include active learning reform, teachers’ professional learning and education reform in small states.

Bonita Cabiles is currently a PhD candidate at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne. She is currently a co-convener for the AARE Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CALD) SIG. Her work explores issues of diversity and power in classroom practices with interest in Bourdieuian sociology and qualitatively oriented research.

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Which boat were you in?

By Michelle Cafini

American evangelical Christian pastor, Rick Warren, in his video, ‘Ten COVID commandments for emotional health’ states that long after a vaccine has been developed, people will still be dealing with the economic, relational and emotional effect of the virus. His words resonated with me when he said although we have all been in the same storm, people have been in different boats during the storm. Some in yachts, where they have had enough money, a secure job and a nice home to live in during the crisis. Some have been in rowboats, living week to week off savings and where being jobless has been a disaster. Others have been clinging to driftwood, experiencing homelessness, domestic abuse, and alcoholism to name but a few of the consequences of COVID-19.

As schools across the nation begin to re-open after a period of online learning, and staff busily adjust back to face-to-face teaching, it is important to reflect that things will not be “the same” as before. Teachers will be considering the social and emotional wellbeing of their students as they re-commence schooling in person. Things will not and may never be the “same” for some students. The experiences that students have had over the past few weeks and months will be different. While some students may have thrived at home, for others there may be deep emotional scars that may take a long time to heal – the death or illness of a family member, the arguments overheard between parents dealing with the ramifications of unemployment, increased alcohol consumption in the home, anger and abuse that manifested while families were in lock-down, the loss of self-esteem and social skills that are usually being developed during interactions with friends. All of these factors may have a considerable impact on the lives of different students, and the once happy, resilient, confident student in January may not present in the same way in July.

School leaders and teachers will be mindful of the boat their students have travelled in during the storm and may need to provide support for those who have lost their bearings. More than ever, embedding social and emotional learning into the curriculum is important. Young students who were just starting school may need support to foster friendships. Those who have spent lengthy time with caregivers may feel the anxiety of separation and will need to once again develop confidence and trust at school. Students who were just in the throes of transitioning from primary to secondary school and only just adapting to new expectations and routines may need to be assisted to develop social and self-management skills. And those at the end of their school journey may need the motivation to set course again. While many teachers would have been cognizant to look out for this at the beginning of a new year, teachers will be observing their students through a new lens, knowing that the experience of isolation will have had some impact – for some positive, for others not.

When the bell rings, it will never be back to the way it was. When the boats come back into the shore and schooling resumes in its entirety, teachers will be confronting the journey each child has been on. School may be the safe harbour that many of them are needing.

Dr Michelle Cafini has recently commenced employment at the University of Melbourne, teaching units in the Master of International Education (IB). She has over 30 years of experience teaching and leading schools in Victoria and overseas.

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Is COVID-19 heralding a new way of the media representing teachers?

The sport and politics of teacher bashing, and in particular teacher union bashing, has a long and inglorious history in the Australian media. Whether this is connected to an anti-intellectual bias in Australian society, the glorification of sport and the physical as opposed to the intellect, is unclear. However research suggests that mainstream media plays a critical role in creating dominant representations of particular groups in society and these representations directly impact individuals and the groups involved.

During April 2020 when schools were rapidly moving to and from remote teaching we collected and analysed a range of media articles focussing on schooling issues. What we found makes us believe the COVID-19 pandemic might yet be an opportunity to reset the often-antagonistic relationship between the teaching profession in Australia and the Australian press.

In this post we want to tell you more about our research and why we think it could be an opportunity to herald change in the way the media connects with our teaching profession.

Major disconnect of perceptions before the COVID-19 pandemic

Two pre-COVID-19 surveys of Australian teachers and public perceptions of teaching revealed a major disconnect between the public perception of teachers as respected and trusted, and teachers own views of their reputation. In the nationwide survey conducted in 2019 with both public and non-government systems, teachers were asked to indicate their agreement with the statement, I feel that the Australian public appreciates teachers.  71% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. In contrast, a second survey of the general public conducted simultaneously reported that 82% of respondents felt teachers were well respected or moderately respected. In addition, 93% of respondents in the public survey felt that teachers were trusted or moderately trusted.

This disconnect between teachers’ perceptions of respect and trust and the public perception has serious direct consequences for the education of our children and young people, particularly in terms of teachers’ well-being, the retention of teachers in the profession and even educational outcomes. The survey reports that in order for teachers to remain motivated and committed to their profession, public recognition by politicians, communities and society of the importance of teaching is critical. They further report on international research which has “found a correlation between teacher status and student achievement”.

Why media concentration in Australia, and media discourse, matters

It has been regularly noted that the concentration of media in Australia is one of the highest in the world. And although levels of public engagement in traditional media outlets such as newspapers and television have declined rapidly, their ability to shape public opinion and political policy remains high.

Of the 58% of teacher respondents in the 2019 survey noted above who indicated they wished to leave the profession, 10% cited a lack of appreciation as the main reason for their departure. One respondent’s unsolicited comment typified these responses:

I feel under-appreciated and disrespected in community, public and media”.

Recent studies of principals shows that negative representations of teachers in the press deleteriously impact on the health and wellbeing of principals who are expected to manage the media, particularly in time of crisis. As a society we all pay the price and are poorer for it.

The COVID-19 outbreak and media representations

Health workers are rightly valorised by politicians and the media for the front-line role they are playing in the pandemic. However, teachers have been shamed in the media, for example by the Prime Minister, for raising the issue of risks associated with keeping schools open, but also sometimes praised for being on the frontline by continuing to teach.

Nevertheless at the beginning of this pandemic we were hearing more about parents doing schooling from home (not home schooling) rather than recognition of the work of teachers teaching online and face-to-face, often at the same time. 

Our research project

As part of a large scale Australian Research Council Discovery Grant examining school autonomy and social justice, we collected a range of media articles which discuss the particular issues facing schools and systems as they tackle the move from face-to-face schooling to remote learning, and back again.

We analysed 18 articles collected from a range of state jurisdictions and from a cross-section of the traditional media, as well as one article drawn from social media, written by Lyndsay Connors, a highly respected senior education adviser for the New South Wales and federal governments. These included the more right-wing News Corporation (or “Murdoch press”), the more traditionally centrist newspapers owned by Nine Entertainment (formerly the Fairfax press) and the Saturday Paper, an independently funded, left-leaning newspaper. The articles range from ‘hard news’ pieces, opinion pieces and letters to the editor.

They were collected across April 2020, a month which spanned the shift from the closure of schools across Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic to their gradual reopening as restrictions gradually eased. As states gradually lifted their lockdown measures, there was increasing pressure from the federal government for schools to reopen across the nation so that workers could return to employment and fuel an economic recovery.

However, given that Australia is a federation and funding and governance of public school systems is a state responsibility, there were differences in opinion between the various state governments and the federal government as to the wisdom of reopening schools. This is where teachers and their portrayal within the media becomes revealing.

Prior to the debate about reopening schools, there was a brief time when the Prime Minister and Federal Government more broadly appeared to be in consensus with the media that teachers were front-line workers and required respect and trust. Lyndsay Connors reflected in her opinion piece on 15 April 2020 that

The shock of dealing with the realities of the coronavirus pandemic has forced our prime minister to realise that schools are fundamental to our democracy and that teachers are on the front line of society and should be valued accordingly (Connors, 2020).

This statement appeared to be borne out by a range of commentary both in the Murdoch press as well as in the former Fairfax media. For example, in a wide-ranging opinion piece, Teachers earn belated respect (paywalled) published in News Corps’ Herald Sun and Courier Mail,  David Penberthy argued that  “one of the most derided  professions in this country has historically been teaching” but that hopefully this perception was changing, forcing a “national rethink when it comes to the perception of teachers”.

The article was a welcomed and nuanced discussion of the competing medical advice and messages that were being faced by state governments in regard to whether it was safe for teachers and students to resume face-to-face teaching. The article finished with two keywords, “thank you”, which the journalist noted were too often lacking in the Australian public’s attitude towards teaching and teachers.

Welcome though this opinion piece was, it appeared on pages 47 of the Herald-Sun and 56 of the Courier-Mail on a Sunday, not the most newsworthy day of the week or a prominent position in the papers.

The following week in a highly critical opinion piece, Not a very class act from teachers’ unions (paywalled) published in the Sunday-Telegraph, a Sydney News Corps paper, Bella d’Abrera, the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute Public Affairs, castigated teacher unions across Australia for “being reckless when they ignore the science and fight to keep students out of classrooms”. This was in response to news reports, for example, in the Weekend Australian (paywalled) where the Prime Minister was quoted as taking a “swipe at teacher unions, saying that workers… were showing up each day at work despite the risk”, the implication being that teachers should take that risk also.

In keeping with the more centrist approach of the former Fairfax media, a range of articles appeared that were broadly sympathetic in their representations of teachers and the dilemmas facing teachers as workers. These included letters to the editor in The Sydney Morning Herald entitled, “Teachers can be heroes but only with proper resources”.

Media matters

Media discourses form a crucial part of a broader discursive framework of how teaching is perceived and enacted. They can also inform policy which is often used symbolically as a means to solve a ‘problem’. These discourses also shape the professional identity of teachers in ways that have profound and ultimately negative impacts on their work, their ability to commit long term to the profession and their motivation to continue in a vocation for which many have felt a deep calling. This is the cost of a constant negative media barrage about teaching.

The opportunity presented by COVID-19 media coverage

We believe COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to reflect, reconsider and set aside the poisonous politics of the media and society’s teacher blame game. Are we ready and willing as a society to grasp the potential it offers us and our children?

Jane Wilkinson is Professor in Educational Leadership, Faculty of Education at Monash University. Jane is Lead Editor of the Journal of Educational Administration and History and a member of the Australian Council of Educational Leadership, Victorian executive. Jane’s research interests are in the areas of educational leadership for social justice, with a particular focus on issues of gender and ethnicity; and theorising educational leadership as practice/praxis. She is a lead developer of the theory of practice architectures (Kemmis, Wilkinson, Edwards-Groves, Hardy, Grootenboer, & Bristol, 2014). She also draws on sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s work and the philosopher, Ted Schatzki. Jane has published widely in the areas of women and leadership, refugee students and theorising leadership as practice/praxis. Jane is on Twitter @JaneWillkin1994

Katrina MacDonald is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the School of Education, Deakin University, Australia. Her research and teaching interests are in educational leadership, social justice, educational research history, and the sociology of education through a practice lens (feminist, Bourdieu, practice architectures). Katrina is a former anthropologist, archaeologist and primary and secondary teacher in Victoria, Australia. She tweets at @drfreersumenjin

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme (project DP190100190) with Deakin University as the administering organisation. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or Australian Research Council. Other investigators include Prof Amanda Keddie (Deakin), Prof Jill Blackmore (Deakin), Dr Brad Gobby (Curtin), Associate Professor Scott Eacott (UNSW and Associate Professor Richard Niesche (UNSW).

The shock of dealing with Covid-19 has made teachers even stronger and better at their craft

Cast your mind back to the end of the first school term for 2020: Australian states and territories were rapidly moving into lockdown because of COVID-19. Political leaders were signaling – often using mixed signals – the likelihood and need to close schools and transition to distance learning. Here in New South Wales schools switched to distance learning for about six weeks, forcing teachers to adapt their programs very rapidly to support students and their parents with learning from home.

Currently around Australia we now have the whole range from fully face-to -face schooling, to partially remote learning, to fully (with some essential worker exceptions) remote learning. Random schools are thrown into immediate lockdown whenever a teacher or student tests positive to the viral infection. Teachers pivot their programs very rapidly between the different ways of delivery depending on the advice from health officials to their education authorities.

My doctoral research explores the way policy is enacted in teacher practice, and I seem to have landed in the middle of a system where policy has flown into flux.

My fieldwork actually started in the midst of one crisis – the Black Summer bushfires – and ended during another – COVID-19. I was fortunately able to modify the shape of my research to allow for interviews with teachers to find out how they experienced the rapidly changing work environment during the virus response.

I’m sure some of the findings are familiar to many teachers and researchers out there, and they aren’t specific to schools. For many people, the switch to working from home was sudden and required quick thinking and adaptation.

The teachers who participated in my research reported a number of interesting, and not all negative, experiences.

Workload increased dramatically

Teachers already faced significant workload demands going into the crisis, an issue plainly described in a partnership study between the NSW Teachers Federation and the University of Sydney. The teachers I interviewed explained how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this big time.

Teachers spend a huge amount of time planning and programming a school term, and much of that planning is premised on the physical environment in which they work. Educators take for granted the material contexts of their work – it helps them to improvise when necessary, to draw on a repertoire of skills and capabilities built up through experience.

In the Sydney school where I did my research the staff made a very rapid shift to online learning. This led to late nights preparing lessons, in some cases over-planning work for students in order to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction.

Some students felt more comfortable online

A number of teachers reported some students coming out of their shells in the online space. Otherwise shy students felt more empowered to contribute to lessons. Students with strong digital literacy skills were able to support teachers and fellow students in creating dynamic and interesting contributions to online learning.

While there has rightly been some attention paid to students who missed out because of inequitable access, there are also lessons that can be learned about engaging students who are less confident about speaking up in front of a classroom of peers. The digital world is here to stay: being confident learners in digital communities is an important life skill, virus or not.

Professional communities were more important than ever

The staff at the school scheduled an impromptu staff development day focused entirely on delivering learning remotely. Colleagues ran sessions on platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Faculty members headed to different classrooms to practice running Zoom lessons with each other. The New South Wales Department of Education also facilitated a ‘virtual staff room’ on Teams, and many teachers reported the value in sharing ideas with their colleagues both within the school and further afield.

When I spoke with the Deputy Principal of this school, he suggested that their quick response to COVID-19 was possible because of the school’s proactive approach to professional learning. The school saw the Professional Development Planning (PDP) process not as a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise, but rather a way to learn about the strengths and opportunities facing the school. He explained:

“What professional learning is about is foreseeing what obstacles might lie ahead, so that you can be properly prepared for when they do happen and you couldn’t get a better case in point than COVID.”

A year-round professional learning calendar helps staff at this school see the connection between their own Professional Development Planning and the whole school plan. Qualitative analysis of Professional Development Planning goals and professional learning needs helps inform the school planning process. And the teachers I interviewed were consistently engaged in improving their classroom practice.

Teachers felt their practice had improved because of the crisis

Each teacher I spoke with said that they had learned something during the crisis and that their practice going forward would improve as a result, sentiment echoed in a survey conducted by researchers Rachel Wilson and William Mude. This included their ability to incorporate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into their lessons, the different ways they can engage with their students, and their professional knowledge in the domain of online teaching and learning. As one teacher explained:

“I think there will be good development in our skills that will make us better teachers going forward. It’s been a baptism of fire, but I think we’ll all be better practitioners and have a wider repertoire of skills.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned a lot of things on their heads: it is a black swan event, something gigantic and unexpected that shifts the way we understand the world. Nassim Taleb, who wrote the book, The Black Swan, followed that with another book, Antifragile. He explains that the opposite of fragility is not resilience, but antifragility: where something responds to a shock by getting stronger.

The teachers I worked with pre and post COVID-19 (as far as we can say that we are ‘post’ this virus) are a perfect example of antifragility. So far, 2020 has delivered some of the biggest shocks imaginable. And out of it the teachers in my study have become even better at their craft thanks to the strength of their professional communities and their school’s meaningful approach to professional learning.

Pat Norman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney, looking at the way politics and political events shape the rationalities of policy and practice. He is particularly interested in the way neoliberalism and globalisation impact professional work. His current research in schools looks at the way teachers experience and enact policy, and how an understanding of good practice is produced in real-world contexts. He tweets as @pat_norman.

Speculating on teacher attrition in Australia: Might COVID-19 be ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’?

It is worth considering the potential impact COVID-19 might have on teachers, many already feeling devalued and over-worked, as they return to their classrooms after a period of heightened pressure to perform in on-line learning environments.

Teacher attrition is a persistent and well-documented problem in Australian education, especially in historically disadvantaged schools where teachers are leaving the profession at increasingly high rates.

This recent intensification of workload and the broadening of their role might work towards ‘breaking the camel’s back’ for some teachers.

The flipside of the debate however is whether other teachers might react positively to the challenges of COVID-19, not just because teaching is a reasonably secure source of income but with a renewed passion for the profession. They might even be inclined to stay in teaching for longer.

While it is obviously too early to know exactly what will happen to the teaching workforce it is worth thinking about these scenarios in an effort to prompt government, teacher education providers and school communities to prepare for both eventualities.

Teachers rarely leave ‘hard-to-staff’ schools because of the children

Pre-COVID-19, attrition was already considered a significant workforce issue with up to 50 per cent of Australian teachers predicted to leave the profession before making it to five years. In hard-to-staff schools in high poverty, remote and rural communities, teacher turnover statistics are even higher.  According to OECD 2019 data, over a third of principals in disadvantaged schools report their capacity to provide instruction is hindered by a lack of teaching staff.

Interestingly, the reasons behind Australia’s teacher exodus are rarely ever around ‘fleeing their students’. Instead, teachers attribute their departure to feelings of disillusionment around such things as isolation, increasing administrative demands, lack of on-going learning and support, and insufficient recognition of their work.

As teachers leave the profession, we are finding that schools serving historically marginalised communities are often being staffed with the least experienced educators. Beginning teachers are faced with the extra challenges of coping with professional and geographic isolation, placing them at an increased risk of suffering burnout before they their career gets started.

Unanticipated consequences

Understanding such issues for school staffing provides a reminder that whatever eventuates from COVID-19 is in addition to pre-existing teacher workforce issues, including demoralisation and overload. The unanticipated consequences awaiting us in the aftermath of the pandemic may just be the provocation to ‘break the camel’s back’; a back that is already under considerable strain for many teachers working in traditionally hard-to-staff communities.

Teachers are experiencing stress in new ways; some are saying they are putting their health at risk in what may be considered unsafe workplaces. During the time when schools were practically the only services to stay open, teachers reported feeling expendable, like ‘sacrificial lambs’. Now, upon returning to classrooms, they are expected to carry on regardless.

Lesson from the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand

The Christchurch earthquake in 2011 taught us that teachers will be feeling fragile after such a traumatic time; that, while they are being hailed as ‘first responders’ by some, they still might require support in their own right. After the earthquake, there was notable staff attrition and an increase in sick days, mostly related to teachers’ own ongoing anxieties. Many were not ready to return to work when asked to do so.

Australian teachers, particularly those working in vulnerable communities, will now be re-entering schools under conditions where families are suddenly under tremendous financial, physical and psychological stress, and they are worried about both their students and their own families.

The transition to and from Online Learning

Our teachers are still experiencing the stresses associated with putting their teaching online. While the presence of online learning in Australian schools has grown significantly in the past few years, most teachers pre-COVID-19 continued to utilise technology to sustain more traditional teaching practices. This has made navigating the transition to the digital space an often stressful and challenging task. By mere design, moving to a virtual learning environment further alters the nature and magnitude of teachers’ workloads.

One misconception associated with online instruction is that ‘teaching is teaching,’ meaning that the skill sets needed in the face-to-face environment are transferable to online teaching without any adjustments. However, teachers have found that this is far from the truth. Online pedagogy requires different competencies and skill sets. All this has added to an increase in workload, stress and levels of emotional exhaustion for our teachers; especially true for teachers working in communities with limited or no access to such technologies and knowledges.  

Impact on early career teachers

Another issue requiring consideration involves the impact of COVID-19 on early career teachers who are employed under the contract system adopted by most Australian state education departments. This system, based mainly on short term contracts (usually 12 months but can be as short as one school term), is used often to employ new teachers in rural and regional areas. As a result, many of these beginning teachers experience diminished job security and uncertain expectations about their futures. Will the loss of income for the already undervalued casual teacher workforce lead to an increase in attrition rates in this sector?

This, added to the stresses that teachers already felt in rural Australia from the terrible bush fires earlier in 2020, make us worried that more than ever that it would be hard to attract and recruit new teachers to relocate in such precarious times.

Possible loss of a whole cohort of graduate teachers

Universities and teacher education institutions are also airing concerns about potential fallout from COVID-19. While universities cope with their own online learning challenges and significant financial woes, they must now contend with a graduating teacher workforce under strain. Some early projections were that the loss of a whole cohort of graduate teachers would cause unprecedented workforce shortages. As a longer-term concern, Australian Initial Teacher Education Programs are also worried about attrition from Initial Teacher Education in general as students may change their minds about becoming a teacher.

It’s not all bad news for teaching 

On the other hand, there is also evidence that teachers respond to major paradigm shifts with optimism and creativity. According to the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey, most teachers are open to innovation and say they thrive on developing new ways of practising. This could prove true in the current context as students return to classrooms with teachers who feel re-motivated to focus on new ways of teaching and learning.

After the Christchurch earthquake, some teachers mentioned that being around children again actually helped them manage their own emotional responses. So, heading back to school might make a big difference in mitigating any difficulties teachers face as a consequence of COVID-19 and provide opportunity for teachers to reconfirm their passion for the profession.

A new appreciation of teachers

COVID-19 is also giving Australians a chance to pause and renew their appreciation for teachers and teachers’ important place in society. Lately, there has been increased recognition by parents and the community of the work teachers do, especially in the wake of on-line schooling in the home. Trending across Twitter, Instagram and YouTube has been the #TeachersRock hashtag. This has provided a platform for Australians to post positive messages for teachers as they started Term 2. It follows on from other on-line initiatives around the world to thank those working in the front line.

As parents and the general public acknowledge the complexity of teaching and learning, this may well lead to an improvement in teachers’ social status and result in further retention of teachers who feel further valued.

Looking optimistically to the future, when all this is finally over, teaching may emerge as a more desirable profession. The dire financial impact of COVID-19 might see teachers remaining in their secure jobs and could attract those from other professions into the field, based on its historically safe employment status. Moreover, for the first time in decades, teachers might gain in social status having proved their value to the public as front line or essential workers. Perhaps COVID-19 may even offer opportunity for teachers to be finally recognised for the crucial role they play.

Whatever happens one thing is clear: how we support teachers to work in these times of uncertainty during COVID-19 is more crucial than ever.

Stephanie Garoni is a lecturer in the School of Education at La Trobe University. She is interested in the practices of schooling and how these practices are held together in the work of teachers and their students. She has many years of experience as a classroom teacher, teacher librarian, learning support teacher, enrichment coordinator, literacy and numeracy advisor and deputy principal in both Australian and overseas schools. She now lives and works in regional Victoria. Her current role at La Trobe University is in the Nexus program as an academic coordinator. She can be contacted at s.garoni@latrobe.edu.au. Stephanie is on Twitter @StephanieGaroni

Jo Lampert is a Professor in the School of Education at La Trobe University. She is also Director of the Commonwealth funded NEXUS alternative pathway into teaching at La Trobe University. Nexus is a community-engaged teacher education program designed to prepare culturally diverse, high quality teachers for metropolitan, regional and rural Secondary schools in Victoria, many of which are hard-to-staff .Jo was founder and co-director of the National Exceptional Teaching for Disadvantaged Schools program (NETDS) for ten years prior to moving to La Trobe University in 2017. Her research has included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, teacher education for high poverty schools and community-engagement in teacher education. Jo also has an interest in literary studies and is known for her research in children’s books about September 11, 2001. She can be contacted at J.Lampert@latrobe.edu.au  Jo is on Twitter  @jolampert

Messages from teachers at the coalface as COVID-19 changes everything

I am a university teacher and researcher who studies the art and science of good school leadership. Most of my students are mature age, full-time teachers and deputy principals from around Australia who want to become principals, and who believe studying my units will help them with that goal. (And it often does.)

Part of my job requires me to fly to China and teach Chinese principals about school leadership in a week of intensive face to face teaching with follow up online teaching. My last trip to China was in early December 2019. My Chinese school principal students’ second assignment was due on 10 th January 2020. I remember that due date well – because that was the day they went into lockdown in their area. They are still in lock down today.

Fast forward to this week, and the COVID-19 tsunami has crashed wave after wave of destruction onto Australia’s shores. I’ve had four months to prepare for the disruption I will face as an educator in Australia (and I did). But now watching my students’ shock and panic (remember they are all full-time teachers and many are already school leaders) has been heart-wrenching and inspiring too.

I have been receiving many emails from my students telling me of their school’s situation and how they are handling the urgent transition to online learning and a very different method of teaching.  I have been offering them assignment extensions; theoretical advice; and stern lectures about putting themselves first and trying not to be all things to all people in the present, crazy situation.

I am sharing excerpts from some of those emails with you today. They speak for themselves. (I have removed specific details, names, and compliments passed my way). Each except is from a different teacher.

Thank you so much for your support. After tonight’s PM address I am feeling more and more distressed and unsupported from our government. At present we are now expected to teach our students online as well as face to face which has made teaching almost impossible. My Principal is trying her best but we have no time to create resources and learn technology to assist our students. Add that with the lack of hand sanitiser (we ordered it weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived) and the impossible task of social distancing any kids from kindy to year 12 and we are just scared, so so scared.

I work in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory and with ongoing to travel restrictions and other measures that have been put it place over the last couple of days, it has been difficult for myself to get my assignment completed as we have had to urgently go and complete 800km round trip for food. Also, we have now been notified this morning that we have to plan and prepare work for the possible closure of the schools, this is extra work outside of the normal school hours, and we have been instructed to complete this before close of school tomorrow.

We have delivered one week of teaching via distance learning, which has consisted of the creation of online lessons. It has been a real challenge to create music lessons for primary students while keeping them actively engaged in music-making and not just completing worksheets. It has given me a new appreciation for creating varied and authentic online learning experiences.

The constantly changing situation of COVID-19 is challenging us all. I support early childhood teachers across [a large region]. I am getting phone calls and emails all day and into the night because of the high level of uncertainty. The teachers I support are worried for their finances, worried for their jobs, worried for their families, worried for their own health and worried for their students.

Last week, our college conducted a house to house survey of our [hundreds of] students who come from five indigenous communities and less than 10% have access to a computer or iphone.  Two of our communities have no access at all due to finance and no adsl/mobile access.   

As an administrator in a Secondary school the pandemic, has added extra workload at what is an already busy time of year. Workload pressures come not only in the form of the day to day practices but being compassionate with parents/students and teachers and spending time with them to alleviate their fears and anxiety.  I, and my wife (who is immune compromised and works in [another education  sector]), would love to be able to work from home, but we are told that schools need to remain open, and therefore are facing the reality of keeping our own children at home unsupervised to minimise the risk of my wife contracting the virus.

So sorry for the delay, you are correct in that school has been very busy, the staff have done double planning for two weeks and now crash courses on how to be completely online. 

We are still running the school with no clear end date than our original one for our Easter break. We are running on skeleton staffing so I am still required on-site at least one day a week. I feel blessed to still have employment but worry extensively about my health and young family if I get sick. 

And finally, an extract from a message sent to me by administration staff from my child’s high school:

As far as a wish-list goes for our students, our priority is for our Year 12 students to assist them complete their year, achieving their best results, despite the disruptions we are all facing. Anything that goes to the school or students will need to be a donation as they won’t be covered by insurance, nor can we guarantee return from the students homes.

We are currently looking to source 4G dongles (to assist with Connect downloads, Education Perfect etc…) for those students who do not have internet access in their homes, USB’s so students can save documents and can be printed for submission and laptops / tablets / ipads (there are a few who rely on alternative family members or school based resources) to complete work. Anything you can do to assist would be received gratefully by our students

Dr Christine Cunningham is a senior lecturer and teaching-researcher working in the School of Education at Edith Cowan University. Her current role is Higher Degree by Research Coordinator while she still teaches Postgraduate Studies in Educational Leadership. Christine conducts and supervises a diverse range of research in school leadership, curriculum and international education. Christine is on Twitter @DrCCunningham