POM in Oz: Essentially we are all part of the big picture

Derek GoforthMidwest Times
March 1, 2021, a teacher holds masks to give to students on the first day back to in-person class amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Santiago, Chile. In Chile, public school teachers refuse to go back to class until it is declared safe to go back to school and the rest of society begins to open up again, while private schools open up their classrooms as every time the pandemic lockdown is eased by authorities.
Camera IconMarch 1, 2021, a teacher holds masks to give to students on the first day back to in-person class amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Santiago, Chile. In Chile, public school teachers refuse to go back to class until it is declared safe to go back to school and the rest of society begins to open up again, while private schools open up their classrooms as every time the pandemic lockdown is eased by authorities. Credit: Esteban Felix/AP

It’s one of life’s big questions: what is my value in this world?

Or in a modern-day context, am I essential or not? In a COVID-19 world, the term “essential” has taken on a new meaning.

It means are you considered important enough to our economy and society to keep going to work even when the population is thrown into lockdown. It also should mean you are prioritised for vaccines and the like.

Are there any other education workers who feel like they may have feet in two camps? We are certainly considered essential enough to do our day-to-day job, but have never been on the top of the list when it comes to getting the vaccine (in one of its variants).

This was highlighted once again during the most recent Perth and Peel lockdown — a long list of occupations were asked to stay home and travel only if completely necessary.

Schools, however, remained open, but as a slight backtrack, parents were given the option to keep their children at home. This lockdown, just like the previous ones, then led to the usual social media back and forth between teachers, parents and spectators.

Two arguments reigned — one protesting that teachers were being used as babysitters, and the other running education staff down for complaining. After all, supermarket staff, police, healthcare workers — they all have to go to work, so why not teachers?

Well, I can think of a few reasons — but my reasons are on both sides of the argument.

Yes, supermarket workers are not only going to work pretty much uninterrupted but they also can take measures to distance themselves from others — those plastic screens up at the tills are a great barrier to germs for instance.

Yes, police and healthcare workers are on the front line, but they were also prioritised for the vaccine and personal protective equipment.

No, teachers are not glorified babysitters, far from it. But the job of an educator is made quite tricky when half your students are off school because the State’s pollies have told parents this is an option.

The biggest thing that irks me is simple. Either education staff are “essential” or they are not. If they are essential, then give them the tools they need.

Give teachers and support staff the protection they need to do their job with confidence.

Stop the grey area — keep schools open, keep the normality and the mental health of students and parents in good order. But don’t hamstring our education professionals at the same time.

Derek Goforth is a teacher at Geraldton Christian College

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