GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Opinion: A critical time for our profession

The real challenge facing teaching staff is how to support each and every child, as well as looking after themselves, as we emerge from lockdown, says Ken Muir.

This August 2020 edition of Teaching Scotland magazine is published at a critical time for all teachers and other professional educators emerging from the world of post-Covid lockdown. Of course, it isn’t really “post-Covid” since there are still uncertainties about possible future spikes in the virus, as we have seen in some regions and other countries, and uncertainties about the extent to which health and safety mitigations put in place in workplaces are fully effective.

These are just some of the reasons why the proposed and often-criticised model of “blended learning”, which appeared to be dropped with the Deputy First Minister’s late June announcement of an August return, actually remains on the stocks.

As a member of the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG), I must declare an interest but it is worth stating by way of providing some reassurance that members of that group have done all they can over the summer to ensure that the re-opening of schools and other educational establishments is as safe as it can be for everyone and that contingencies are in place for whatever uncertainties await us in the future.

In spite of the best efforts of CERG and all parts of the education system, “uncertainty” is very much the key word in the minds of all professional educators as we begin to re-engage fully with children and young people in all education settings. Having endured five months of disruption and added stresses caused by trying to balance home life and a very different kind of working life, teachers are now facing the very real challenges of reconnecting with colleagues and, importantly, reconnecting with children and young people whose learning experiences over the past months have varied enormously. This is in spite of their best efforts in Hub schools and offering remote learning.

We know only too well that how you support one child’s recovery from lockdown is most certainly not the same as how you support another. Therein lies the real challenge facing all teaching staff.

In addition, and in spite of the successes in the SQA diet 2020, teachers still have very real concerns about the extent to which the attainment gap has widened during lockdown and the impact of anxiety and isolation on the health and wellbeing of learners (and some teachers) over the last five months. There remain uncertainties about a possible second wave of infections this winter, questions about SQA’s examination diet 2021, and talk of a generation of children and young people being “lost” to the coronavirus pandemic; the latter of which only serves to emphasise the critically important role teachers play in the recovery of our society from the virus – a society itself that has changed, and not always for the better.

Small wonder then that as we begin the new session, the resilience and psychological reserves of everyone are already strained to the limit – teachers and education staff, parents, carers and learners.

For teachers, there is rightly a strong focus on supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people, including their mental health and resilience, alongside both literacy and numeracy. However, it is equally important to remember that the wellbeing of teachers and other staff is just as much a priority as they face the daunting challenge of re-engaging themselves and their classes in learning.

Supporting the resilience and wellbeing of practitioners is something GTC Scotland recognised right at the start of the lockdown, which is why we have invested heavily in commissioning experts in wellbeing, anxiety and stress management, and coaching to help produce resources, deliver webinars and provide support of all registrants. There is no doubt that, from the feedback received and shared on social media, this support has been well-used and greatly appreciated by staff across the education spectrum. As many of you will know by now, these resources are all available through our website.

We are now extending that personal and professional support to new probationers and newly-qualified teachers, recognising the unique circumstances they have experienced since March, by commissioning the development of specific health and wellbeing resources to support them as they enter the teaching profession.

It is often said that we touch the future through teaching and that teachers play a critical role in shaping future society. That is what makes it the pre-eminent profession and why we choose to be in it. Despite the uncertainties of that future and the stresses being experienced, as the new session begins and no matter the scale of the challenge, teachers will always do their best for each and every individual in their classes so that they can play a positive role in that future society; whatever that might look like.

In a number of recent interviews, I have said that teachers were heroes in the way they had responded during lockdown and that I was confident they would rise to the challenges of the new normal. While much of the feedback I received on my interview was positive, some suggested my comments undermined “the real heroes” of Covid, while the predictable “teacher bashers” trotted out their usual lines about “moaning teachers” enjoying “long summer holidays” and “short working weeks”.

Reflecting on the comments I received reminded me of how Maya Angelou, author of that wonderful book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – a book for our time if ever there was one – described a hero as “any person really intent on making this a better place for all people”.

Teachers don’t set out to be heroes but that’s what teachers do every day and that’s why teachers are heroes!