Spare a thought for the tough life of teachers during lockdown
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This week it was little Jack’s fourth birthday.
It is bad enough for any child to have a post-Christmas, early January birthday, but to do so in lockdown is doubly hard. Jack’s parents had laid on for him a fantastic treasure hunt round the village, culminating in a magnificent birthday bonfire.
But still, I am told, his little lip wobbled as he asked: "Where are all my friends, mummy?"
And more insistently: "Where is my teacher, how will she get my cake?"
Jack’s teacher is the love of his life and the very centre of his existence. Both his parents work, and his father is sometimes abroad. His teacher represents stability, sunshine and so much that is creative, active and fun in his life If Jack is suffering through lack of school, how much more are other children suffering too, children who do not have the same stable, nurturing family life, or the resources that a home such as his can provide?
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And what about the teachers too? This extraordinarily dedicated and professional workforce to whom we trust our beloved children (and grandchildren) day in, day out. Women and men who nurture their minds, challenge their young brains, introduce them to new skills, listen to happenings in their lives - cajole, encourage, inspire, reward.
How are the teachers themselves coping with the pressures of lockdown, and enforced separation from their young charges?
"It is hard," said one. "Teaching is not just a job for us, it is a vocation, a way of life. I miss the kids, the rhythm of the school day, the school term, the school year. I miss the daily interactions with my class, the humour, the pride, the satisfaction and a joy like little else, when a difficult learning is finally mastered. I feel guilty too; guilt is pernicious, easy to soak up, especially when children and young people are concerned."
His voice changes a bit. "And I feel helpless really, when I know some kids are at home, seeing things they should not be seeing; hearing things they should not be hearing; perhaps being coerced into hideous situations they feel utterly powerless to resist and prevent. It happens all too often, and it is tough, very very tough. These so-called “hidden crimes” are everywhere, you wouldn’t believe.”
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Without a doubt, children who arrive at school from emotionally stable, happy and functioning families make the teacher’s task much easier. Arguably though, it is those children coming from homes at the other end of the spectrum that makes the job of teaching so very much more important. Every child deserves an advocate, a person who insists the child is not only educated, but becomes the best, most rounded human being they can possibly be. Leaders in our society are not born, we are told, but they are made. It is worth perhaps, reflecting, who then it is that helps create these future leaders?
I know teachers, together with all those who support children and young people within our schools, too often do not receive the praise they are due. With that in mind, I do thank them most profoundly, for the oft complex, sometimes heart-breaking, but ultimately quite remarkable, job they do. The greatest asset to a school, apart from the students themselves, is without doubt the character and personality of the teacher. It is the magic and alchemy between the two that forges the next generation. How fortunate are we here in Norfolk seemingly to have more than our fair share of such magic teachers.
We are told ‘it takes a big heart to shape little minds’ as young Jack has clearly discovered. Let us hope the large slice of birthday cake does not have to wait too long before it reaches the hands of his beloved teacher.
Lady Dannatt is Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk