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Teachers are not babysitters

As the beginning of the new school year approaches, politicians, doctors and journalists are racing to tell us all that school must go back on time and stay open regardless.

They rightly talk about the effect that school closures have had on kids – none of us would disagree. It’s been a devastating time for all of us.

But the idea that, as we approach what will be a calamitous peak in infections, schools can carry on as normal is ludicrous.

SMH education editor, Jordan Baker, penned a piece today on “How to keep schools open in the age of Omicron.”

According to Jordan, who has patently never been employed as an educator, “schools will have to work out ways to operate with significantly fewer staff until the wave of disease peaks, and case numbers begin to fall.”

“Teachers, even those who are double vaccinated and boostered, are likely to fall ill (although the vaccination will protect most from severe illness) and this poses serious workforce issues for their bosses.”

This is not just some sort of esoteric issue for school principals to solve. You cannot open schools unless there are sufficient well teachers to staff them.

“In the United Kingdom, there have been predictions that around a quarter of teachers at any given school could be off sick or furloughed at once. NSW’s school system is already suffering a chronic shortage of casual teachers, so this could make operating schools difficult,” Jordan concedes.

Paediatrician and epidemiologist Fiona Russell says the education sector would, like all sectors, need a workforce plan.

“The UK has asked retired teachers to return. The Australian health sector is using medical students. If teachers have COVID but are asymptomatic, they could still deliver lessons remotely.”

That’s fab. Except retired teachers would presumably be older making them in the more vulnerable cohort for infection, and would be unlikely to have current ‘working with children’ accreditation. Trainee teachers, one or two years out of school themselves, cannot be expected to leave their studies to fill in for absent staff, and who is going to supervise students when infected teachers are delivering lessons remotely? Does she think the class will sit there nicely on their own listening to a talking head on a tv screen?

Russell’s colleague at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Professor Sharon Goldfeld, said children have “carried the can for adults. We’ve kept them away from school and childcare. Now that COVID is in the community, they can no longer carry the can for adults. Schools are the epicentre for children’s health, wellbeing and learning.”

Yup. But where is the concern for the teachers who look after your children every day? Where is the regard for their expertise? You can’t just drag people off the street to replace them if they get sick.

These non-education experts talk about “keeping cohorts together” to minimise the spread. Have they forgotten that a high school teacher’s cohort is everybody who does that subject? 150 different kids a day? They talk about combining classes like it’s no problemo. Do they understand how hard it is to teach maths to 30 adolescents? Make it 60, make it 100…and carry on?

We all want our kids to be back at school, learning and playing and doing all the normal kid stuff. But these are not normal times and teachers are not easily replaceable babysitters.


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  1. Wanderer

    Thank you Kaye! Teachers are educators, not babysitters and carers. They work extremely hard to provide engaging, relevant, differentiated learning to an increasingly diverse and disengaged cohort of children who’s parents generally display at best disinterest, frequently disrespect and disregard for their children’s futures.
    Teachers also deserve respect for the roles they have to play in dealing with children in need of support who are unable to have their needs met elsewhere. The constant mantra of ‘you should be able to deal with all students in your classes’, as more and more students are foisted on classes where they are unable to be properly supported and learn without extra staff and resources is self defeating. Not only do the students with needs not get what they need, teachers are frequently disempowered by constant disruptions, and frequent verbal and physical aggression, they have no ability or support to deal with. Hence more able students are not having their needs met, and becoming disengaged.
    The huge funding cuts the LNP have made to public education over the past years have created a further ‘dumbing down’ of students in the public sector, almost as if there’s a form of social engineering occurring. Howard’s narrow and didactic ‘Australian Curriculum’ has not served Australian education well, but I’m sure he’s proud to have created a generation of voters dumb enough to believe in Morrison, Palmer, et al..

  2. New England Cocky

    Oh dear Kaye Lee, you have opened a can of worms with this article. Scummo & Co are just discovering that failing to plan for any epidemic, this time COVID, results in social & economic chaos. Indeed, your former student colleague Toxic RAbbott cancelled the Working Group planning for epidemic control as an early ”cost saving” measure that demonstrated a certain anal gazing future strategy.

    It has been ”common knowledge” among the DoE Senior Executive Service [those teachers who have escaped the chalk-face because they were unwilling to work in a Dickensian workplace so were prepared to join magic handshake clubs & lick the anal sphincters of like minded self-serving persons] that teachers are such gifted individuals they are able to teach anything once they have finished their teacher training.

    Indeed, it is too common practice in too many schools, especially in hard-to-staff country schools, where trained English teachers are expected to teach woodwork, Social Science teachers can teach 4-Unit Mathematics and anybody can teach practical Agriculture.

    However, this is another DoE myth, like female teachers are earning pin money to supplement their spouse’s regular job income, anybody can be a teacher, and a two year Teacher’s College Certificate & subsequent allocation to a remote bush one teacher school is the best learning experience for new young inexperienced teachers. In reality, this is the only way to get staff to work in those country places, and so, as the personal life experience of the SES members, it must be the best training for all new recruit teachers.

    Many parents have been shocked to discover that teaching their own two, three or four kids is challenging and they want out. So pass the buck and further overload the underpaid poorly resourced public education sector because private schools are blackholes to throw money into while buying the votes of aspirational parents.

    Perhaps the best policy opportunity for Scummo, who does not hold the chalk, is to blame the teachers who wanted to go to the football, and the teachers who holidayed in Hawaii during the bushfires and the Labor state governments who established the Commonwealth responsibility quarantine zones without adequate vaccine resources supply, distribution or planning by the Commonwealth.

    Perhaps the optimal long term solution of this on-going disaster is to banish the Liarbral Nazional$ parties to obscurity at the next respective state & feral elections.

  3. John Hanna

    Carpe Diem and ask for a pay rise and better conditions. Seems like an opportunity for some ball squeezing. Where is a Union when you need one.

  4. corvusboreus

    NSW teachers took general strike action on Tues 7/12 last year, seeking improvements to conditions and pay.

    Definitive union-coordinated collectivised action.

    They probably need to wait for the next school semester to start before going on strike again.

  5. Phil Pryor

    Public education and the teachers within need great support, more pay, better conditions, great recognition, all to get results the nation wants and needs. Too many shitskull conservative retards and regressives do not understand this, relying on exclusivism, triumphal supremacist positioning, alternative snobbish favoured closeted superstition. They suck out the money…subsidising superstition and savagery and sheer stupidity is not civilised, not beneficial…

  6. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, Kaye.

    Yes. And in all of the talk that has gone on about ‘the virus’, schoolkids and schools has been minor key, if not almost absent. We’ve had a 4-yo here at our place who has tested positive, and been quite sick for a couple of days. Her Mum is a primary teacher/ They’re gong to have to find their way back to NSW in the very near future. Current advice from our health authorities is non-existent.

    Kids are not immune, and that means teachers are going to be exposed. And vice versa.

    We still don’t know what long-term problems there might be with Omicron. And meanwhile, Delta now has permission to cross borders, order a drink at a bar, go to the cricket. Whatever.

  7. corvusboreus

    Delta and Omicron are not allowed to drink whilst standing up,
    and can be one of only 20 couples designated to dance unsubtly.

  8. wam

    Unfortunate choice of maths, Kaye.
    Perhaps the best school for maths in my 40 years of secondary was open planned and year 8, 9 10 began each maths topic as one group for the general introduction and basic skills then broke up into ‘selected’ classes.
    As for babysitters:
    using maths again
    When the lying rodent ‘forced’ students to year 12 maths faculties were handing out septic arithmetical sheets with hundreds of single digit ‘problems’ – baby sitting??
    In darwin we no high schools, we have middle and senior schools.
    In my last week of relief teaching, the maths faculty had no teachers with tertiary maths qualifications and only one with year 12 maths. All faculties have non secondary trained teachers for baby sitting duties.
    Yes, teachers are not baby sitters but some students are baby sat?
    my granddaughter’s science teacher is a creationist


  9. Kaye Lee


    We won’t have the perennial faculty war here (though I remember well how it goes).

    I like the idea of groupings as you described for maths – it wouldn’t require any less teachers, just maybe using them better to provide skill appropriate content rather than age directed. I can see some problems – older kids don’t like to be “sent down” to be with the young ones. I’d prefer better individual programs within their own cohort. But that WOULD require more staff.

    I studied astronomy at uni the year Haley’s fizzer came. My lecturer was a creationist. I STILL cannot come to terms with that.

    PS The babysitters in classrooms are not educators and they do our children a great disservice

  10. Kaye Lee

    “Premier Dominic Perrottet says that kids will be returning to school on day one of term one in a safe environment for staff and students.

    He hopes the states can commit to a uniform approach.

    Perrottet says that a key issue is around staffing as the state opens up schools. He acknowledges that there will be challenges and that there will be “inconveniences” that arise, but that the government is committed to this plan.”

    Because sticking to THE PLAN regardless of what is happening in the community worked so well in December….

    Inconveniences? That’s how you describe it? Waiting for some idea of how he expects this to work………

  11. Kate Ahearne

    New South Wales has almost 2,000 new hospitalisations overnight, and 16 deaths!

    Is this what is called ‘living’ with it?

  12. Michael Taylor

    Kate, don’t be surprised if Morrison’s next slogan is “living with death”.

  13. Kaye Lee

    Palaszczuk says because of the wave Queensland will be experiencing when students are due to return to school, children won’t return to classrooms on 24 January.

    Instead, the school year will start on 7 February, and finish a week later in December.

    Year 11 and 12 students will start a little earlier on 31 January, but they will move to remote learning for the first two weeks.

    “We are expecting the peak of this wave during…the end of January, early February…this is going to be a tough time of year for a lot of people, I thank them for their patience and their understanding.”

    That’s a plan.

  14. wam

    Kaye, I thank you for your thought that the maths system of 50 years ago had merit. I agree that the other topic has many hidden doors. The one that got me shifted from maths to science was the testing where the maths thought 50% on the topic, 30% extension and 20% for the brightest was the only way. I tried to say that because a dedicated hard worker could study their arse off and never get 100%, some stopped at 50% or less if they made a typo, and we knew who was the ‘maths’ whizz why not set tests on what we had taught? It was great for maths because some students, who would be arithmetically streamed out of maths in day one, were able to do well at different topics. The usual school selects maths potential from arithmetic because the testing is easy but maths is far more. I was taught by lang and taught with hammon, the co-authors of the new math text books, clapp, hamon and lang in the early 60s Keith took my lowest streamed 2T2 class, at darwin high, in 69 for a lesson. It was terrific to see the supposedly dumb maths kids ENJOYING linear programming and to see Keith enjoying himself whilst his entourage we watch pointing at the door. These kids were streamed by their ability to manipulate numbers or by colour and were judged ‘dumb’. The were so instructed that they thought themselves dumb. My inner thrills when I see ex-students(my first high school class were born in ’45.) are still associated with changing that perception. At least one year the english were unable to stream so they use the maths faculty list. The abuse of NAPLAN makes me think streaming is still in use and thousands of kids are not given the chance to experience maths. The same year 12 certificate is granted if the candidate is at grade 3 standard or atar 99.9. Aboriginal students can have their standard lowered. No incentive for the education system or teachers to investigate individual expertise?

  15. Carina McNaughton

    I am terrified what the new school year will bring. My son who is 12 has diagnosed dyslexia and dysgraphia. He went undiagnosed unrecognized until lockdowns when he was in grade 5. He is several years behind thanks to school which use non evidenced based teaching. Fontas and penell leveled literacy rather than using evidence based science of reading approaches.i in victoria 1 in 5 children have dyslexia. We had to pay for a private assessment as do many many other parents. If my son had not had a private tutor twice a week who teaches explicit structured literacy he would be even further behind. He starts yr 7 this year. He has had periods of school refusal because he has no self worth can’t keep up and says he is dumb. We couldn’t get into a psychologist until February this year. The whole system is under incredible strain. No you can’t pluck teachers out of the air. My heart breaks for all children but especially children with learning difficulties and their teachers.

  16. Carina McNaughton

    Wam and Kaye. So many children fail to grasp math as they have dyscalculia. I myself have many signs of dyscalculia. It wasn’t until my nursing training thanks to a very special patient tutored that I began to grasp some of the more difficult maths. Well difficult for me anyway. So many children’s difficulties go unrecognized. It sets them up to feel dumb at math their whole lives. All children have the right to education to support for learning difficulties. The state government provides no extra funding for their support and no access to NDIS. Even before Corona the system was and is broken. Now we see just how broken it is. May the federal election be the end of morriscum and his corrupt cronies.

  17. Kaye Lee


    Tell your son that he should aim for personal bests and continue pursuing things that interest him because he, like everyone, has special talents. He is not supposed to be able to know and do everything yet – just aim to improve at his own pace.

    You may want to have a chat with him about Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, both of whom were dyslexic, as are many other very talented people in their own fields.

    Also, he may be able to get classroom assistance (teachers aide or NDIS support) and things like longer to do exams and/or someone to read and scribe for him.

    Try talking to his year adviser about his needs and what they may be able to do to help. Sometimes they can organise part-time attendance if he can be productive at home.

    Encourage him to keep trying and remind him that our mistakes are how we learn, not something to beat ourselves up over. We are all good at different things.

    Loving him is the best start. Him forgiving himself for not being perfect is the goal. None of us are or ever will be.

  18. Michael Taylor

    Carol – a former teacher – after reading Kaye’s post mentioned that there was never a real problem with having a teacher or two off sick as there was always a pool of retired or temp teachers who could fill in. But, she added, during the pandemic the pool isn’t going to be large enough, and besides, what retired teacher is going to want to fill in at a school where teachers are coming down with Covid?

  19. Carina McNaughton

    Thanks Kaye. We changed schools to get him.more help. The victoria dyslexic support group on Facebook is wonderful place for information and support. Thank you for the encouragement. We always say just do your best. He will have accommodations this year. I was so sick of banging my head on a wall with his previous school. I encourage him to find his strengths and follow his passions. So many famous people have dyslexia. We are slowly pushing on and he knows we love and support him. Every day is a new day full of its own challenges. I just wish we had a capable PM instead of the not my job. I love all the comments and articles on aim. At least my son will be able to critically think and he has loads of compassion. Great article. I would love to see all teachers have better working conditions better pay and respect. They are amazing professionals.

  20. Florence

    Teaching is the only profession where politicians believe they know better, in fact, feel free in telling them how & what to teach.

  21. Kate Ahearne

    Hey, wam.

    I just ‘did the math’. You must be as old as the hills! Well done, you!!!

  22. Michael Taylor

    Carina, you’ve been through a lot. I’m guessing you’re one helluva amazing person.

  23. GL

    From spewscrap so it’s grain of salt time until more information comes through from other sources.

    Anyone else see Scummo and Crony Co. Inc. raising the spectre of “Dictator Dan” again, particularly with a looming election? This will set the other RWNJ’s and just plain nut jobs, off as well.

  24. Carina McNaughton

    Thank you Micheal. I don’t see myself as anything special. Just trying my best to help my son and other children. My sons tutor said she tells other people about me and wishes she could clone me. I think the same about her..I want to start a lunch club for children with learning difficulties at my son’s school. They are open to the idea. Teachers need all the help they can get.

  25. wam

    Carinna, keep supporting your son and the school. It will pay off.
    Whilst I was a shitkicker, my darling was a leader. Our daughter was dyslexic and continually threatened with being pushed out of maths. Worse was the mass of red lines through her english writing. One teacher made her write hundreds of words that she misspells even today.
    Fortunately her mother was principal when she got to high school and as much as the maths teachers tried to pressure her they could shift because of mum. She is now a PhD in chemistry and has spent the last 15 years with her daughter’s experience. On the vic facebook, I had a slash at one vic school for their program
    Sorry Kate maths?
    No you just did the ‘arithmetic’?My first teaching practice was in 1960 at Cowandilla. Then Woodville and Enfield High schools. Coming up to darwin at the end of 67.

  26. Kaye Lee

    It is a good thing that we are all different – it increases our creativity and initiative when people see things differently. The trouble is our education system is designed assuming everyone is at the same place at the same age.

    People learn differently. What works for one will not for another. I hate red pens!

  27. Michael Taylor

    Red was the colour of crosses if an answer was incorrect, while the tick was blue for correct answers.

    So red got off to a bad start.

    I was in a cafe a few years ago and sitting on the opposite table there was a lady doing a crossword puzzle with a blue pen that had a red cap. How could I concentrate?! The equilibrium of the universe could never be restored until she had the right coloured cap!

    My first wife is convinced that our eldest son’s autism was inherited from me. I would argue against that, as his IQ could be measured in light years… it’s totally off the charts. Plus he has a photograph memory. Hmmm. Maybe he did get it from me. 😁

    The poor lad had a hell of a lousy time at school, but that’s a long story.

  28. wam

    Yes michael,
    A sea of red is so discouraging.
    In Darwin, I used green or yellow circles and I traced maths problem answers back to an arithmetical error(s) an awarded marks for the maths rather than against the errors. A practise that was not looked on favourably by math faculty heads so only the T classes got credit for what they did rather than red Xs for what they didn’t.
    My wife and I shared our daughter’s learning difficulty: the arithmetic deficiency came from my darling and I contributed the english spelling. The former is bullshit as my darling is one of those women who says she can’t but she can.

  29. Kaye Lee

    Dr Nick Coatsworth, along with other medical experts, told Nine this morning children going back to school will not have an impact on the trajectory of Covid-19 Omicron cases.

    “Many kids have already had it so there is no cause to delay schools going back. It is not correct to delay it. I put my name on a letter (on Wednesday) to national cabinet indicating we do not feel as medical experts that is right.”

    This guy is really starting to annoy me. No-one has ever disagreed that children are better off at school. It all comes back to staffing and no-one has an answer beyond “there will be challenges”. Uh huh….. Schools couldn’t find enough staff before the pandemic. Thanks for the health advice….now can we hear from the people with experience in timetabling and staffing a school where you legally MUST have a sufficient adult to child ratio.

  30. Kaye Lee

    Fiona Russell on the ABC insisting schools MIST open on day one that they have “a really good solid plan for children and staff.”

    uh huh….any suggestions Fiona?

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