Last week, UNESCO led its annual global celebration of the teaching profession. World Teachers' Day sets out to take stock of achievements, and to amplify the voices of teachers who are working towards the global education target of leaving no one behind.
Of course, 2020 has created another level of complexity for teachers across the world. This year’s theme, leading in crisis, reimagining the future does celebrate the profession as a force for good, but is also incredibly challenging. Reimagining the future is one thing: bringing positive change is quite another.
Leading in crisis
Not only are we asking teachers to educate our children and to keep them safe and healthy, but this year they’ve been working hard to ensure that learning can continue, managing infection control measures and supporting students as they get back into school. That’s a big ask.
Teachers were thanked and admired for their efforts during the pandemic. They kept schools open and bent over backwards in response to the government’s guidance throughout. It shouldn’t be surprising that they've been seen as valued frontline keyworkers – heroes for short – over the past few months.
This connection rings true to someone who is something of a hero specialist. Best-selling author, Lee Child, made his hero, Jack Reacher, the centre of more than 20 highly successful novels. Reacher, "a US military police veteran turned itinerant crime fighter" delights his fans by using a formidable set of behaviour management skills to enforce his own moral code and set things straight.
Back in the real world, Lee Child credits his primary school teachers with providing him with essential basic knowledge and an ability to think for himself. He’s also grateful for a grasp of mathematics which helped him understand how the world works, how to make rational decisions and how to predict the long game.
Valued members of society
According to Child, what’s currently missing is a focus on the value of the education profession, a wider appreciation of what teachers do for us and the appropriate status that they deserve. “I’d make them the highest-paid professionals, the most valued members of society,” he says, “so that the brightest and best would be competing to qualify.”
And what about the problems we’re currently facing? It’s simple, according to Child: “Education is all we’ve got to help us solve them” he says.
"We’re facing all kinds of problems, and education is all we’ve got to help us solve them." - Lee Child
As we reflect on World Teachers’ Day, we should certainly be grateful for teachers and all they do for us, but at the same time acknowledge how much we’re asking of them. Arguably, the education system was over-extended prior to Covid-19, and now we need them to provide remote learning, extra support for the vulnerable, and specialist assessment and catch-up tuition.
It’s not possible for teachers to shape the future of education on their own. They can be creative, energetic and resilient, sure – but they also need a framework and infrastructure to support their efforts. As Lee Child knows, we’ll always need heroes in our lives, but even the heroes are human too.