Of course they are heroes

by Bethan Marshall

December 16, 2020

Dr. Bethan Marshall responds to attacks on teachers as she describes the realities of their heroism during the continuing Covid-19 crisis in schools.


Everybody needs to be educated but they also need to be kept healthy. The recent desire of Greenwich local authority to close its schools in the last week before Christmas in 2020 seemed a reasonable decision. The powers that be in that authority have obviously listened to the plight of teachers battling against ever increasing difficulties to cope with a pandemic.

It has become fashionable to vilify teachers as whingers and layabouts, front line workers who don’t deserve the credit that is given to others who have fought Covid 19: healthcare workers, care home workers and the police. Rod Liddle’s article recently in The Sun more or less summed up the attitude of many ‘Covid has made heroes of many of our front line workers but not teachers.’

I have to confess I am not in a school myself. I am in teacher education but that puts me in touch with a vast number of schools within the capital. I have links with schools elsewhere in the country and I will never cease to be impressed both by the students that I have who daily attend school and the teachers who support them. I have always been aware that those who are not part of the education system have a strange idea of what goes on in schools. I had hoped that teaching young people at home might give adults a better concept of what teachers do every day week in week out. But maybe that was just wishful thinking.

Since September schools, particularly secondary schools, have had to negotiate keeping students and staff healthy while also educating them as best they possibly can within rules of social distancing. This means working out shifts for students to arrive and have breaks; movement around the school; bubbles of year groups; working out whether it is better for students or staff to move around the school and when and where to wear a mask if you have to wear a mask at all. All this in classrooms which are either increasingly freezing as schools are encouraged to leave the windows open to increase ventilation and now with rates of pupils having to self isolate, teachers having to do the same.

Students and teachers are packed into overcrowded rooms, breathing the same air with a virus that pays no attention to the fact that these are schools which are there to educate young people. We are told that it only takes fifteen minutes before it becomes unsafe in a closed environment. Students and teachers are there for six hours a day, often with no PPE in the classroom.

The logistics of what senior leaders have to negotiate on a daily basis, working out who has to be sent home and how lessons can be covered with an increasingly sick staff, beggars belief.

Of course senior leaders and teachers want schools to stay open; they have all entered a profession dedicated to educating children. They have kept schools open throughout this pandemic and they,above all others, are concerned that Coronavirus has exposed the very wrong inequities in our society, which they already knew were there. When it is over and the Rod Liddles of this world have gone on to attack somebody else they will continue to fight for the education of those who are the least advantaged. But as it nears Christmas perhaps we could show a bit of good will and say teachers are heroes too and that they deserve a break.

Dr. Bethan Marshall is Senior Lecturer in English Education at King’s College, University of London and Vice Chair of the New Visions for Education Group.