By Melissa Meehan
Victorian teachers are balancing between protecting their own health and providing a safe environment for their students as they work through the coronavirus pandemic.
Some teachers, who have no choice but to go to work, are isolating themselves from family members in an attempt to protect those most vulnerable.
While many Australians are making the most of working from home in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, teachers (like doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers) are still going into the office.
Until told otherwise Victorian schools, and schools across the country, are remaining open and taking a business as usual approach.
John, who works as a teacher in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, says both professionally and personally it has been a trying time.
He said many of his colleagues are feeling a bit like babysitters – particularly as many families are choosing to self-isolate.
And watching news of many private schools closing is confusing.
“Larger school communities are still in contact or surrounded by thousands of people every day with parents and carers, students and teachers on school grounds,” he said.
“And because of this some teachers are choosing to isolate from their families due to not having the option to stay home and work.”
John said many teachers were worried that children, who often show no symptoms, could pass on the virus to them and then in turn affect those most vulnerable in the community.
“We are in a limbo where the government is telling us we are not closing but prepare for closure,” John said.
‘So there are teachers are planning to go online without any guide as to what that should look like.”
It’s not only adding extra work, but extra stress in an already trying time.
But others like Susan Howard, who is a teacher south-east of Melbourne says the decision to close schools is not so simple.
“As a teacher I’m not scared at all,” she said.
“In my opinion (though it may not be shared by all) school is the safest place (away from outsiders and more possible infection) for many young people.
“Particularly those who come from negative home environments and domestic violence.”
She said prolonged isolation has shown to cause increased home tensions and violence – not something she or many others want to encourage or see the results of.
“School is also a place of calm and structure amidst all the hysteria and craziness in the world,” she said.
“Our job is to ensure the well being of young people (physical, mental and educational) and that’s what i intend to do.
“It’s a privilege. But of course everyone has a different perspective and situation and we should respect everyone’s individual opinions and choices- as I hope people will mine.”
The Australian Education Union says the coronavirus outbreak is proving challenging for education professionals and these “unprecedented circumstances are raising concerns and anxiety for many members”.
In another blow for teachers, the Victorian Institute of Teaching announced they were closing their hotlines and reception from Thursday.
A state of emergency was declared in Victoria on March 16 in a bid to combat the spread of COVID-19.
All non-essential planned gatherings were cancelled for events greater than 500 (outdoor) and 100 (indoor).
These measures do not include the closure of early childhood services, schools or higher education institutions.