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Each day, teachers across the nation stand in front of a class and deliver lessons.

At the younger end, in prep and the early years, they’re also routinely teaching our children to tie their shoelaces and tell the time, wipe their noses and wash their hands.

At the other end, they’re filling students’ minds with curiosity and helping them build the knowledge base required for courses as varied as the students’ minds.

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On any day — but often on a Monday — they might need to provide comfort to a girl who’s faced a weekend assault and doesn’t want to confide in her parents, or a boy who feels lost in his parents’ acrimonious split.

Every day the nation’s teachers — public, private and independent — are front and centre of our children’s lives, navigating a packed curriculum with a whole range of other issues. Despite the laughable remuneration they receive, however, they still don’t even qualify as frontline workers.

The revelations that several children have contracted COVID-19 in Melbourne — and that one primary school with positive cases is asking its parent community to limit movement — should change that.

Why would we put teachers in harm’s way by not considering them as crucial as others who have — and should have — gone to the front of the vaccine queue? What would happen if COVID took hold in schools, and it was our elderly teachers who became its target? Why would we risk losing some of our valuable teaching staff, who are fed up with the absolute lack of understanding behind them being put in front of classes while others can work from home?

Last year during the first lockdown that bounced around between states, I received several emails from teachers: some thanked me for removing my children from school early, while others explained the dread that built in the pit of their stomachs going home each night to a house where someone was immunocompromised. Others told of bringing forward their retirement and taking long service leave, worried they’d contract the virus and pass it on unknowingly. One male teacher explained how his mother and wife were both in the vulnerable category, but his school was absolutely inflexible: to keep his job, he needed to turn up.

When school transferred to remote learning, the focus was on our teachers again. This time they had to adapt their teaching, be adept online, and deliver quality lessons so students weren’t left behind.

When school resumed they were dealing with a mass loss of socialisation skills among younger students, and increased incidences of school refusal, self-harm and eating disorders in older children, particularly girls.

None of us should underestimate the anxiety COVID has caused many children, and how the uncertainty of its journey continues to play havoc in school yards and homes.

COVID has been hard on everyone. And that includes our teachers.

Late last week when restrictions eased slightly in Victoria, it was older students who were told to go back to school so they didn’t miss too much of the year’s curriculum. And, yes, it would be delivered by their teachers.

We didn’t need COVID to understand the appalling treatment meted out to those who educate our children for hours every day. But it’s made it now almost impossible to miss.

What do you think? Should vaccinating teachers be a higher priority than it is right now? Write to letters@crikey.com.au (and don’t forget to include your full name if you’d like to be considered for publication).

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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