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Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

Who’d be a teacher, lads? Like, seriously.

The public perception is that teaching is a cushy number. And in fairness, BC – Before Coronavirus – teaching had its attractions.

It’s a State job, permanent and pensionable, and teachers enjoy holidays rivalled only by TDs and Senators. Weekends off, teachers also clock off earlier than most nine-to-five workers.

They won’t get rich on the salary, but opportunities exist to supplement income. Some teachers provide grinds, or take second or seasonal jobs. And there are extras for principals and for teachers eligible for qualification allowances.

A common response from teachers, when slagged about just how good they have it, was to point out that everyone got the same CAO form to fill in during Leaving Cert.

Which, of course, is true. But aren’t most of you glad now that you didn’t put Mary I or St Pat’s as your first choices for university?

You’d sooner lick door-handles in University Hospital Galway for a living. Okay, not quite. But teachers are now on the front-line of the response to Coronavirus.

Lockdown one was rough. It’s hard enough trying to engage a class of 30-plus six-year-olds when they’re sitting in a classroom. Try doing it remotely, on apps or email, when some kids don’t even have iPads or computers and others have sketchy Wi-Fi, or even sketchier parents who can’t be bothered. Like most workers, it was a significant change in work practices for scant recognition.

Then, during summer, secondary school teachers faced the fear of legal writs (welcome to journalists’ world!) for allocating marks to their students’ Leaving Cert. Calculated grades was a minefield.

Lockdown two is rougher. Because now it’s becoming clear that the entire school community – teachers, special-needs assistants, secretaries, principals, cleaners and students – face other hazards.

The sneaky suspicion is that schools aren’t the safe haven the authorities would have us believe. Safer, perhaps, than many other settings, but the definition of a close contact in classrooms is ridiculous.

We all know of a school in Galway that has had a case. Teachers are worried. Even though they’re not classified as close contacts, they know they have been in close contact with children in classrooms where Covid has been confirmed. If they worked anywhere else, they would be considered close contacts.

Pubs have closed if staff tested positive. But only children in the pods with a positive case are told to stay home – everyone else is expected to pretend nothing happened.

There is also an information vacuum. Teachers are learning from their students that their colleagues are out with Covid, or are isolating because they’re close contacts. Substitute teachers aren’t told the reason they’re getting a fortnight’s work is to cover for a confirmed case.

Teachers are scared. Some are feigning symptoms to secure Covid tests for peace of mind. Others plan unpaid leave before Christmas, so they can isolate for two weeks before going home to vulnerable families.

As a society, we’ve decided we want schools open. It’s long past time we put procedures in place to make them safe.
For more Bradley Bytes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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