On this World Teachers' Day...
Today we are celebrating teachers around the world – it’s World Teacher’s Day! To offer a little background, for those who don’t know, World Teachers’ Day is co-convened by UNESCO in partnership with UNICEF and the International Labour Organization and Education International and it has been observed on October 5th since 1994. But what is it exactly? The root of this day relates to the anniversary of the adoption of the “1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers”, which “sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions”.
In more recent times though, World Teachers’ Day has become more simply a celebration of teachers. Every year UNESCO marks the occasion with a theme, this year’s theme is: “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future” – an extremely apt and important frame of reference for celebrating teachers in our communities and around the world, given the significant changes and challenges they have faced as a result of COVID-19.
In Canada for example, in the span of just a couple of weeks and in some cases even less, teachers went from traditional in-class instruction supported by years of experience and skill development to guide them, to remote learning and virtual communications. It was a complete upheaval to what education delivery had previously looked like. Changes for teachers have continued from there. Sometimes week to week. Sometimes day to day.
What I wish people would remember about teaching in the time of COVID, is that teachers have been asked to do what most others have been vehemently told to avoid. Teachers have ultimately been asked to go into public settings with groups of people who are outside their own bubbles, sometimes will little guidance or resources on how best to implement new and evolving government guidelines and health regulations. While most of us were still figuring out how best to work from home, teachers were considering how to return to school and keep themselves and their students safe during a global health crisis. This is still the case today. Teachers are being asked to relearn how they teach and how to manage in an entirely new school setting. We are asking teachers to revise an entire system that has been built on decades of practice, implementation, and research in just days, weeks, and months.
As of today, there are teachers teaching hybrid in-class/remote curriculums, teachers teaching across multiple cohorts, teachers who are forced into spaces that are just too small for adequate distancing, teachers who are being asked to teach outside of their specialties or to take on roles that are new for them, teachers teaching previously completely unheard of schedules, and teachers trying every way possible to engage with vulnerable populations of students. And still, there are many teachers who are doing this with their own wellness-related challenges. For some, these challenges are autoimmune related, where the fear of getting COVID is real and ever-present. Other teachers have experienced an increase in mental health-related challenges, starting the school year with much higher than normal levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout. We at humanworks and The Well Teacher have done numerous workshops through August and September, across various provinces, asking teachers to rate their overall wellness. I can say without a doubt that this year has by far been the lowest average rating, ever. Teachers have come into this school year with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, questions that cannot be answered, and genuine fear. We truly are in unprecedented times.
But here’s the thing, teachers continue to teach – even those who cannot be in the schools are doing what they can to provide education from their homes. Most importantly, as the theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day indicates, teachers continue to lead during this crisis and to reimagine new ways of providing education for all students.
The return to school has certainly not been without its challenges. None of us have done this before – certainly never quite like this – so it is understandable that some may still be finding their way, even if a little clumsily. But that’s ok because teachers know better than anyone that what is suggested on paper doesn’t always work when real students, in real classrooms, are involved. And, as always, teachers continue to work it out and find ways to meet the needs of all those who depend on them.
If ever there needed to be recognition of teachers, it’s in 2020. We see the overwhelming burden that has been placed on teachers this year, and the commitment teachers continue to make to their students, schools, colleagues, and communities. These are not just words. Without our teachers, we would all be in a much worse place economically, socially, and emotionally. We at humanworks and The Well Teacher proudly thank and celebrate all teachers on this World Teacher’s Day.
- UNESCO (2020), World Teachers’ Day, URL : https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday