Courtesy of Netflix I now know that rule zero on t’internet is 'don’t f*ck with cats'. Coupled with that, and similar to Fight Club, the first rule of teaching is that you don’t talk about teaching (unless with other teachers when it is the predominant topic of conversation). As a middle-aged renegade, I have decided to commit the cardinal sin today and break the first rule.

In Ireland some years ago, a few pints into the ‘pop in’ to the pub, I could tell I was boring one of the locals. Eventually, during a lull in conversation, I was asked through a drunken slur: ‘So what do you do?’ As soon as I mentioned my profession the clouds of awkwardness lifted and I found myself revered not only by the questioner, but by numerous randoms who were invited over to say a cheery ‘top of the afternoon to ya’, and openly admire an educated man visiting their local hostelry. They were full of good cheer, and I left feeling like a minor celebrity, although its true there's not an awful lot going on in the sticks Emerald Isle side.

Back in Blighty and it’s a different kettle of fish. I have seen a rapid denigration of teachers, not from kids or necessarily parents of kids, but from the general public. Maybe this has something to do with the lack of a ‘social hub’ in most communities. The welfare system is not renowned for its humanity, social care is viewed with suspicion and the police are there to uphold the law, not to offer platitudes, love and guidance.

Night after night I read social media abuse about schools and teachers, 99 per cent of which I deem unfair. Let’s take the coronavirus (and I wish someone would): We are now neck deep in uncharted waters and people are rightly scared. This fear is being put onto kids, including my own. They are paranoid, panicky, upset and unsure as to how things will pan out, much like us adults, but they are much less emotionally mature to deal with such duress. Teachers are the calming influence fighting media wall to wall coverage and parental angst. Yet, all I have read on social media is the holding of nurses and medical staff on a pedestal (and quite rightly so). My argument is that there should be ample room on that podium for teachers to, belatedly, feel a bit of public love. For weeks, since coronavirus became a thing, teachers have been having face to face contact with literally hundreds of people every day. We have been counselling kids and trying to calm them down, while telling them not to worry despite us having kittens ourselves.

All the while other professions and services have had a complete government-directed shutdown. Front line staff, nurses and doctors, undoubtedly the critical cog in the anti-coronavirus system, at least have some basic level of defence, be it face masks or hand sanitiser. Teachers have neither form of protection provided as they touch surfaces and breathe in air that is undoubtedly tainted somewhere along the line. Schools have now shut down, but teachers gladly follow the direction to fight for the cause and go in and look after key workers' kids.

Despite teachers putting themselves in the line of fire of an enemy whose potency is becoming clearer by the day, the criticism continues. Many saying "well, you get enough holidays" or "it's about time they did some work", leaving you close to exasperation. The job, nay vocation, is all encompassing, mentally draining, monitored to the nth degree and it takes a hardy beast to have longevity in the role.

Beside the abuse, often born out of anger as other public bodies just don’t stand for it, we are constantly challenged as if Joe Public is doing us a favour by our very employ. We have families and are, like shop workers and others, willingly putting ourselves at serious risk of exposure. But then I log on and see companies, hopefully for genuine reasons, or maybe seeing the chance for some cheap PR, offering NHS staff free coffees, haircuts and meals, yet I don’t begrudge them it one iota. What I do begrudge is other cogs in the system being expected to put their lives on the line over the next couple of months but not even meriting a mention, nor getting any thanks.

So, my message is simple: have a thought about the teachers and others exposed to coronavirus. Coffee shop owners: offer a free cup of latte to those who are also heroes working tirelessly despite the media penchant for showing stretched NHS services. Shops: include teachers on the list of those allowed early entry to buy some basic rations before they run out for the day.

Yes, I subscribe to the rule of ‘don’t f*ck with cats’, but without some love forthcoming I would also surmise ‘don’t f*ck with teachers’ to be a mantra we should all chant.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher