WHEN coronavirus is over, we will talk about the people who got us through it. For decades to come, just as we do after a war, we will talk about how different groups of people performed; how they went the extra mile to keep us safe, to get us through, to pick us back up. Books will be written, movies will be made, sacrifices will be remembered.

For sure, we will inevitably remember the staff of the NHS. We will remember the Thursday clap, of course, but that’s merely the symbolism for what lies beneath. There was never a question of if doctors, nurses and other hospital staff would work, but how they should work, and how they should protect vulnerable, shielding colleagues unable to work. We’ll remember the less high-profile key workers, too. The shop workers, the waste collectors, delivery drivers and the other emergency services.

For better or worse, we will remember the political leaders. Some will want to write a history scarred by their poor performance, whilst some will want to remember them as statespeople, but that’s politics. We may even spare a thought, when we look back, for the parents who tried to care for and educate their children at the same time as working, running businesses, trying to keep their families mentally, physically and financially afloat.

How, though, decades from now, will people remember what our teachers did during coronavirus?

It is difficult, and I suppose unfair, to single out any particular public service worker as being the most important to our country. But if I was forced to do so, I’d pick teachers every time. Of all the services we pay our taxes to receive, the education of children tops the list.

Having good teachers in good schools works hand-in-hand with parenting in dictating not only our own personal success, but with it our contribution to the social and economic future of our country. Our own moulding is then passed to our children, and so it goes on.

So, for me, teaching is the single most important service that society provides, and that makes teachers the single most important group of public servants we have.

Behind all the lazy labels (“they’re always on holiday, aren’t they?”; “they’re off at three o’clock every day, that sounds OK”, and so on) is a profession which works hard and often long hours for a salary which, whilst much better in recent years, remains relatively low given the relationship between good teaching and national success.

They are heroes. And when the movies are made and the books are written they, I suspect in large majority, deserve to be remembered as playing a hero role during coronavirus. The teachers who, knowing the damage that lockdown was doing to the most vulnerable, spent their weeks delivering essentials to kids at their homes. The teachers who waded through the official guidance to make sure they could talk to their pupils over video, whether as a one-to-one chat or for a video lesson. The teachers who put in more time than they ordinarily would have to create, then review and mark detailed lesson plans for children to complete at home.

Individual stories of hero teachers, scattered all across the country. Small acts, making a big difference.

I fear, though, that these individual heroes will not shape the nation’s memories of the performance and attitude of the profession as a whole. For the individual heroes are not the people with the voice. The voice belongs to their representation, dominated by the grandly named Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which the lay person knows simply as the teacher’s trade union.

A 1970s trade union trapped in the 2020s, the EIS appears to see its job as to simply say no. No to a nine (yes, nine) per cent pay rise, with a recommendation of strike action. No to John Swinney’s school reform plans, despite them being designed to give more power to teachers themselves.

And now, it seems, placing hurdles in front of the Scottish Government’s plans for children to return to school full-time next month. This is a union which, it seems, feels free to flex its muscle and expects the government to kiss its feet. The most ludicrous example of this is the apparent determination of the union’s leader, Larry Flanagan, to reject guidance from scientists and epidemiologists on social distancing. Mr Flanagan told the Sunday Times last month that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had made a “mistake” to recommend a one-metre social distance. It’s rather like the WHO telling Scotland’s teachers that they don’t believe in cursive writing. Teachers would say “what’s that got to do with you?”, and they’d be right.

Mr Flanagan’s voodoo science is the most totemic example of a culture of saying anything you need to say to thwart the wishes and ambitions of, in this case, ministers and parents, and many teachers with them.

The EIS may feel it is doing its job, and doing it well. And some teachers may agree. But others will, I am certain, see the dangers in a longer-term corrosion of the bonds of trust between teachers and parents.

Everyone wants teachers to be safe, just as we want doctors, shopkeepers and delivery drivers to be safe. But, by August, we will have had a month of being able to go to hairdressers, shop in non-essential, indoor shops, go to the cinema and the pub, and send our children to nursery, after a seismic suppression of the virus.

Given this return to relative normality, combined with the ability to offer further protection through PPE and other enhanced hygiene measures, many individual teachers will surely now be asking themselves whether their trade union is placing them on the right side of history. They will surely now be asking themselves whether, if the attitude of the EIS prevails, a lay person would think teachers are playing their part in the national recovery.

The time has come for one of two things to happen. Either the other unions such as the SSTA and the AHDS, which have become relatively less influential, need to emerge from the shadows of the EIS and promote a more reasonable, reputationally-enhancing outlook.

Or the teachers who are uncomfortable with their portrayal need to come together and build something new. Not all heroes wear capes. But all heroes need good public relations.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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