IF I were a teacher I’d be on strike today, the only problem is teachers are much more public spirited and self-sacrificing than me. Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and the rest of the SNP Government are engaged in a really appalling piece of prolonged gaslighting against the entire Scottish teaching profession. They may not know they are, and for sure they’ll say they’re guilty of nothing of the sort, but rest assured in the eyes of many teachers, that’s been the case during Covid.

Just to reprise the definition: gaslighting is emotional abuse, it’s where the abuser makes their victim question themselves and their beliefs. It’s a grotesque form of psychological bullying.

Teachers have been fretting about the safety of themselves and the children they look after throughout this awful pandemic. Unlike many, teachers aren’t allowed to work from home – they care for our children so we can work. Like nurses and police officers, teachers are champions on the Covid frontline. They walk into schools which are like petri dishes – where social distancing is impossible, and there’s not enough PPE – and nobody seems to give much of a damn.

Sturgeon has ordered swathes of central Scotland to go into level four lockdown, closing non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants – but keeping schools open. Swinney doubled-down on schools remaining open yesterday, saying they aren’t “a significant area of transmission”. To worried teachers, who’ve told government of their fears, that’s textbook gaslighting. What should the EIS teaching union do? Imperil members or capitulate to a government too ill-equipped to devise a workable solution?

It cannot be beyond the wit of people like Sturgeon and Swinney to find a way to ensure children are educated and teachers feel safe at work. Nobody should go to work frightened for their health.

Blended learning is an option: alternately, half the class in school one day, and half studying online at home. That may create childcare headaches – better that than teachers die. And any childcare problems should be blamed on government, not teachers – government should use its emergency powers to set up spill-over child care facilities. That may prompt some job creation at a time of spiralling unemployment.

During lockdown, online learning was a disaster, however. Many poorer kids couldn’t access computers. Has government done nothing to address that problem in the intervening months? Dig deep SNP – pay for disadvantaged youngsters to access wifi and screens. Also during lockdown, teachers were powerless to deal with kids not attending digital classes – again, that’s the state’s problem. Fix it SNP.

Why not use all those empty theatres and cinemas as extra classrooms so there’s plenty of room to socially distance? Very few teachers actually want 100% remote learning – most want children in school, but again their safety is equally important.

Is anyone listening to the EIS as it highlights the growing number of pupils and teachers infected with Covid? We’re looking at week-on-week increases, union leaders say – 29,486 pupils were absent from school on November 10 for “Covid-related reasons” – that’s 28% up on the previous week’s figure of 23,034. For teachers, the figure of 1559 absent for “Covid-related reasons” represents an 18% increase on the previous week’s 1326.

Would you be comfortable going to work in those conditions? And teaching a class of 30+ kids? Little wonder the EIS is asking teachers if they’d strike.

Teachers have been knocked around from pillar to post since this pandemic started. Following lockdown teachers were told to plan for blended learning on return – which they did – but the government changed course ordering kids back full-time. The chance to feel safe was snatched away.

The government’s current policy is dangerously absurd – if Sturgeon wants to control the spread of infection, look to schools as well. Teachers and pupils don’t exist in an alternate reality, they’re part of the community. If Covid isn’t controlled in schools it won’t be controlled in the rest of society – and therefore what’s the point of inflicting the economic and social pain of these new restrictions?

As a measure of how little society thinks of teachers just look to Aberdeen – teachers were told to switch off their coronavirus contact tracing app in schools. The words ‘dangerous’ and ‘negligent’ don’t even come close to expressing just how appalling this idea was – before it was highlighted by reporters.

We know kids will be sloppy with masks and social distancing. There’s evidence of parents sending children to school who’ve been exposed to Covid because they want to work. No wonder so many teachers want to leave the profession. We’re using and abusing some of the most important people in society.

I spoke to a number of teachers recently and they’re incredibly unhappy at being so undervalued in Scotland. They aren’t a nanny service. They’re educators who want to do the best for our children, without endangering themselves.

“We want to teach – we're proud of serving – but we want to be safe,” one teacher said. Note the word ‘serving’ – few other professions would use that term. Their managers are drowning in paperwork, the government – which has failed repeatedly on education over 13 years in power – keeps pushing the profession to breaking point.

Many teachers don’t want to strike. One said: “We’re already demonised so if we strike it’ll just make things worse.” What a dreadful situation for any person to be placed in. It shames the Holyrood government.

“We just feel hated and undervalued,” a teacher from a central Glasgow school told me. “It’s incredibly unfair. We’re busting our asses here trying to provide a decent education for everyone’s children at a really terrible time but nobody seems to give us even a second thought. We’re just here to be used by everyone – parents, the government – no-one cares about us. We want schools to stay open, but we don’t want to get sick or even die in the process.”

Sturgeon and her government have been throwing out decrees left, right and centre during pandemic – which is fine if they work. The policy on schools is a shambles, however. Blended learning seems the only equitable answer under new restrictions. There’s only so long the SNP can depend on the goodwill of teachers, a profession that’s been failed time and again by Scotland’s politicians.

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