Secret Diary of an Irish Teacher: With this virus, kids need to know that compassion is key

Secret Diary of an Irish Teacher: With this virus, kids need to know that compassion is key

Apart of education, perhaps the biggest part, is about teaching students to see the world. It’s about asking them to understand what exists outside of themselves.

In time, it’s about equipping them to place themselves within it. To think about what they might want to change or contribute. To feel responsible for their actions.

As a society, we rely on this process. We rely on parents to teach empathy and connection first, and we rely on schools to continue it later.

Presumably, this is one reason your child might get detention. We need citizens who care about others. That’s what philosophers mean by a ‘social contract.’

This idea struck me today as I chatted to a class about the coronavirus. At least half of the class said they didn’t care about it at all.

There’s a fine line here as a teacher and I was at pains not to cross it. I didn’t want to panic anyone; in fact, it’s my duty not to do so. I simply explained that we need a measured, calm approach to keeping our communities safe.

I reiterated what we’ve all heard — that this virus is unlikely to really harm young people. But I also wanted to be very clear that it has the potential to harm our most vulnerable.

What should we make of kids who say they don’t care at all? It could be one of many things. Perhaps their parents are trying to minimise the whole thing. Perhaps they genuinely don’t empathise with others.

Well, I’m happy to counter both. To the parent trying to minimise this situation, I say it’s not about you and it’s not about your kids. For healthy parents of healthy teenagers, this is your time to stand up and be responsible.

Inform your teen about the threat to the elderly. Insist they wash their hands regularly and thoroughly.

Be very clear that a child’s apathy could impact on other people in a very serious, potentially fatal way.

Young people need to be told the truth; they need to realise they have responsibility for the world beyond themselves, certainly by secondary school

Any parent out there who is not speaking plainly to their teenager is doing both them and the broader population a gross injustice.

Sadly, children aren’t always given the best example. The frenzied rush by individuals to buy the entire stock of hand sanitiser is one stark example.

This is not a time for anyone to be focusing on their own needs. This is a time for us to band together. I’ve heard stories of lovely things happening. I am so heartened by them. Neighbourhoods are coming together to look after their elderly living alone.

People involved in anything like this, and I’m sure there are many, deserve our deepest respect. This is what humans do for each other.

That said, I endure rather unpleasant conversations with individuals questioning being asked to work from home. I’ve even had to field an upset acquaintance, devastated at the loss of a foreign holiday. I talk to myself about being compassionate, to myself and others but on this occasion, I have to say — what absolute nonsense!

This crisis is not about the individual. It’s about giving what you can to your community in a time of need

Who cares if you must work from home for an hour or two as a teacher and you never get it back. Or you miss a week in the sun. Self-interest has no place in these exceptional circumstances, and I have little patience for anyone who wants to get bogged down in such narrow-mindedness.

Now that schools have been closed, instead of teachers being ‘in loco parentis,’ we’ll have parents ‘in loco magistrorum.’

What will that look like? Will parents manage? I hope so. I think it’ll be tough to juggle work with having kids at home, but I think this is going to be a tough period for us all. It’s probably important that we don’t send kids to grandparents either.

Hopefully schools across the country will help families to provide some activities and resources. It is only right they do so.

But the personal and social care will have to come from parents now. This is most certainly a time to parent up. And, dare I say it, appreciate schools a little bit more?

It’s certainly a time to recognise that schools can only do so much. The ultimate responsibility of care is always with the parent.

As worrying as this situation is, it will return us to our moral roots. Our only way to do this well, is to be selfless and giving of our time. We need to be motivated now, not by money or praise or a sense of individual rights.

If we are truly educated, whatever we think that means, we’ll wash our hands. Regularly. We’ll stay calm and carry on. We’ll shop in a way that is mindful of others. We will not travel.

When Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, described the social contract, he said that without it, life would be solitary, nasty, brutish and short.

It absolutely could be for any of our elderly and vulnerable if we don’t uphold it.

Here’s hoping we do.

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department - if this is not possible, phone 112 or 999 and in a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999

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