Lockdown has been tough for teachers. They’ve been working hard for their students in horribly uncertain times, while being subjected to teacher-bashing from some quarters. Our NHS heroes have rightly been applauded but the teaching profession teaching has taken a hit in the headlines. And yet, despite this, our recent survey shows that lockdown has actually seen respect and gratitude for teachers grow.

Like every profession, teaching is having to reinvent itself without any notice. Unlike other professions, everyone considers themselves an expert and qualified to comment.

Andrew Adonis criticised how little live online teaching was happening: teachers quickly pointed out this isn’t the right approach if your students don’t have easy access to internet or devices.  

Others criticised ‘lazy’ teachers and their unions wary of returning to school. Teachers have pointed out that there is no such thing as a simple ‘return to school’ and we need to figure out how to keep kids and staff in school safe, while continuing remote learning for some time to come.The logistics are bewilderingly complex.

Meanwhile, the general impression portrayed in the media – and countless memes of frazzled parents circulating on social media -  home-schooling is a nightmare for parents.  And it circles back to criticism of teachers: they are setting too much work online; they are not setting enough. They are focussing too much on pastoral work; they are focussing too much on academic work.

So teacher bashing has made life hard. But the job has been harder.

I’ve seen people’s accounts of their struggles on social media and also talked to some Now Teachers – people who have become teachers at a later stage in their career. Now Teachers have, like all teachers, reported feeling anxious. They long to see their students back where they belong in their classrooms at the moment, they say that it is simply not possible to do the job of teaching as well as they would like.

‘We are teaching but are the children learning?’, asked one Now Teacher anxious about the disadvantage gap growing under lockdown and what they can or should be doing to help.

So. Unions are awful, parents are miserable, teachers are miserable. And yet…

I am heartened that despite rabble-rousing headlines, public sentiment towards teachers has improved during lockdown. A recent survey from Now Teach showed people are feeling more respect and gratitude for teachers. Parents especially feel a keener awareness of how difficult teaching is and how important. Whatever the Daily Mail says, people are happy to clap for teachers.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the majority of parents have enjoyed being more involved in their child’s education. More than 65% of primary and secondary parents say home schooling has been a positive experience; less than 10% feel it has been negative.

I was interested to see that the people with the most positive experiences of home-schooling are full time workers. Despite all the juggling, they have enjoyed it; they have found it interesting. Of course enjoying teaching your own children is a world away from the craft of being a teacher, but if the experience has triggered some people to think seriously about retraining, then I celebrate it.

Something so profound has happened during lockdown, that a huge swathe of people have started to think seriously about changing their career and becoming teachers. Indeed, more than 1.5 million of them, according to our survey findings, and those people will need advice and support to change career and become great teachers.

One of those 1.5 million is Aisha Singleton. She will be joining the Now Teach cohort of 2020 after a career in fashion and publishing.

‘When COVID happened I just started thinking, ‘I want to do something that actually helps people.’ My previous industry had so many opportunities and I have many great memories of it, but the bottom line is, I don’t feel I’ve really helped anyone. When Coronavirus broke out, I thought I want to inspire young people, I want to be giving back. This pandemic has given me the final push in that direction.’

There are myriad reasons people may be thinking about teaching and it would be naïve to ignore the impact of an unstable economy. However, the pandemic has created some national soul-searching. It is a long-observed fact that as we age we tend to look for social value above economic gain. The pandemic may give added impetus to those looking for greater meaning in their professional lives.

Khasruz Zaman left his career in corporate law two years ago and joined Now Teach in 2019. He reflected on the past months: ‘I previously thought dealing with the 2008 financial crisis would be the defining moment of my professional life, but this pandemic has eclipsed that and provided a fresh perspective on what truly matters. Now more than ever, I see the value of what teachers do.’

At Now Teach, we’ve seen the value people like Khasruz can offer their students and school. I have faith that one silver lining to Covid-19, lockdown and this very difficult time will be more people like him teaching our children in the years to come.

Katie Waldegrave, Co-founder of Now Teach