Today is World Teachers Day. It’s a day we honor teachers around the world and thank them for their dedication and hard work, building our future.

Andy Hargreaves poses a thought experiment: Imagine a world without teachers!

He begins:

Never has there been a more important time than this moment, right now, to think about and appreciate what great teachers have done for our children and also for us. We have seen what the world looks like when its teachers are taken away from our children. We have witnessed online how teachers have struggled mightily to master complex digital platforms and to try and make virtual class interactions with children as enriching as possible. Plunged into virtual learning at very short notice, our own grandchild’s teacher has posted materials as early as 4am. We have also learned about all the teachers who delivered curriculum materials, workbooks, pens and paper to poor working class homes when many children were unable to access online learning. We’ve been experiencing a world without teachers. So it’s time to reflect on why teachers truly matter.

Andy remembers a teacher who changed his life, Mrs. Waring.

This is what so many teachers do. They inspire our children with new interests, develop their curiosity about learning, give them the chance to undertake protracted projects that enable them to explore their interests, and, to some extent, themselves in depth. And they engage with the totality of their children’s development as human beings. Even when you’re not perfect and have let yourself down, teachers like this still stand by you and help put you back on the right path again.

So it’s a disgrace and a shame that for more than 20 years, in many countries, politicians thought they could lower the cost of government spending by disinvesting in public education, and by demeaning and discouraging its teachers. They thought they could privatize schools and deregulate teaching so that teachers would be less qualified, less unionized, and less well supported, and therefore move on quickly before their salaries started to climb. And they thought and still sometimes think that teachers were expendable and could be substituted with digital devices. They claimed that education could take place anytime, anywhere, with teachers or without them. And they believed that impersonal algorithms could replace teachers’ professional judgments. Government leaders, media and business critics, and more than a few thought leaders, promulgated crude stereotypes of bad teaching that was allegedly ruining children’s lives. In-person teaching was portrayed as being teaching from the front, in the boring classes of factory age schools. These portrayals, as fictitious as the US voter ballots allegedly dumped into unnamed rivers, have then been used to try and replace teachers with online learning.

Then, all of a sudden, the biggest natural educational experiment in human history – taking nearly 2 billion children out of school – has made everyone think again. What is a world like without teachers?  

It’s a place without an economy because parents can’t go to work if their children aren’t in school.

It’s a place where teenagers can’t be with their peers, developing their senses of identity and responsibility away from their parents.

It’s a place that can’t protect young people from being bullied, or prevent many others from turning into bullies.

It’s a place that builds no sense of community or of how to participate in society.

It’s a place where teachers can’t be the high water mark that separates order from chaos, where they can’t intervene calmly when there’s trouble, and where there’s no-one to help children focus, when they are otherwise easily distracted.

A world without teachers is also a place where children have no way to learn how to express their own ideas and listen to others, to take their turn, and to value differences.

Teachers ignite new interests, show you the difference between your first effort and your best effort, and help you achieve things you never would have thought possible if you had been left to yourself.

Teachers help young people learn about racism, prejudice, climate change and the Holocaust, even and especially when youngsters’ parents don’t.

A world without teachers is a world deprived of learning and with a lot less love.  Appreciate your children’s teachers, and reflect back on the teachers who made a difference for you.

It’s time to bring our teachers back, not just physically in our schools, but also morally, at the very center of our societies. Please celebrate World Teachers Day.