Tough times don’t last, tough people do. Staying positive does not mean that things will turn out perfectly. Rather, it is knowing that YOU will be okay no matter how things turn out.
Possibly the most spoken about occupation during Covid-19 in South Africa = teaching! Close the schools, open the schools, postpone grades returning, pass all the learners, scrap the school year. Those were some of the lines being thrown around since lockdown has hit. The most uncertain sector during this whole lockdown is definitely the education sector.
Closing schools for lockdown
The schools officially closed around the 18th of March, right before our national lockdown was announced. Many dates & plans were released in the media since then, changing drastically from having to teach on a Saturday (my least favourite) to taking away ALL holidays (can you handle?). All this while also having a nationwide alcohol ban in place – yes, no wine!
The uncertainty & social media
The media went to town with the subject of schools. So much fake news was spread. A big concern was salaries – reading on social media how some parents don’t see why they have to pay salaries if their children aren’t attending school made me wonder what would happen to my salary – specially with the talks of scrapping the school year totally. We still had to do online learning via Google Classroom. Parents did not realise this, but instead felt like “teachers are enjoying an extended holiday – as if they don’t have enough holidays during the year”. Yes, that is what someone posted on Facebook. I had to bite my tongue many times, but often I couldn’t help but get into an online social media brawl with people who have absolutely no idea what it is like being a teacher, specially during these trying times.
Time to get back into the classroom
A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.
Masks, sanitizers, social distancing, big venues & duties – that’s what awaited us when we got back to school. Kids have to be sanitized at various spots & screened upon entry. Masks have become the new fashion accessory. We no longer teach in our classrooms to ensure social distancing. Duties have formed part of our new job description, along with temperature taker, hand sanitizer, jail warden doing break duty and a lot more. This “new way of teaching” is only one of the many sacrifices we need to make to ensure we are safe & our kids are safe. It is something we all had to adapt to & all should be willing to do. Being a teacher on a normal day means adapting to change & finding new ways to do things. We all need to pull our weight during these times.
Emotionally drained – “we’re not okay”
Our Grade 12’s came back first. At first they seemed overwhelmed & then they just looked lost. It was during a lesson I had with them that I asked how they are doing. We gave them a project in April and, come June, many were still outstanding. Look, you have your regulars that don’t hand work in, but I had work missing from my good students as well. I ask them regularly how they are doing. On this specific day, my usually quiet class just blurted it all out. “We’re not okay. We are unmotivated. The year we waited for our entire life has been taken away from us. What do we have left of a matric year? We don’t have a matric farewell anymore. We have nothing nice. We are overloaded with work. Some teachers think their subject is the only subject we have. We are not okay anymore”. These words resonated in my head the entire day. Kids sitting in front of me with their smiles wiped off their faces. I tried my best to talk some positivity into them, but I can only say so much. At the end of the day, they are still just kids.
Teaching with heart
The difference you make today might not show up for years; might not make you famous; might not get you glory or cheers. But, the difference will live forever, will be passed on into the wild; because the difference you make in the world today will be in the heart of a child.
In times like these, we need to be extra emotionally open to our learners. We don’t know their circumstances. We don’t know whether their parents are still receiving the income they were receiving before lockdown. We don’t know whether or not they have any emotional support at home. Someone once said ” you cannot care too much when being a teacher, otherwise you will end up quitting your job because of it”. I strongly disagree. When working with young people, you need to have so much heart. You need to be a teacher, but also a support system. You can be all that & still have boundaries while receiving the respect a teacher should receive. You need to be someone that not only taught the curriculum, but taught them respect & guided them through life. We also need to be considerate in the workplace. We have been given a whole new range of duties to complete – some more willing than others. Yes, no one signed up for these duties, but the entire world is going through a massive pandemic, I am sure we can all walk the extra mile for our job & do our duties with a smile. To offer to help when someone needs it, instead of having the same people always offering. When we want to complain about having duties we don’t like, or duties twice in one day, we really need to think about what is important in life. Instead of always picking at problems, help find solutions. Team work is key. We all have to do things we don’t always like in life, but work ethic goes a long way in your profession & character.
Where things stand now
We are back in the news again. We have only had two grades return, with the next group to return in 3 days time, but the media is filled with articles about closing schools again. Jip, here we go again. We are reaching the peak of the virus, according to scientists, and they don’t feel it’s safe for learners. We should be receiving the verdict over the next day or two on whether or not schools will close – again. I personally hope not. Many cannot afford to lose their salary, which is very probable. If we close for the next 2 months, I predict Saturdays being made an official teaching day. I predict longer school hours. I predict a two week December holiday (if we are lucky). Once again, teachers are having to read in the news that “we shouldn’t get paid for just sitting at home. We are no more special than other workers”. But then others are fighting to close the schools. Parents are too scared to send their children, and they have the choice not to, but others want to close schools and take the choice away from everyone. The choice from those who want to return to education. From those kids whose only opportunity to learn is at school. Whose only brief moment of happiness comes from school. For those whose only proper meal comes from school. This is what people don’t realise. Most people who are not working in schools are wanting to make these decisions. The rollercoaster ride really gets overwhelming.
Adults have emotions too
When I told my matric group adults are also battling to handle it all, they seemed surprised. As if they were the only group that had concerns. We also have concerns – ours just differ. I see how some still visit family, family with older people, family with newborn babies, family with sick people. I see how some walk around with their mask off & think the rules are ridiculous. I certainly agree some are, but some truly are there to protect us. We are not the only country who has enforced a lockdown. I have a little girl who I need to protect. I am as careful as I can be. I do not know how her little body will handle this virus. I hear so many stories of people who aren’t in high-risk categories that get terribly sick. I have bad bouts of shortness of breath because of my allergies & also some odd occasional blood issues. I am not willing to take any chances with our lives. I am not a Nervous Nelly. I am not lecturing others on what to do with their lives. I just ensure I am safe where I can be.
Be the best person you can be
The difference between a good day & a bad day can be something as small as your attitude. Never let a bad situation bring out the worst in you. So far you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.
We have all handled Covid-19 & lockdown differently. Some aren’t worried. Some are constantly stressed. Some are irritated with all the changes, but the fact remains – we are all experiencing this for the first time. We have all had to adapt in some way or other. What we should always remember, is to stay true to ourselves. This is an opportunity to spend time with the loved ones in your household. To do things you haven’t had time to do. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed & anxious. We have no idea when things will return to some form of normalcy. It doesn’t help planning for the future at this stage. We will end up burning out & running away with our thoughts. We need to take things one day at a time. Step by step. We need to appreciate life more, be more willing to help others & always stay true to ourselves. Don’t lose sight of who you are & what is important in life.