Teachers face strain with schools reopening amid Covid-19

teacher having a class lesson during covid-19

Learners have been gradually returning to classrooms, with grades 7 and 12 on June 8 and grades 6, 11 and R (in a few provinces) on July 6. File picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

The reopening of schools has not only placed a strain on parents but has also challenged South African teachers, who feel anxious and constantly stressed amid the growing number of Covid-19 infections reported.

Teachers’ well-being and the challenges of the transition from remote to contact learning came under the spotlight at a webinar hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday.

“The work of teachers has changed tremendously to accommodate remote teaching and learning, while gradually moving back to contact teaching,” said UKZN’s Professor Anja Philipp.

Philipp added that teachers were experiencing emotional exhaustion and burnout from the present demands of their work, taking its toll on their well-being.

Ndabenhle Mdluli, a principal at a KZN high school said teachers and learners were not prepared to engage effectively during the pandemic. 

“We didn’t know which learners had access (to learning material) and who studied during the lockdown because there were no mechanisms for the necessary communication with them during this period.”

He said the outbreak was not only a public health crisis but also a grave psychosocial issue for teachers.

“The situation of reopening schools was further emotionally draining. (It) was very difficult for us to create a new imagination. Trying to be positive through the negative emotions was also part of burnout,” he said.

Mdluli added that the basic education sector had taken the brunt of the novel coronavirus. 

“When our school reopened for Grade 12s, the atmosphere was quite different from when we closed for term one. We knew fears, anxieties and frustrations were not compatible with proper teaching and learning.

” Most looked overwhelmed, confused in masks, not knowing who is who. There was no energy and passion which usually characterises our times of reopening school.”

A primary school teacher Nompumelelo Nzimande shared her experience of having anxiety and taking control of her emotions in order to not let it affect her learners.

“A challenge with contact teaching is splitting pupils because of regulations and teaching the same lesson up to four times.

“This increases the workload of teachers and adds to our stress.

“The children can’t just come to school and sit there just because I am overwhelmed and tired. I am at school, so I have to do my duty as a teacher, no matter what,” she said,

Learners have been gradually returning to classrooms, with grades 7 and 12 on June 8 and grades 6, 11 and R (in a few provinces) on July 6.

The phasing in of other grades is set to take place between this month and next. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to conclude discussions with education stakeholders by Friday, and Cabinet will then decide on whether schools are to continue with classes.