In the words of my headmaster, we made it through the first week of school (post-lockdown). We made it –but it was strange, difficult, exciting, fear-filled and surreal. The controversy about the reopening of schools is still ongoing, many believing that it shouldn’t’ve been allowed, and others advocating that it was vital. I’m a high school teacher. I couldn’t wait for schools to open again. This might’ve been very selfish of me, I know. Bear with me and see my side of the story, although it is hard, perhaps impossible to express.
Returning to school (and work) after lockdown
I couldn’t sleep. Anxiety caused by uncertainty kept me awake. Excitement to see those beautiful teenage, almost grown-up faces kept me awake. I wanted to go back, but I was scared. What if we had to close within a day? What if we couldn’t offer the learners the safety we so wanted to give them? What if they didn’t come back? What if? What if?
We were prepared. A COVID Team was selected. Everything was disinfected, (shoutout to the cleaning staff!) routes were planned, protocols were developed drilled into us, and communicated to the learners. The school and classrooms were restructured, power for electronic devices laid out, PPE’S, sanitisers and thermometers at the ready – but so much could still go wrong.
They aren’t just kids I teach. They’re MY kids, faces I’ve been teaching for 4 years, humans I saw being formed. I’d be devastated if something happened to them. So honestly, as excited as I was to see them, so fearful was I of their safety. Was this truly the right thing? After a week I can say – emphatically – yes. It was absolutely the right thing.
On Monday morning they came back to school after two months of lockdown. They stood in line 1,5 meters apart and waited to be scanned, sanitized, sanitized again and registered on the digital camera-scanner-thingy. It took an hour and a half for everyone to be done, but that 90 mins was magic. We could see and greet each learner. We danced, cheered, cried and celebrated with them. They were happy to be back. Yes, they were afraid, I could see it in their eyes, especially when I commanded them in a very stern voice to “STOP” – they could only dance with me and “be silly” for a while.
They were just as unsure as the rest of us. So much of the “known” was gone. The lunch break spot you waited 4 years to “earn” as a matric learner is no longer open to you. You are told where you’re allowed to eat lunch. Imagine having to tell an 18-year-old where they are allowed to eat, and how they are allowed to sit – it’s no easy feat. The usual routes taken to navigate their way through the massive building were closed and they were redirected. So much was strange. But the school still stood tall. The love was still there. Their teachers stood all through the school excited to welcome them back and make this year of mourning just that little bit better.
And that is why it was important to receive them back.
Much more than academic reasons, which are very real and we all understand. I want to show you the other side. In the unknown, the uncertainty, and the mourning, there was still a place where they belonged. A place of structure, love and guidance.
Teachers are called to wear many hats. It’s one reason I love the job so much. We fulfil a variety of roles as educators, nurses, counsellors, mothers, friends, light-bearers, hope-bringers, police (lol, but true) and more, and never before have these been so intensified and needed. We were called to have courage in the midst of our own fears.
This was not easy. This week was one of the most difficult weeks of my teaching career. I wanted to hug them. Grab them and hold them, but I had to stay 1.5 meters away. I wanted to tell them they were okay and safe, but I couldn’t because, like most people, I don’t know what’s going on with the ‘Rona’. I so desperately wanted to see their smiles, but they were hidden, for very good reason, behind masks. It was a struggle to be strong.
Teaching in the midst of a pandemic is not simple.
We had to adapt in every way. Tricks and habits learnt over years doesn’t mean anything anymore. We are separated from our learners. We teach over screens to those still at home and through masks and in strange groups to those at school. The masks are not only protection from spreading the virus, but they are a barrier to real human connection, so we have to find it in different ways.
Human connection in my opinion is vital to effective teaching and learning. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If I can make a learner feel something while I am teaching them, I know the chances of them retaining it is greater. With the mask this does not happen as easily, they are removed. When we ask a question, I see them hiding behind the shelter it provides (you probably wish you had that luxury when you were at school). They are afraid to engage in front of learners they haven’t had to do that with before, and when they do answer it’s difficult to hear them clearly.
We are there to entertain just as much as teach. Have you tried to entertain a bunch of scared, mournful matrics? Let me tell you, it’s tough. I say mournful because they are not going to have all the things they’ve dreamt of for years, especially their matric farewell. Scared, because their future is so uncertain. Again, our job is to comfort, share wisdom, and remind them that life is still beautiful. It is not easy.
Although I have to be a cop and remind them to wear their masks as well as be a mom comforting them, I’m glad I can do that. I am glad we can help them finish strong, even though it doesn’t look the way they thought it would. Even though my life is in danger.
There is so much work to be done. So much uncertainty and doubt, but I know that the kids are happy to be back. The kids are happy to go back to school after lockdown, and be educated. They feel better and they can try to take charge of their lives in a tough time. Everyone has their opinions, I can say that this was a tough and extremely weird week, but it was also beautiful and wonderful. I hope we can welcome every learner safely back soon.
Corona-0, teacher love-1.