'Our lives really don't matter': Educators share their fears about teaching during a pandemic

"I desperately need help." (Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)
"I desperately need help." (Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)

After publishing an open letter from a local teacher and Parent24 reader, it's evident that we've struck a nerve with SA's teachers. 

Sharing the fears, anxiety and frustrations that now come with teaching during a pandemic, the anonymous teacher has inspired many others to come forward to share their experiences, many desperate to call off the academic year. 

Read their touching responses below

'If you apply for leave, it's not approved'

I am one of the frustrated teachers who feel our lives are not as important of completing the syllabus. Our workload has increased with the division of classes to 20 learners. You arrive at school at 6:30 stand the whole day without a free period. Lunchtime, you must go and make sure learners social distance.

After school, you have to accompany learners to the gate for their transport to make sure they maintain social distance. Our school has only two brigades that must help with taking temperatures 3 times per day.

So if you are lucky enough to have a free period, then you help with taking temperatures. It's hell every day. Let learners write exams next year. Parents are testing positive and sending children like that to school. If you apply for leave, it's not approved. When there is a case, theschool does not close. 

'We live in fear' 

I work in a school as a general assistant it is hard to go to work every day not knowing what is going to happen, or who is going to be announced that he or she tested positive. It really is a nightmare, we are afraid for our lives. In our school now we have seven teachers who tested positive.  We can't go on like this! 

We live in fear and trauma. Is this fair to us? 

'My results came back positive'

I felt each sentence in the letter! I helped with the preparation and orientation of my school. I even trained my colleagues in safety measures. I got my training from my friend who happened to be a manager in a hospital, and they also had to put safety measures in place. 

I was excited because it was challenging after sitting at home for so long. My colleagues, on the other hand, was fearful and not comfortable with being at school. I organised for the local clinic's nurse to come and address my colleagues' concerns. 

When school started, everything went according to plan. I was so happy, but at the same time, I didn't feel too good. I thought it was my sinus acting out. The following week I got really ill. I went to doctor the next day. He didn't allow me in his surgery. He sent me straight to be tested. After three days, my results came back positive. 

The next week another colleague was tested positive. Then the following week, colleague no 4 is also at home recovering from Covid-19. School goes on as normal. The school gets sanitised each week. My colleagues are anxious and stressed out, the question: is who is next?

Some of us are not so lucky and lose our lives. I really don't understand the reasoning behind the whole situation. Our lives really don't matter.

'Sad and demoralised'

This letter is heartbreaking and touched me to the core as a teacher. The daily hardships of being a teacher in South Africa!  I feel so sad and demoralised. 

How do I stay safe?

I am a teacher in an independent school that is perceived as very privileged. Nonetheless, I am terrified of getting Covid. Several teachers have now had Covid and a few pupils have it now, but school has continued without interruption. There are very limited basins for teachers to wash their hands.

Our corridors are narrow. Our school is crowded.

In meetings, mask-wearing is sporadic. Some of our senior teachers don't wear masks over their mouths and noses when they come and speak with us or in meetings. Many only wear masks over their mouths and not their noses.

'How do I stay safe?'

If I get Covid, my school will count this as sick leave, and I can't afford the days as this illness can be quite long, and we are already facing pay cuts.   

'I desperately need help'

My husband is a Grade 12 maths educator who loves his job very much. In these unprecedented times, he qualifies to apply for leave due to his age and underlying illness, as mentioned in almost every media announcement regarding over 60s and Coronavirus. 

We have a 24-year-old son with autism who does not understand why things have to be different. When you lie down in bed for whatever reason, he joins you and has no clue of the risks that may present. 

We are under a lot of stress as my husband has not been able to apply for leave. His principal claims that he has not received any official directive regarding special leave under the stated conditions and he knows nothing about that.

I desperately need help in addressing this matter.

Every morning my husband leaves for work, my heart bleeds, hoping and praying that he does not get infected and bring the virus home.

'We shall overcome and prosper'

The letter 'Dear Angie, you know what we're going through', summarises and epitomises the anxiety and fear that educators like myself and my colleagues are experiencing since the reopening of the schools. There is no doubt that the infections will increase in schools just like in any sector. 

After carefully reading the letter, I get a picture of a frustrated and anxious educator who is at the verge of giving up. But remember, this is a new challenge in our lives that not only affects the teaching fraternity but people from all walks of life.

The majority of our people cannot afford a sanitiser or any of the non-pharmaceutical remedies. This implies that infections will increase among our children, whether they are at home or school. 

My fellow teacher, you are better off than nurses and doctors who are dealing directly with those infected with the virus. 

Fortunately, statistics show that a lot of people have recovered, although others have died. I remind my colleague that there are a lot of diseases and issues which kill people in South Africa compared to Covid-19.

Women are killed, people are murdered, and road carnage claims a lot of lives. How do we mitigate and minimise the negative impact of these disasters? We cannot stop these disasters by closing schools and hiding in our houses.

We cannot abandon the house because of the snake. My fellow teacher, gather courage and convince yourself that you will survive this pandemic. 

Teaching is a calling, and the government entrusted you with the responsibility of shaping the future of our great nation. I know it is difficult for you, but I trust that you will manage as an educator.

Every South African is equally worried and concerned about this virus, but as a nation, we shall overcome and prosper. 


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