'I need a break before I break': Local teacher's diary will give you second-hand fatigue

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

A local teacher says she simply cannot carry on without the October holiday and below shares what life has been like for educators during the pandemic.


I am a Grade 2 teacher at a privileged government school in Durban North. Doing away with the October break is ludicrous! It is inhumane! Just listen to the week that I have had, and it's not even Friday. 

Monday 

I have a class of 29, only 24 arrive. I open up my email during my only free 10 minutes and respond to five emails from parents stating they refuse to send their kids to school. I need to send all the school work home.

At 12:45, I am told that we would revert back to alternate day attendance and teaching the next day. Teach every lesson twice, over two days, they say. Six weeks of calendar days equate to three weeks, 15 days per child to attend school for the remainder of the term.

After that, I teach my last class for the day, dismiss them at two, go home to redo all my planning and restructure more than 80 assessments to accommodate the new timetable of alternate days. 

Let me tell you; this takes a good 4-5 hours to do. Then its marking books and placing the required information on the various communication platforms. Bear in mind; I have two young children who I also need to spend time with, feed, and love. 

Also read: 'No intention of cancelling our holidays': Teachers react to proposal to scrap school holiday

Tuesday 

I arrive to absolute chaos as many parents did not get the notification on time. Many kiddies are anxious due to the alternate day; therefore develop sore tummies, so about five get sent home. (Nowadays, you will get reported to the Department of Basic Education for child neglect should you not act upon a child's sore tummy, scratch on the knee, bump on the head). 

Throughout the day, multiple teachers come to lay complaints against staff members for all sorts of things (I am a union rep). Teachers are stressed and tired, making us all super sensitive and over-reactive.

All the while, I need to teach my kids and respond to parents via email who have no idea how to teach the work they asked to be sent home because they are too scared to send their kids to school. 

At 2:30 it's finally home time, but hang on, I have to attend a professional development course, 3 to 5 pm. Then do planning, prepping and marking. All after school. Another 4 hours. 

After the workshop, I suddenly realise I am not feeling well. Sore throat, headache, upset tummy. Do I have Covid?

We have had two staff members and a few learners test positive. So off I go, R850 later, thinking how the hell am I going to afford to feed my family for the last week of the month? The first salary increases we received in over a year and a half haven't kicked in yet. 

Now I have to isolate until my results are in, but oh dear, no more sick leave left. No sick leave means unpaid leave, which means less salary.

All the while, I'm trying to organise my daily routine for the person who will be in my class tomorrow—also, thinking about how to respond to the parent who insists on sending their child to school daily and still has the audacity to demand that I have extra work available for her child in a very rude tone.

Remember, it's only Tuesday. 

Wednesday

I have no choice but to stay at home. Rest, rest, rest is what everyone says.

Not possible.

From my couch, I'm responding to further emailed requests to "please find my child's hockey kit, please send a copy of homework home as the child forgot it in class, please change this one's seat they are being bullied, this one is not happy with his reading group". 

And so it goes on and on. Late that night, I receive the results. NEGATIVE! Phew, what a relief. I can finally go to bed.

Wait, the department has just sent a directive. Parents now, once again, have the right to keep their kids at home, and it is the school's responsibility to ensure that home learning takes place via work packs, WhatsApp groups and emails.

What the heck! When am I supposed to prepare these and communicate with parents in my already jam-packed day? 

Wednesday night saw me sleep very, very little.

Thursday

Wake up; today is going to be a good day. It has to be! I'm Covid free and have a job. The day starts well. We will find a way to accommodate the fearful parents and find the time to create the booklets and extra support.

Break time, a brief conversation with the principal (while I'm on break duty) about the memorandum received after 10 pm last night, he mentions online. Wait! What! That was not mentioned before. 

At 12:45, a meeting is called. As of Monday, all staff will be teaching in a hybrid manner, some kids online and some kids in class. Today. Is. Thursday. 

Also, we are reverting back to daily attendance. 

So on Monday, I spent 5 hours redoing my planning for nothing! 

At 19:50 on Thursday, we are told by the principal that not only are we going to do hybrid (online and at school), we will be doing it on alternate days too. So 15 kids day 1 and 14 kids day two, and while one group is at school, the other group is online. 

Also see: 'It's a joke': Proposal to cancel October school holidays has parents outraged

How? How? How? 

How do you split yourself in half to assist the kids at school and the kids online? How do you do assessments equally and fairly when half have the assistance of a parent giving them the answers and some even physically doing the work for their kids.

How do you teach and keep learners up to date when they have no access to a computer or internet and may only attend school every second day? 

How the hell do you cope as a teacher when in one week you have had to change your planning three times, mark books, teach learners, assist student teachers with their lessons, attend professional workshops, have no free time due to being on extra duty thanks to Covid.

How do you cope? How do you not reach breaking point?

I am emotionally shattered. 

I am physically sick from the stress. And now, the possibility of no holiday. I am sorry, I can't. I can't cope. 

I need time away from the stress. I need a break before I break. 

I was only at school for three days this week. But it feels like it has been a whole Covid year.

I am utterly exhausted.

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