To the teachers of South Africa: We salute you

As the world battles with the Covid-19 coronavirus — which had claimed 239 604 lives by May 4 according to the World Health Organisation, with 3 435 894 people testing positive for the virus — many governments have taken measures to protect their citizens.

One measure is the introduction of lockdowns, which means people cannot leave their homes except in a few instances, such as to get food. The lockdowns have also meant that schools, colleges and universities have also been shut down. The United Nations Children’s Fund says that about 1.6-billion children are not going to school because of Covid-19.

With children at home this has meant that parents now find themselves having to also be a teacher, something that has not been particularly easy.

Some parents have also had the demands of work while being at home. In between juggling endless Zoom meetings and meeting work deadlines, parents now have to do homeschooling, feed and generally care for their children and also cope with the tantrums that come with being a child (especially the younger ones).

One of my friends is a mother to a 10-year-old and a two-year-old. She holds an executive position at her work, which requires her to be present at all virtual meetings, send out reports and assist her junior colleagues when they need help. She is at her wits end because, on top of trying to do school work with her 10-year-old, she also has to deal with the tantrums of the two-year-old who only sits down for “three minutes” to do his creche work and after that creates havoc in the household. (By the way, this behaviour is what most two-year-olds are notorious for).

It has been extremely difficult for my friend to be productive and even though her office is not far from her house, she cannot go work there because there is no one to look after the children.

My friend’s situation is not unique. It has become a common story as parents take to social media platforms to share their frustrations and anxieties. For some parents cleaning the house is the last thing on their mind because there is simply not enough time to do that in between feeding children, schooling them and working.

Parents who have children at better resourced schools at least have the luxury of having classes conducted on platforms such as Zoom so they do not have to try to be teachers. But other parents now find themselves having to understand complex maths concepts or battle with grade 3 Afrikaans. It is tough. Abazali baphefumla ngenxeba [Parents are breathing through the wound].

Things are even more taxing for parents with special needs children, like myself. I have been dealing with meltdowns daily because my son, who has autism, is frustrated with being cooped up in the house.

The change of routine has made him irritable and uncontrollable. I am emotionally exhausted. And I know for most parents in my circle who have children with special needs, this lockdown has taken a huge toll on us, not just emotionally but also physically.

But, if there is one thing that this period has taught many parents, including myself, is to value the work of teachers.

Teachers are probably some of the most undervalued people in society and often criticised for being ineffective or being chastised for this, that and the other.

But it is in this time of the lockdown that many parents have learned to value the role that teachers play in our children’s lives. It has given them renewed respect for the profession and have realised that they cannot achieve half of what teachers can with their children in the hours that they spend with them at school.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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