By Essie Bester
In the past year schools had to close unexpectedly in March and could only open partly in June due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time many teachers stepped forward as true heroes and were prepared to walk the extra mile to adapt their teaching to these circumstances due to the lockdown.
Dirk Hermann, chairperson of the Solidarity School Support Centre, accordingly paid tribute to teachers with these words: “While we are in lockdown, teachers go to bed late and rise early. They build new systems for the millions of small schools that suddenly had to open at home. They just continue working, not for themselves but for other people’s children.”
When schools reopened partially in June, teacher unions expressed their concern about the timing and the lack of sufficient protection for teachers and learners.
The trade unions’ objections were understandable, but they expressed themselves to a lesser degree about the teachers’ need to be equipped with the skills and infrastructure to teach during a pandemic. Teachers nevertheless acquitted themselves of their task brilliantly.
Teachers have always been seen as creators of inspiration, shapers of the future, superb storytellers, legendary negotiators, data analysts, purposeful coaches and team and culture builders. They can multi-task, but now they had to learn to adapt to online teaching and suddenly they were being confronted with many new challenges.
The challenges for teachers were technical (how to teach over a distance), emotional (how to cope with this new situation), as well as pedagogical (how to deliver teaching of good quality). These educational challenges had to be tackled while individuals and families were living under the personal tension of strict lockdown regulations and the fear of being exposed to the virus.
It is remarkable that in this environment of heightened pressure we saw examples of teachers who adopted a caring teaching style. They did their best to provide learners with tips about discipline and commitment and supported them to set their own learning goals while having to study at home.
Teachers made themselves available to students via WhatsApp groups for the whole class and encouraged learners to create their own WhatsApp groups to encourage each other. In schools with less resources or where learners had limited connection, teachers came to the fore with innovative ways to offer learning opportunities, with WhatsApp group chats, sharing learning material via memory sticks and printed copies.
All of this while the shift to online teaching meant that teachers had to reconsider their lesson plans to fit into an entirely new format. “The whole curriculum had to be done over to be adapted to online teaching, as a lot depended on the fact that you would be there to guide the learners through certain problems,” one teacher explains. Most teachers agree that the loss of personal interaction is one of the most difficult aspects of distance teaching, for the learners as well as for themselves.e, dse evisanot used by most teachers, the online methods of teaching to support learning and give attention to different teaching styles, also require skills with which teachers in traditional classrooms weren’t necessarily familiar.
Apart from teaching methods in an online teaching environment differeing from the face-to-face classroom used by most teachers, the online ways of supporting teaching and different teaching style require skills with which teachers in traditional classrooms weren’t necessarily familiar.
Prior to the pandemic many teachers had received no formal technological training worth mentioning to either support mixed teaching and learning, or to fully apply online teaching. The closing of schools in reaction to the pandemic forced teachers to adapt and to innovate in order to ensure that teaching continued, regardless of the challenges.
They had to move out of a space in which they had years of experience, into the unknown and challenging world of online, distant correspondence and socially distanced teaching. They were expected to facilitate learning with limited experience and skills, with the aid of digital instruments such as e-teaching platforms, online videos and vocal textbooks.
This is how teachers in South African schools reacted to Covid-19:
- With little or no previous experience, they had to adapt to online teaching platforms, while learning how to use teaching management systems during the pandemic.
- To continue supporting learners, teachers used online teaching resources and conducted one-on-one consultations through platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp and Google messaging services that allow video calls.
- Teachers created WhatsApp teaching groups to take photos from book pages and send them to parents, while learners who received their learning material via their smartphone application were enabled to continue with classes.
- In some cases teachers pasted sheets of white paper on a wall and used it as a white board. They then made video-recordings of themselves with their cell phones to explain difficult concepts to their learners. The videos were shared with parents via the WhatsApp groups. Platforms such as Facebook were also used to share information and send learning material to parents.
Teachers are developing multifold teaching methods and experts are of the opinion that they have come to the fore as key role-players in the development of digital skills and sustainability (essential skills for the fourth industrial revolution).
This is heartening news, particularly as in 2019, at a congress of the Solidarity Schools Support Centre, experts already warned that the world was changing radically and at enormous speed and that teaching models and classroom practice have to changed drastically to keep abreast of this.
As long as we remember that no keyboard or monitor could ever replace the role that teachers play in the teaching of our children.
Teachers teach with courage during the Covid-19 pandemic