Teaching in 2020 – the year that never ended

Masks, sanitiser, classes only every other day and social distancing. It has been a year like no other for schools and teachers.

Masks, sanitiser, classes only every other day and social distancing. It has been a year like no other for everyone, including schools. We spoke to teachers to year how they overcame the challenges this unique school year posed.

Eslynn Gilbert, who has been teaching for 10 years, said it was an exhausting year, with few breaks and constant repetition.

“It felt as though I’m teaching for the first time this year,” she said.

Ms Gilbert, of Lotus River, teaches at Prince George Primary, but she said the long breaks between lessons for the pupils meant they had to be regularly retaught.

“The children came back after lockdown knowing less than at beginning of the year,” she said.

For the teachers, there were no breaks. During lockdown, they sent work to the parents’ cellphones but many parents were not able to teach the concepts to the children.

“So the same concepts that we explained via WhatsApp was what we taught in class after the lockdown and 90% of the kids didn’t know what we were speaking about.”

The classes being split also meant lessons had to be repeated multiple times, for the groups that came on alternating days, and again, if they were lucky enough to get the time, for those who were absent or battling.

“Only 50% of learners were allowed in class. I had three groups – which meant I only saw my kids every third day. Some learners stayed absent on the day I was supposed to see them – which meant I only saw them every sixth day.

“If learners missed their day, they also missed the concept taught because we had a limited amount of days to teach before they wrote their assessments. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I could squeeze in another day of teaching a concept learners didn’t understand but in reality, we had to motor with teaching the content – to complete the term. I feel it was an injustice to the kids.”

It was a year of learning for her too and the biggest lesson was “perseverance”.

“Because the learners didn’t get any help at home, I needed to teach them as if school is the only place they are getting assistance in academics. I couldn’t give up on them if I saw them on the sixth or ninth day. I had to push through our difficult times – show them patience and love so that they can persevere.”

The ongoing struggles this year left her “exhausted, drained, moeg”.

“During the lockdown, we taught every day. We taught in the morning – gave the learners time to complete the activity – which they did not because we didn’t get feedback from the parents – then in the afternoon we went through the answers. After lockdown, it was back to school and we just kept on teaching. The only break we got was the week between the third and fourth term.

“The first few days after school closed, it took me a bit too long to overcome the tiredness. During the third and fourth terms, I was ready to quit but I feel – seeing as we are having a good long holiday – I can do 2021.”

2020 has also left Windsor Preparatory School principal, Isabel Smit, exhausted. The Gordon’s Bay resident, who has 29 years’ teaching experience under her belt – seven of which was at Windsor Prep in Lansdowne, said she too had had no breaks this year as the time spent not teaching was used for planning.

Planning is a regular part of teaching but this year’s planning included putting together screening programmes, splitting lessons over alternate days and getting work to exempted pupils.

The added challenge was keeping staff and pupils safe and motivated to stick to the Covid protocols, which drained her and, now that school has closed, Ms Smit has already started planning for next year.

But, despite its challenges, she’s looking back at 2020 positively.

“As a team, we worked together and we persevered. We made the best of the new normal. Whatever happened, we could overcome with clear communication and good planning. We can take the lessons learnt and build on that to make the most of our teaching time.”

“Most of parents were full of praises of how we handled the reopening of schools and continued to teach with a positive attitude.”

Aaminah Louw, of Mitchell’s Plain, said she had had a tough year but learned a lot.

Ms Louw, who teaches at Rocklands Primary and has been teaching for five years, said she also found herself constantly needing to repeat lessons.

“The biggest challenge I faced was bridging the gap that was left after the learners returned to school. Many learners, that could not attend the Zoom lessons, forgot most of the things that were taught in the first term. The little time that we had was now be split in two, revising term one and teaching the new concepts.”

One of the positives was that the smaller classes helped her to get to know her pupils better.

“I enjoyed having a smaller class as the children were more comfortable in making their contributions and I got to know each child on a different kind of platform than before. Each child has imparted different lessons to me as well. This year has taught me to slow down and enjoy the little things and little people that I work with.”