Education

'Teaching under lockdown is not for the faint-hearted': educators get creative amid Covid-19

Innovative ideas to help pupils, but also difficult choices

27 June 2021 - 00:00 By prega govender
While some teachers simply went through the motions of teaching during the lockdown last year, Angelique West, of Swartland Primary in Malmesbury, made lessons exciting by singing and doing dance moves while teaching on social media platforms.
While some teachers simply went through the motions of teaching during the lockdown last year, Angelique West, of Swartland Primary in Malmesbury, made lessons exciting by singing and doing dance moves while teaching on social media platforms.
Image: Esa Alexander

Swapping the chalkboard for social media platforms, using a drone to teach fractions, or braving gang-ridden areas on the Cape Flats to deliver workbooks to pupils. These are just some stories of teachers in the hard lockdown last year. 

Some teachers became celebrities on social media. One even found inspiration in a shower to write poetry.

A collection of 65 stories are contained in Teaching in and Beyond Pandemic Times, a book to be published by African Sun Media in Stellenbosch. 

The book was co-edited by Jonathan Jansen, a distinguished professor of education at Stellenbosch University, and Theola Farmer-Phillips, a departmental head at Yellowwood Primary School in Cape Town.

Angelique West, 25, a grade 4 teacher at Swartland Primary in Malmesbury in the Western Cape, wrote how she called her pupils daily “to check if I could help with work, read them a story, or just be a shoulder to cry on”.

She followed their social media habits and was soon teaching them natural science lessons using TikTok.

“The students, my No 1 fans, motivated me to keep up the singing and silly dance moves. Soon 10 followers became 100, and before I knew it, I was reaching 50,000.”

When pupils who could not follow her on social media came to school weekly to collect their schoolwork, she wrote to each one: “Miss West loves and misses you and believes in you.”

She told the Sunday Times: “I am very extroverted and I knew many of my kids were on TikTok, so I used this platform to make my lessons fun and exciting.”

Dillon Henwood, 25, a grade 5 teacher at Elnor Primary School in Elsie’s River in the Western Cape, wrote: “Successfully engaging my learners for 19 weeks through distance learning in a community where homelessness, child-headed households and absent parents are the norm seemed like an obvious impossibility.”

Because they did not have electronic devices, he printed workbooks for his 44 pupils for 19 consecutive weeks. Only two pupils, on average, fetched the work each week. 

Dillon Henwood, a teacher at Elnor Primary in Elsie’s River, has written about teaching in a Cape Town area where many pupils come from poor families.
Dillon Henwood, a teacher at Elnor Primary in Elsie’s River, has written about teaching in a Cape Town area where many pupils come from poor families.
Image: Esa Alexander

Henwood said he made between 40 to 50 trips, at his own cost, to deliver workbooks. “I would often call the child to the car to fetch it [the workbook] in the areas where I know they [people] are carrying guns.”

Brenda Jordan, who teaches English at Alexandra High School in Gauteng, wrote: “Teaching under lockdown is not for the faint-hearted. It tests your inner soul. It makes you question, it makes you cry and it makes you angry. It also makes you happy at times. It was the year that highlighted the brutal differences in terms of those who have and those who do not.”

Lehlohonolo Mofokeng, an accounting teacher from Saint Bernard’s High School in Free State, said teaching WhatsApp groups “never really worked”.

“Imagine sending three-page-long notes on bank and creditors’ reconciliations to a group of learners whose English proficiency is not particularly high. Large proportions of my learners grasp the subject matter better through direct peer and teacher interaction in a live classroom. Stuck at home, they found it hard to understand the accounting topics I shared in our WhatsApp group.”

Ronel Sampson of EA Janari Primary School in the Western Cape told of parents’ difficulty in having their children learn online. “Another granny sent me a cartoon picture which also told a story of the hardships that the parents endured during the lockdown. In the picture, an old woman and a child are standing in front of a shop, staring at the little money in her hand. She thinks: ‘Bread or data?’ I felt that.”

Jansen and Farmer-Phillips said that following the publication of their book, Learning under Lockdown, last year, which focused on children’s experience of pandemic learning, there was a “stream” of requests from teachers for a complementary edition.

“We, therefore, wanted to do a deep dive into teaching during the pandemic, and especially during that period [the hard lockdown] when teachers and learners were physically separated.”

Jansen said he was “overwhelmed, at times emotional, not realising how much sacrifice was made by the teachers well beyond the call of duty”.


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