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The plight of the teacher

On Wednesday, parents across the country celebrated the start of school and the end of the very long summer holidays. The children are dressed, bags packed, and dropped off at school, now the responsibility of the well-rested teachers, all of whom are presumably thrilled to be back at work.

And while it’s very easy to overlook the role of these key individuals in society, teachers don’t have nearly as cushy a job as it’s often considered to be. In fact, far from it. Many bright-eyed students enter into tertiary education, excited to pursue a profession in teaching, believing the half-day jobs dominated by well-mannered children eager to learn will be punctuated by extensive holidays – and possibly even some overseas tours.

The reality soon sets in with that first teaching job. For the first two years, all holidays and extra time are completely taken up by lesson preparation and the never-ending marking. One can never overstate quite how time-consuming and mind-numbingly painful marking can be. Particularly for teachers in disciplines where essays are a requirement. Matric marking, which provides a selection of high school teachers with marginally more money, involves eight hours a day, for weeks, of marking, moderating, and marking some more. It’s challenging, to say the least.

Most schools start at about 7.20am, which means teachers have to be at the school for morning meetings by 7am. In big cities, this means travel time with teachers often leaving home when it’s still dark. The majority of schools require teachers to perform extra-curricular activities, so most afternoons and weekends are consumed by sporting and cultural events, with teachers getting home in the evenings. Not to mention the school plays, fundraising activities, parent-teacher meetings, staff meetings, cluster meetings, educational conferences and school tours – among many other things.

In government schools, teachers have to deal with overcrowded classrooms, a lack of adequate facilities and disciplinary issues that require self-defence classes for teachers. It’s difficult to imagine, sitting in a calm, air-conditioned office, the level of stress involved in standing up in front of a class of 50 impoverished, ill-disciplined children – most of whom would rather be elsewhere – while attempting to get them to understand Pythagoras.

The private sector doesn’t have it much easier. There are still disciplinary issues to address, and when parents are paying a small fortune for education, they (understandably) expect only the best results. This can make parent-teacher meetings quite gruelling, and the level of pressure to produce high academic results quite overwhelming – particularly difficult when a child is just unwilling to work.

And yet despite the stress, time constraints, and pitiful salaries, the teachers are still there on the first day of school, happily welcoming your children into their classrooms. Ready to act as parent, teacher and counsellor where needed. Ready to provide struggling children with extra care and attention without question. Ready to lay the foundation of knowledge for the big world that awaits.

So, as you celebrate the return to school this week, spare a thought for the hard-working teachers who are working to educate our future doctors, environmental scientists and (thankfully) teachers.


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