OPINION | Teachers should be seen as frontline workers and will need all our support – News24

Posted: May 23, 2020 at 2:51 pm


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12:41 21/05/2020 Keiran Peacock

I know many educators are uncertain and some are making personal sacrifices in order to return to work. Like nurses, doctors, police officers and sanitisation workers and other frontline workers, so much is being asked of them.

After much deliberation and consultation, the decision to get grade 7 and 12 learners back to school was made by the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga this week.

I have had many discussions with ex-colleagues about the prospect of them heading back to school and have received polarised opinions about how and when it should be done.

Whether one agrees with the decision or not, the decision has been made.

From the 1st of June educators should be seen as part of the frontline workers whose actions will be critical in the fight against the pandemic.

Educators need to be mindful that their words carry weight and thus need to ensure that despite their feelings, insecurities, anxieties or anger at returning to school what they impart to learners has to promote the greater good of the child and ultimately South Africa as a whole.

They need to be compassionate and curious about their feelings so that they are in a position to offer support and compassion to those in their care.

I recently listened to Susan David who holds a PhD and is one of the world's leading management thinkers and an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist who spoke about the choice we have as to whether we let the narrative coming through the media own us, or whether we let our emotions own us, or whether we are going to exert some kind of empowerment and connection and be in a better space to own it.

She referred to an oft-used phrase by Victor Frankel who survived the Nazi death camps.

He said that between stimulus and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose and, in that choice, lies our growth and freedom.

You and those you teach did not choose these circumstances and what often happens is that we get hooked into an experience where there is no space between stimulus and response.

We mindlessly busy ourselves by engaging with social media or the news and we begin to catastrophise our experiences. Thus letting our experiences and emotions own us.

Dr David goes further to say that when situations are ambiguous fear is often exacerbated.

The return to school is extremely ambiguous for all parties as no one knows that may happen in the near future.

When one experiences this ambiguity, people often try fill the blanks which results in more anxiety as they catastrophise the possible future.

Dr David refers to emotional contagion whereby people pick up the emotions of other people. Learners returning will pick up on educators' emotions.

What educators need to show is intentionality where they project the ability to not get stuck in their own lived experiences, to not get consumed by news and social media but instead offer an alternative way of engaging with their lived experiences and that of their students.

Educators must not focus their attention on year-end examinations as this is a mountain that may invoke more fear.

Instead they must focus on the daily lived experience of those they teach and make small manageable goals that will empower those in their care.

Educators will be doing what others cannot do at the moment, they are uniquely positioned to build a better tomorrow.

That is so powerful.

I know many educators are uncertain and some are making personal sacrifices in order to return to work.

Like nurses, doctors, police officers and sanitisation workers and other frontline workers, so much is being asked of them.

Educators now fall into the category of frontline fighters and they will need all the support of fellow South Africans if education is to assist our country overcoming this pandemic.

- Keiran Peacock is a former High school educator and was previously in charge of discipline, leadership and pastoral care at Groote Schuur High School in the Western Cape.

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OPINION | Teachers should be seen as frontline workers and will need all our support - News24

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May 23rd, 2020 at 2:51 pm