Where I grew up, a teacher was the best member of the community in many respects. A teacher had a descent homestead. Some owned small businesses or cars. Cars were a luxury at that time, and they were a rare possession. Also, we knew that it was only in teachers’ houses where people drank tea and ate buttered bread almost very day. Some of us saw tea and bread only once a year, in December during Christmas celebrations. We did not even know the difference between tea and coffee; coffee was tea at least as long as it was poured from a teapot.
Enough of tea and coffee for now, and back to teaching. Then teaching was a noble profession and teachers were highly respected in the community. They were also respectable and good models in the community. They earned descent salaries then. Those who worked in urban areas could afford to buy houses. But over the years, we witnessed the status of teachers deteriorating rapidly. Teachers’ unions have justifiably voiced concern over teachers’ degenerating conditions of service and low salaries. In some countries, poor conditions of service and low salaries have forced some teachers to become beggars. Some teachers live in deplorable conditions as they try to save money. In these cases, community members no longer have the same respect for teachers as they had in the past.
Locally and elsewhere, it was not until recently that community members have been jolted into reality concerning the value of teachers in their community. During the current lockdown period which was brought about because of the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, some parents wished that schools should open so that their children should go back to class. There were varying reasons for this sentiment. The obvious reason was that parents wanted their children to learn. Also, keeping children at home during the lockdown had become a nightmare for some parents. Not that they do not love their children. Nor does it mean that children hate their parents. Not at all. The ever presence of children, siblings, and their parents, sharing the same home space for twenty-four hours a day for what started as 21 days - and later got extended - had naturally become too much for their liking. This was aggravated by the fact that in most cases there was nothing for children to do, especially in homes which could not access online teaching. Even in those homes in which there were online learning facilities, the situation was not so much different. It would appear that the forced lockdown had some psychological effect on both parents and children who were not used to spending so much time together since schools and workplaces were closed. To worsen the situation, the emergency lockdown regulations did not permit the movement of people.
Some parents have come up in the open praising teachers for spending most of their time with their children. “I used to look down upon teachers, but the Covid-19 lockdown has taught me that teachers play a critical role in the upbringing of our children,” one parent said. Other parents I met this week said that they had all along taken for granted the time teachers spent with their children at school, but now they have realized the value of teachers. All parents I talked to this week said government must review teachers’ salaries and pay them huge sums of money because of the challenging role they play in educating children, and moulding and shaping their characters. Interestingly, there had to be a lockdown for some parents I talked to for them to fully appreciate the value of teachers’ work in the lives of their children. In other words, in the long days and weeks they spent confined to the home space with their children, they realized that there was a missing character in the whole equation - the teacher.
Some parents whose children were engaged in online learning complained that they did not have the patience of assisting their children with schoolwork. The online schoolwork was cumbersome for them. Understandably, some children also had problems being coached or guided by their parents. Some parents said that their children were complaining about the methods they used, pointing out that the way their parents were assisting them was not the same way their teachers would have done it. This is not to paint a picture that it was doom and gloom in all cases. There are parents who said online learning and teaching went on well with their children. But generally, there were many challenges which included technophobia, lack of equipment, the high cost of data bundles and the absence of connectivity. These frustrated both parents and children. While other children were engaged in online teaching, especially from private schools, we should not forget the majority who did not have access to this facility, mostly in rural areas and informal sectors. There are children who learn while sitting under trees and in some makeshift structures whose parents cannot afford to buy equipment for online learning. These children rely solely on face-to-face teaching and learning. Without the teacher, these children’s lives are doomed. When the situation normalizes, children in this category must receive intensive learning programmes for them to catch up with the others.
The Covid-19 lockdown has made many parents and the public to realise how important our teachers are in the upbringing and welfare of children. Teachers are trained not only to teach children, but also to take care of them in the absence of their parents. They are loving and empathetic to children. Armed with their pedagogical knowledge gained through years of training, teachers mould the characters of our children. The public must know that you cannot just go into the street and pick some uneducated people to take charge of learners in any school. That will be tantamount to suicide. Only suitably qualified and trained people must be allowed to handle school children.
To teachers in the service of the nation I want to say keep up the excellent work you are doing under difficult conditions. Teaching is a calling and remember that ‘once a teacher, always a teacher’, and use this motto when you encounter challenges in the execution of your noble profession. To members of the public and stakeholders I say let us all give teachers support as they discharge their duties of educating the nation. We all came through the hands of teachers, so we should accord these men and women the respect they deserve. They also deserve huge salaries for shaping the minds and characters of our children.
2020-05-08 10:15:25 | 20 days ago