Desperate teachers cry out for help

Desperate teachers cry out for helpSchool children (Credit: UNICEF)

Northern Cape – Difficult working conditions, poor community support, responsibilities far beyond their job descriptions – these are among the many issues driving teachers away from their jobs, particularly in rural areas.

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“When learners fall pregnant, we get emotionally affected as well. As teachers, we bond with our learners and in many cases, they confide in us since we spend the most time with them,” said a teacher from a rural school who asked not to be named.

“It goes beyond being a just a teacher. When we see a learner coming to school with no shoes or a torn uniform, or we see they are not coping because of the household stresses of being in a child-headed household, you feel a lot of pain,” she said.

Another teacher, who also did not want to be named because she did not have permission to speak to the media, said the burden of supporting children from poor families and families affected by domestic violence became burdensome because Teacher Support Programmes were not effective, particularly in village schools.

“We are left with no choice but to be social workers, nurses, the police and psychologists,” she said.

“Our safety as female teachers is also compromised when we have to deal with learners abusing drugs, being violent in school and bullying others.”

Ms Marumo (not her real name) said she often went to bed depressed and her low mood was affecting her family as she was constantly worrying about the future.

She said efforts to help children with behavioural problems often failed because the parents were disinterested and generally failed to participate in the process.

Poor societal support

She said School Governing Bodies were supposed to be the link between school, learners and parents. But due to poor societal support, the system often did not work.

According to a recent Human Sciences Research Council educators study report, teachers are leaving the profession because of job dissatisfaction, high work loads,and low morale. Much was needed to improve the working conditions and health status of teachers the report found.

“Teachers rely mostly on the teachers union for support, but it focuses mostly on the rights of the teachers rather than their health. In the Northern Cape there are teachers who are still working in old schools where the environment is not conducive for both the learners and the teachers,” one teacher explained.

A male teacher said that school policies often prioritised the rights of learners over those of teachers, and teachers rights were not properly communicated to society.

“I think this is my last remaining three months as a teacher. I am resigning,”  he said, explaining that he had recently been choked by a learner he was trying to discipline.

“We are not safe as teachers,” he said.

Efforts to get comments from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the Northern Cape Department of Education were not successful.