I am an English teacher and I need to say that I love my job. The trouble is, if you love your job and you’re not able to do it, the level of frustration cannot easily be measured. So, Missy Rona, as she’s nicknamed in the Deep South, caused a Great Pause in our academic year.
But after many weeks of brave online learning endeavours and a few tense media briefings by our minister, I’m back to what I love.
I have my matrics and they have me. Finally, we can get on with it. They have no sport, cultural activities or other social commitments at school … this surely is a recipe for academic excellence? The night before the first lesson, I felt like a student-teacher preparing for a lesson observation: detailed planning, excellent material, dynamic visuals and more energy than I’d had since … well, for a long time. Bring it on.
And then they arrived.
Instead of rolling in to my class in a wave of blue blazers, they trickled in, well-spaced and rather silent like an unconvincing tide. Behind my mask, I smiled the biggest smile ever. How fantastic it was to see them back. I am not sure how long it took for me to realise that my smile was redundant and I could not count on my eyes exuding warmth either. Many sprayed and wiped their tables, others rubbed their hands in a well-practised way and instead of the usual smell of Lynx Africa (or similar), the room smelt sterile.
The atmosphere was sterile.
I moved back two metres and replaced my cloth mask with my “regulation” visor … but they still looked the same. Glancing down at my well-thought-through introduction, I gently closed the book, smoothing its already smooth cover and just stared at the 27 pairs of eyes in front of me. Where was the connection? I dug deep for my funny lock-down stories … I even think I did something with my visor for comedic effect … a couple of chuckles, nothing more.
Wear your mask. Be safe. Stay safe.
Those “safe” messages had been – and still are – my worst lockdown message endings. Because, the longer we’re in this, I realise that staying safe means staying separate. It means keeping your distance and covering your face. It means establishing a physical barrier which becomes an emotional barrier and we have to ask ourselves – if withdrawing is allowing us to “stay safe” are we not just harming ourselves on the inside?
And now into Week 2 of teaching, I am used to the invisible wall and I dance a little dance of joy within my heart when a learner puts him- or herself through the discomfort of answering, asking or commenting – words stuffed into a mask.
I know why I love my job. It’s the human connection. And I will hold on to that until it returns.