Two student teachers tell us about the path to becoming a teacher during Covid-19

The national lockdown hit pause on schooling and learning for a while. As lockdown restrictions eased, schools and higher education resumed. Many learners had to adapt to a mix of online learning, and being back in the classroom. We spoke to two student teachers about their experiences this year. BY LING SHEPHERD

Cherizaan Fisher is a third-year Bachelor of Education student at CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology). Her course of study is over four years, and she is specialising in the intermediate phase which will allow her to teach grades four to seven. A major part of becoming a teacher involves practical work. That means being assigned a school and class to teach under supervision.

When did teaching practice start for you ?

In my first year. It was wild because prior to starting my degree first years never did teaching prac. They sent us out in the first year. It was super hectic. I had no idea what I was doing. The first year I did teaching practice was after the June holidays. It was really difficult. I had no idea what I was doing. You don’t know the students. They already have a teacher, so it’s kind of like intruding into their space.

Some of the teachers are mean, and can be unwelcoming. But the teacher that supervised me was actually practical and gave me constructive criticism. Instead of just being mean for the sake of being mean, which a lot of teachers do. It was difficult but a great experience. The children took to me really well. My tutor teacher gave me solid advice, telling me that I should not be so hard on myself. She told me it’s okay to make mistakes. It really helped me to curb being so self-critical. She said it actually takes a long time to learn how to teach. It takes a while to grasp. But after a few weeks I found my groove.

My second year teaching prac was horrible. My tutor teacher wasn’t helpful at all. He didn’t like me, it caused so much anxiety, It affected how I taught. In second year you do teaching practice twice in the year. So I had to go back to that same tutor teacher. He was cruel to the kids and it felt like he was baiting me. He knew I couldn’t say anything because he held all the cards with being able to pass or fail me. I noticed many of the male teachers were extremely cruel toward the kids, in what they said to the kids – literally talking about kids who didn’t pay school fees. 

How is CPUT navigating teaching practice this year? 

They completely cancelled it. There was no way they could send us out. We do have to do 20 lessons that we would have taught. So we have to pretend we are on teaching practice, as if we were teaching. 

How are you feeling about studying during the pandemic?

I feel extremely unprepared. We have just been doing assignments. CPUT has not been teaching us anything new. We have barely covered any grade work, which is what you do in third year. There are bits of teaching that happen but most times the lecturers are not teaching us things that we need to know. We are just getting assignments and essays. I don’t feel like I am learning anything. I would have gone on grade 6 teaching practice this year. I’d have gotten a feel for what grade six kids do.

I have noticed grade fives and sixes stagnate with reading. They reach a plateau in their reading. Their comprehension skills are not that good. I have no idea what is going on in a grade six classroom. The lecturers are just giving us enough to complete assignments. It is not enough. The workload is intense. The lesson plans I have to do are hard because we are not being taught grade six content. The support from CPUT is fifty-fifty. I feel most of the other students would rate them lower. I’m fortunate. I have internet access and a laptop. I have a side-hustle so I can support myself. Other students are struggling. 

Has CPUT eased into online teaching?

Some lecturers are doing better at it. Some are consistent. Others are fumbling and trying to figure out how to do this. And others are not supportive or helpful at all. To a point where I am doing badly with the subjects they teach me. I just really want to pass,and honestly am aiming for a 50% pass so I can get to my final year. I hand in assignments late, and my mental health has really been affected. Many learners can’t cope. It is difficult to find a quiet space at home to work with everyone at home too. It has been challenging,and the workload is not lessening. There has been no compromise from CPUT to meet us halfway with less assignments. I understand the lecturers are overwhelmed, but we all are.

Learners also had to take on full-time jobs too because of the pandemic , so it has affected our time we have to spend on school work. There is a big digital divide in South Africa too, not all of us have constant access to data to learn online. The one thing CPUT can do to help, like immediately is to change the way content is taught. The methodology on how to teach is lacking. The focus should be on how to teach, not what to teach. My major concern is the low level of reading skills kids have that I came across. We need more videos and less voice notes. Some are 30 minutes long, it’s impractical. Voice Notes work best with slides accompanying it. 

Safeyah Darries is a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) student at UWC (University of the Western Cape). She is doing her PGCE online while living in the Northern Cape. 

When did you start online learning? 

We moved to Kimberley last year, and I started online learning when Lockdown started in March this year. Studies continued online. At first it was very difficult. On campus you are spoiled with wi-fi. Suddenly you have to splurge, and I will say splurge because in the Northern Cape we don’t really have the infrastructure yet for very fast internet lines in impoverished areas. Like Roodepanw where I live is like the cape flats of Kimberley. So it has been really tough. Kimberely has access to fast internet in town, but not on the outskirts. The municipality neglects us. The second pandemic here apart from Covid is the lacklustre and inadequate Department of Education of South Africa overall. 

Have you done teaching practice this year?

At first we thought it would be cancelled. Not everyone was at UWC. They just continued. We got portfolios and lesson plans. We then had to be at a school for a month. 

What has your experience with teaching practice been? 

It hasn’t been that bad. We got to connect with our supervisors. The children were divided into groups. Each grade had two groups. Then they would alternate attendance. Group one will come to school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Group two will come to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So already there is a group that is behind. You then teach the same lesson to all the kids that week. It is this parrot fashion learning. It is frustrating. The kids are frustrated too.

What have been some other challenges you have witnessed? 

 What kid wants to come to school in a pandemic with the PPE. It is the worst possible environment. At the school I taught at, there were basic resources, no projectors. This pandemic highlighted so many things. Like kids don’t have sanitisers at home. So they would siphon off the sanitiser at school to take home. The school was under-staffed. Ten teachers were booked on leave because of their comorbidities. So as student teachers we took over classes with no tutor teachers present.

This pandemic highlighted the inequalities in education. They always say we bring it back to class and race. But look at Northern Cape High and Northern Cape Girls High. All the kids have tablets and resources. They are so well-equipped. They are almost done with the curriculum. As a student teacher in an under-resourced classroom you have to put double the work in. The school fees for the year is R125. Some of the kids can’t afford it. So they pay five or ten rand a month. 

How has UWC eased into online learning? 

The majority of the lecturers are coping well. There is a handful that struggles, or they actually don’t care. My teaching practice supervisor Dr Luckay has been wonderful. She checks in regularly. We get our daily assignments. So it has been great. Then there are others still giving us feedback for assignments we gave in April. 

What can UWC do to improve online learning? 

In terms of distance teaching they should make sure all their enrolled students have data. Seriously not everyone has data. People take this for granted. Not everyone has cell phones and laptops. The quality of teaching too. Some of our lecturers are old, and struggle with online meetings. Some even log themselves out of an online lecture. It is a learning curve. We are in a fourth industrial revolution but our lecturers who are at the helm of teaching are not even on that level yet. There is a major disconnect there. 

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