As we continue our “Unsung Heroes” series, we turn the lens to the educators who continue to prepare today’s children to be tomorrow’s leaders in an uncertain future.
The Pandemic’s Unsung Heroes – Educators
“Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.”
– Helen Caldicott
In today’s pandemic-stricken world, the fate of humanity seems more unpredictable than ever. There are few certainties, to be sure, but one can generally count on at least two things moving forward into the unknown – children and technology.
Technology has rapidly evolved throughout the past several decades, and humanity has kept pace. Once, hunter-gatherers depending on the bounty of our environment and opposable thumbs to ensure survival, we hominids are now more adept and controlling our destiny with the click of a mouse than surviving in the wild. Technology, in one way, shape, or form has allowed us to eradicate other pandemics including smallpox and polio. One can safely assume that tech will further allow for the development of treatments, a vaccine, and further, the eradication of the Coronavirus.
To be sure, whatever the future holds, it will most certainly include more technology. So, who better to prepare for that prospect than the literal future of the human race? In an age where most children are proficient with tablets and mobile phones before they are potty trained, the concept of tomorrow’s world being led by today’s children looks bright.
In the modern era, educators are not only faced with the challenge of teaching children all they need to learn – often using outdated materials and working in under-budgeted conditions. It’s well known that teachers around the world already earn wages that are not commensurate to the efforts they put forth to perform their duties, but in pandemic conditions, those efforts are more than doubled and go widely underappreciated.
With quarantine orders effectively closing down nearly every school across the globe, instructors are forced into a position of finding innovative ways to reach their learners and deliver the required course content from afar. Technology has made this possible through the use of video conferencing platforms, but the difficulty in minimizing distractions to students in their home environments presents an almost insurmountable task.
Mrs. Lauren-Lee Lehmann-Poultney is an educator from South Africa and shares her experience during this historical pandemic era. As a technology teacher, Ms. Lehmann-Poultney is only too familiar with the viability of such an en⁷deavor of teaching remotely. While distance-learning is nothing new, in eras past, much of the content was to be consumed by students by reading and typing. Today, however, video conferencing allows educators to still be front-and-center to their pupils.
Lauren-Lee teaches grades one through seven, and ages ranging from five to 13 years. To say that holding the attention span for those age groups, even on a good day in a proper classroom, poses certain challenges would be an understatement.
In her educator role, Lauren-Lee performs the following functions:
- Teaching coding, computer skills, out-of-the-box thinking (critical thinking), problem-solving and the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals
- IT support for teachers, parents, and students
- Curriculum development for the Advanced Tech Schools Division
- Maintaining learning activities in accordance with school values and vision
Recently, educators in South Africa were informed that certain grade levels could return to traditional classroom settings, but under quarantine orders, Lauren-Lee had been carrying out her responsibilities and delivering lessons remotely from her home.
As if the job of being a teacher in the classroom wasn’t already stressful enough, Lauren-Lee points out that working from home presented new challenges. Without the rigidity of a structured classroom schedule, she found her self-discipline lacking a bit. In her words, “It was finding the drive to get out of bed and start working. It was just getting into a routine and finding the strength mentally to do what was needed for the day.” She adds, “It was difficult in the beginning but once I cleared a space for myself, I was able to find my rhythm.”
Further adding to the complexity of striking a balance between work and home life, Lauren-Lee also had to overcome the stressors associated with the possibility of job loss for both she and her wife. She highlights her ability to lean on support systems at home and work, though, to help her to pull through the tougher times and notes that, “The biggest low was not connecting with my students, which really hit me hard!”
At this point, as students slowly re-integrate into the classroom, she isn’t as worried about losing her job as a result of the pandemic. She acknowledges that “There will always be stressors, but thankfully, I am one of the teachers greatly valued at my school. It is because of my unique skill set that makes a difference.”
But all isn’t doom and gloom for this teacher. In fact, Lauren-Lee has finally had the time to work on several DIY projects in a recently purchased home. As someone who suffers from anxiety, she credits her home improvement projects with helping her to remain proactive. She also points out that being quarantined with her wife has brought them closer in their relationship and they have even spent time fostering and homing stray kittens.
When asked her opinion about whether life as we know it will ever return to “normal.” Lauren-Lee keeps a positive outlook – “I don’t think things will ever be ‘normal’ again. I think this will be the new ‘normal,’ and we just need to adjust and adapt to it. Even if it means doing something new.”