South African schools drop non-essential activities as teachers face ‘burnout’ due to COVID shortages

Teachers in South Australia are facing burnout and fatigue due to COVID-related staffing shortages, particularly in regional areas, according to the education union.

The SA branch of the Australian Education Union said there were around 800 teachers absent for COVID-related reasons on a recent school day.

Branch president Andrew Gohl said that in addition to shortages, teachers were also grappling with ever-changing learning patterns and fluctuating attendance.

“Teachers are constantly adjusting to students returning to class after an absence and also adjusting to students who are going to be away for a while,” he said.

“In addition to that, of course, they also took respite lessons from their colleagues who were absent for COVID reasons.”

Discontinued non-essential activities

The Department of Education has asked schools to postpone non-essential activities for the remaining three weeks of term, including camps, carnivals, parent-teacher talks and presentations.

“It’s a welcome and progressive kind of action.”

Schools in South Australia are moving in and out of remote learning.(Provided: Pexels; Julia M Cameron)

He said that although there are around 4,000 temporary relief teachers in South Australia, access to them in regional areas was already limited.

“This means that existing staff who are on deck are taking relief classes at times when they would not normally be teaching, at times when they would normally be doing their scoring, preparation, scheduling, planning, evaluation and its reports,” Gohle said. .

“Some cities have a reasonable number of temporary relief teachers in normal times, but right now when we have dozens of teachers who could be away from a particular site in a day, there are very few cities in South Australia who will have like 12 relief teachers, for example.”

A girl raises her hand in a high school class surrounded by classmates.
Hundreds of teachers are absent at any given time due to COVID.(ABC News)

Compulsory teaching loads were regularly exceeded by teachers called upon to replace their colleagues, he said.

“I hope that one of the results of this is a recognition that permanent substitute teachers are an important complement to supporting schools, and I hope that there will be further discussions about increasing those this in the immediate future.”

Unvaccinated teachers won’t solve the shortage

Unvaccinated teachers and school staff were allowed to return to work on Thursday.

A smiling man wearing a white button down shirt stands in front of a window showing city buildings
Education Department chief Rick Persse says unvaccinated teachers returning to work are a “fraction” of the workforce.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

Department for Education chief executive Rick Persse told ABC Radio Adelaide it would allow 83 teachers to return to the classroom, which “doesn’t move the dial”.

He said 23 schools had set up a “circuit breaker” to control COVID infections, moving some classes online.

“It could be a one-to-one class, it could be two classes where we moved to remote learning to have that circuit breaker.

Michelle J. Kelley