'Face masks are choking and giving us headaches'

A teacher at Nimrod Ndebele Secondary School at Duduza in Ekurhuleni tries her best to be audible behind the mask as she attends to her duties in a grade 12 classroom./OJ Koloti / Gallo Images
A teacher at Nimrod Ndebele Secondary School at Duduza in Ekurhuleni tries her best to be audible behind the mask as she attends to her duties in a grade 12 classroom./OJ Koloti / Gallo Images

Sweating, suffocating and muffling of words are some of the challenges experienced by teachers who have been teaching wearing masks.

It has been four days since schools reopened but teachers say they are struggling to adapt to the new norm of wearing a mask in class as result of Covid-19.

Several teachers told Sowetan that they spend more time trying to explain one thing to pupils because learners are now unable to read their lips. They said it would be better if they were provided with face shields instead.

A 44-year-old grade 12 teacher at Silver Oaks Secondary School in Soweto said about the masks: "It is very uncomfortable and not normal to wear a mask while teaching. It muffles out your words, making it difficult for the pupils to understand what you are saying. As a result, you end up spending more time trying to explain one thing."

A 27-year-old grade 7 teacher at Ivory Park Primary School outside Tembisa said he was worried about his health.

"Teaching with a mask is just a struggle and I think it also affects my body temperature as well. I have tried a surgical mask and even the cloth one but it is just the same. I thought it was going to get better as the days passed but instead it is becoming worse."

A grade 12 teacher at Mtweni Senior Secondary in Port St Johns, Eastern Cape, said the two hours she spent in class felt like a lifetime.

"I sweat a lot and feel like I am dying. I also experience a headache because I don't get enough oxygen. I wish there can be a way to make teaching easy for us because one wonders what will be the complications of this in a long run," said the 38- year-old teacher.

A teacher at St James High in Cofimvaba, also in Eastern Cape, said it would be better if the department provided them with face shields.

"Having the mask on while teaching is unpleasant; you feel like you are suffocating. We are still on week one, what will happen after a month from now? It also causes headaches. I don't even want to talk about the sanitiser that leaves one's hands dry," he said.

Dr Nontobeko Mbatha, a pathologist, said there was nothing the teachers could do as it is a must to wear a mask.

"They just have to work around the challenges and we understand that these are not unique. The virus spread via droplets and because the teachers must speak louder in front of the class, chances of them releasing spittle, at regular intervals, are high. When you are speaking louder the droplets will travel far," she said.

Mbatha said it was not wise to use face shields alone because of the spaces at their edges.

"[Face shields are] good to prevent one from touching their face. But a shield should be used with a mask.

"And when using a cloth mask people should make sure that it's a three-layer mask as the one layer cotton mask is not so safe," she said.

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