It was the same in North Macedonia. It was not easy for teachers, many of whom are parents themselves, to be put in the dual role of distance-learning teachers of pupils and substitute teachers of their own children.
But this unique situation did mean that parents learned more about their children’s teachers.
Questions arose about their quality and commitment, and whether society sufficiently valued and recognized their work.
Ljubica, a mother from Skopje aged 42, whose daughter finished eighth grade from home, said she had built up her own nuanced picture of the teachers.
“The history teacher was the best; his lectures on Zoom were like attending a real class. All the children listened to him and were engaged. But he is younger and obviously still enthusiastic,” she noted.
“Unlike him, some of the other teachers did not appear for a whole month, and others were just piling up materials,” she added.
It would be wrong to create a profile of all Macedonian teachers only from mechanically listing the given stereotypes about them. Moreover, there are many stereotypes.
One is that the best-qualified people in North Macedonia rarely end up in this profession.
“The teaching profession is unattractive, and usually it is candidates who are less successful in secondary schools who enroll at teaching colleges,” read a comprehensive analysis published in 2018, Teachers’ Education in Primary and Secondary Schools.
The reputations of some educational institutions, such as the Pedagogical Academy, were damaged by a scandal over forged diplomas, and students seem to have little interest in enrolling at teacher training colleges.
Politicians are aware that the best students usually do not wish to become teachers.
For the past four years, the Ministry of Education, through the mandates of two different governments, has sought to encourage university and high school students to become teachers.
First, a scholarship of 18,000 denars [300 euros] was introduced for undergraduate studies in mathematics, physics and chemistry, where teachers were in short supply. A lesser scholarship of 100 euros was provided for those who enroll in the course for primary school teaching.
Teachers in primary and secondary schools now earn about around 400 euros a month – 24,000 denars in primary and 25,000 in secondary school, after getting pay rises of 22 per cent over the last three years.
But, despite the increases, the profession is still not seen as attractive.
Union chief Jakim Nedelkov says the pay is still not high enough. “If we take into account that the average salary [in North Macedonia] is around 27,300 denars [444 euros], it becomes clear that teachers are paid below the average. And, our teachers, together with teachers in Albania, have the lowest salaries in the region,” he added.
Teachers do not have any special allowances either, except for an allowance of about 1,000 denars [16 euros] per class teacher.
Also, in North Macedonia, the teaching profession is considered a low-paid but secure job, which in insufficiently democratically developed societies is an ideal combination for political manipulation.
The political system has long manipulated teachers through their indirect employers, local mayors.
Over the last decade, teachers mostly got jobs through the political parties, and in return, were supposed to express their gratitude by compiling voting lists, conducting door-to-door party promotions and attending party rallies.
At such party gatherings, we heard one teacher from Stip who was unable even to name the ruling party against which she was supposedly protesting – and a teacher from Bitola who carried a funeral cross with the name of Prime Minister Zaev on it.
In a situation where the educational system was surprised by the prolonged coronavirus crisis, and when even more organised societies have had trouble finding a fast and high-quality replacement for teachers’ and pupils’ physical presence in schools, the quality, commitment and skills of each teacher has come to the fore.
Olivera, aged 38, a mother from Skopje, whose child finished first grade last spring, said the biggest problem was that the teachers had failed to adapt the content they needed to transmit to the children via computers.
“My daughter and I tried to watch the videos that some teachers voluntarily posted on the initiative of the Ministry of Education, but they did not hold her attention,” she said.
“But, on one occasion, our teacher sent us a YouTube video in Serbian, adapted to the age group of the children, and it immediately captured her attention,” she added.
Many teachers did not try to adapt lessons provided in the form of power-point presentations to the age group of their pupils.
“We received presentations with seven to eight slides full of text that is not [suited] for children still learning how to read,” Olivera said.
“For Easter, we received a presentation that fifth or sixth graders, who are roughly familiar with the concept of religion, might understand, but which could not be explained to a six-year-old,” she added.
It has been announced that the lessons and classes will be shortened in the new school year, but it is up to the teachers to find a way to grab the attention of children from various competing “influencers” on sites like TikTok and YouTube.
Distance learning stuck in techno stone age