Cao Nu Hoang Oanh, a teacher at HCMC’s Huong Nang Hong Kindergarten, is happy to be back in the classroom after nine months.
The 24-year-old was thrilled to greet her nearly 30 students on Monday, their first day at school.
The majority of them are children of workers at Song Than Industrial Park in neighboring Binh Duong Province. Many cried or sulked on returning to school after having spent over nine months at home.
Oanh and another teacher had to feed the children and sometimes change clothes when they became dirty, but she was happy to be back in school.
After graduating from college with a preschool education degree, she moved to the city from her central Quang Binh Province to work for a monthly salary of VND5.5-6 million ($241-264), which was just enough for her rent and basic living expenses.
Kindergarteners in HCMC’s District 1 on their first day back at school on Feb. 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
But when the last Covid-19 wave hit the country in April 2021, her school had to close down, leaving her to rely on her merger savings to get by.
After stay-at-home orders were lifted last October she worked as a seasonal packaging worker at a manufacturing facility, earning VND300,000 a day, much higher than her preschool teacher’s salary.
She says: “There were times when I wondered if I should quit being a preschool teacher since I did not know when the pandemic will end and schools will reopen.
“But since I enjoy being a kindergarten teacher, I decided to take up a seasonal job to put food on my table and wait for schools to reopen”.
She is among many teachers at private nurseries who struggled to survive school closure.
Nong Thuy Lanh, Oanh’s colleague, joined her husband’s business after being unemployed for nearly a year.
After more than 600,000 students in grades seven to 12 returned to school in mid-December, one million kindergarten, primary-school and sixth-grade students did so on Monday.
Lanh was “both happy and nervous” to learn kindergartens were set to reopen.
“I am happy to be back at my favorite job and able to see students again. But I am also nervous since I don’t know how the kids will behave after staying at home for so long and whether I can handle the pressure when I go back to work”.
She says babysitting is not difficult but requires patience since children are active and playful and can easily injure themselves.
For teachers it is easy to communicate with understanding parents, but when dealing with irate parents they are inevitably misunderstood, resulting in conflicts, she says.
“As a result, when we return to work, we must put aside all of our personal concerns and focus on babysitting and caring for the children”.
Many other teachers were also very happy to head back to school, not only because they could see their students again but also because they would again have a job and income after a long period of unemployment.
Nguyet, 24, preschool teacher in Thu Duc City, says: “I cried a lot because I had just graduated when the pandemic broke out. But I am grateful I have got a job with a salary of VND5 million”.
Teachers at public preschools, though not experiencing the same level of hardship as their colleagues in the private sector since they continued to receive salaries and allowances even when schools were closed, also look forward to going back to work.
Teacher Pham Thu Thao with students at the Be Ngoan Kindergarten in HCMC, Feb. 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung
Pham Thu Thao, 27, a teacher at Be Ngoan Kindergarten in District 1, calls the first day at school where she teaches a class of nearly 30 students “indescribably fun”.
“Online … cannot be as fun as in-person classes”.
But teaching preschool children amid the pandemic would be far more difficult than usual, with teachers having to pay constant attention to them since they are hyperactive, have low awareness and forget quickly about safety measures, she says.
“Schools are livelier now thanks to the children’s voices and laughter”.
Most of the 1.7 million students in HCMC have returned to school, according to official statistics.
Only children under three remain at home and authorities finish assessing reopening impacts and drawing lessons.
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