It has been more than a year since the schools closed, and online teaching came into being. Even though it seems that the teachers have adapted to the new normal, they have been waiting to get back to the old way of teaching. On the occasion of Teacher’s Day, here’s a throwback to the past one and a half years highlighting the lives of teachers.
Not a single activity can be claimed to have not changed due to the inception of the Coronavirus-induced pandemic. Teaching is one such activity that encountered a whole new pattern impacting the lives of more than 32 crore students and their parents in India, along with the teachers. While many of them reported being juggling with the web-based technology for teaching, few also took to social media platforms to share the stories of bullying happening with them in the virtual classrooms. These factors took very little time and made the lives of teachers full of challenges and new learnings.
Purva Sanghvi, who teaches English literature in RBK International School, Mumbai, was well aware of the technologies to be used for the online classes when the schools shut down in March 2020 but was uncertain to deal with different minds at the same time on virtual platforms. “Students have their way of understanding things. The classroom teaching allowed me to understand this parity, and I could mould my teaching accordingly. But it became difficult with online mode,” she said.
Along with handling students, another biggest challenge mentioned by Ms. Sanghvi was the lack of resources for teachers in the lockdown. “When the lockdown was announced, all our belongings important for teaching was left in the schools. We also lost access to the libraries and PDFs could not replicate some of the study materials”, she said. Sometimes, the teachers also had to face the subscription issues of the online meeting platforms, as told by Ms. Sanghvi, since the schools were reluctant to help with it.
All the factors also contributed to the disturbed mental well-being of the teachers. Purva Sanghvi told that she often had to put a smile on her face while teaching online despite struggling with many issues back home. However, she did not leave a chance to engage students in her class like she often suggested them to watch movies based on plays of William Shakespeare before reading out the drama for them. “Since the students knew that they could be passed without studying much, they were not much focused in the class. But they are slowly moving back to studies,” she said.
A similar problem was being faced by Prarthna Saravya, an Indian teacher living in Jersey City in New Jersey. She said it was important for schools across the globe to understand the social-emotional needs of students rather than continuing with regular academic sessions in the pandemic. Ms. Saravya, who teaches Maths in Explore Schools, New York, observed that students needed to be taken care of with utmost sensibility and hence started understanding their emotional well-being before starting with the class.
“During online teaching, I started each day with a simple mental health check-in form which asked the students how they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 and what emotion they were feeling the strongest at that moment. I made sure to find time during the day to circle back with students who shared strong feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness etc. This helped me create a strong bond with my learners beyond the academic work we did together,” she said.
While it was a new responsibility that she had taken on her own, she also explored various ways to engage the class. “I used a bunch of online tools and websites such as Nearpod, Desmos, Woot, Pear deck, Flip grid, and Kahoot to create engaging lessons with games and simulations,” she said. Being a Maths teacher who loved movement while teaching, Ms. Saravya, though, found herself in the struggle to cope with the small box on zoom, which restricted her movements to hand gestures.
Ms. Saravya, from New Jersey, also pointed out that “constant tech issues” were one of the hindrances in the interaction between her and students. And, taking this into account, it is not very hard to guess the condition of India, which saw the worst digital divide from the beginning of the pandemic. A recent survey by Learning Spiral, one of the online examination solution providers mentioned that above 50% of Indian students, including both urban and rural areas, do not have access to the internet to attend online classes.
Given the circumstances, many teachers in India are involved in bridging the divide, making it a “new normal” for them. One such teacher is Vanita Chauhan, who is the in-charge of Gildrelane Secondary Mumbai Public School and teaches underprivileged children. Like other teachers, everything seemed impossible for her as a teacher when the pandemic broke in the country. However, she learned the techniques of online teaching in due course of time. Since a lot of students were not attending the online lectures, she, along with her team, shortlisted those students and did home visits to know the root cause of their absence.
After assuring that the internet was one of the major causes, some teachers from the team paid from their own pockets, along with some NGOs, to ensure that the students do not leave their studies. “There were a few children who did not even have android phones. So, we searched if any other classmate stays nearby so they can study together, or we requested their neighbours to lend their android mobiles to such students during the particular day when the online lectures were held,” she said.
This was not the sole concern for Ms. Chauhan and her team. The online classes had their complications. The screen time of students had tremendously increased for which the team combined video lectures with assignments, projects, and other activities. The teachers even conducted various competitions and quizzes to engage the students in the classroom along with arranging for their books with the help of passed-out students. The education department of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) also distributed stationery items and question sets to students. During the initial months of 2021, the teachers even took an initiative to make students take the pledge to save the environment aiming to educate them about the importance of conserving nature. “I must say that the sudden closure of schools not only affected our children but also had a great impact on the minds of teachers,” Ms. Chauhan said.
As the schools in some cities have started functioning again, teachers seem to have got back to their pre-pandemic schedule and are elated to see students without any virtual shield. Vanita Chauhan even has a very nice message for students all over the world. She says, “Our days, months and years are flowing like a river. None of us knows which stations are coming our way. So, instead of worrying about bad stations, let’s keep hope. Irrespective of what we expect, things will happen at their pace. The only thing that is in our hands is acceptance and being able to move on. This beautiful journey will go on, life goes on.”
On the other hand, there is no doubt that students will also be happy to follow their customary rhythm while saying “Good morning…teacher”!