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It’s September and millions of students are meeting their teachers back in classrooms. This month is also special for teachers back in India as September 5 was fondly celebrated as Teachers Day.
India Currents spoke to teachers across the two countries to understand the challenges they have been facing since being forced into online classrooms in April 2020. While parents have been raising concerns and the government is busy formulating rules and policies on online teaching, the teaching fraternity has been stoically reinventing and upgrading themselves, notwithstanding personal hardships.
“First of all, the pandemic forced us, teachers, into technology. It was very difficult – especially for the senior ones – to take that path, but there was no choice,” says Mohua Gupta, primary school teacher, BD Memorial International School, Kolkata, India.
Her peers agree. “It is one thing to know how to operate a computer and another to be able to systematically use it to teach an entire class of 25-45 students when you’ve never done it before,” shares Ms. Shobha Rani, a Biology teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt, Maryland. Ms. Rani has taught students of all grades for the last 21 years in America, and for 11 years in India before that.
18 months down the line, even senior teachers have become fluid on platforms like Google Classrooms, Zoom meetings, downloading and uploading images to mark corrections, making powerpoints and videos on all subject topics. They say it wasn’t as much the absence of chalk-and-blackboard or desk-and-chairs or pen-and-paper that caused the biggest difficulties in the first place.
“I missed the children. The physical absence of children was a huge challenge because I was used to it for 24 years,” observes Ms. Gupta, with a hint of dejection. As if that wasn’t enough, many students couldn’t (and still cannot) attend online classes due to the unavailability of either device or internet connectivity issues.
“Ma’am has become abracadabra!” exclaimed one child when the teacher lost connection during my daughter’s online class. She was explaining ‘magical mathematic tricks’ when the internet snag happened!
Carrying on, away from the tinkle of classrooms and beaming faces of students, teachers faced the double-edged sword of learning new e-tools for teaching age-old lessons online. They couldn’t share its emotional impact with their students or parents, but shockingly, grappled from within.
“Our lesson plans had to change suddenly to suit online teaching. It was a lot to learn in terms of online classroom tools and process everything quickly and impart students the same. I was not confident initially,” admits Ms. Rani, who at present is teaching Grades 9-12.
As large classrooms with expressive faces gave way to thumbnail size icons on gadgets during online classes, many students switched their videos off. Yet, others started chatting with peers on the classroom chat-box! Teachers wouldn’t understand whether their labored lessons are seeping in.
“We cannot force students to keep their cameras on – County rules were passed against it, as some students feel conscious, or have backgrounds they don’t want to show… As a teacher, I had to encourage them, motivate them with games-oriented lessons, music, and even extra points,” says Ms. Rani.
Navigating between classes is an enriching exercise for most during school hours. But online, it turned a woe. “From having anything between 5-7 hours of interaction time daily at school, now we had only 1.5 hours online for the primary children. Some children are extroverts, talking too much, while some are too shy to speak – I had to think about how to cope with them all. We cannot miss anyone,” shares Ms. Mukhopadhyay, primary school teacher of Mathematics from a reputable school in Kolkata, requesting anonymity.
To tackle it all, teachers turned bedrooms/living into soundproof appealing virtual classrooms where concepts could be floated and shared. But is the child doing his bit of the work independently? “After getting the assignments, in many cases, teachers are left in the lurch to figure if parents have done the assignments, their tuition teacher or the child himself!” exclaims Ms. Mukhopadhyay.
Grappling with these, on one hand, getting constructive feedback is what the teachers are longing for on the other. “It is demoralizing if you’ve worked hard and get negative feedback from students/parents. On the other hand, if there is no feedback, guilt sets in – maybe I’ve not done well enough to explain,” reflects Ms. Mukhopadhyay.
Ms. Mona Kothari, pre-primary teacher, Hitchcock School, Scarsdale, New York, had an experience of another kind since she taught online only for 3 months when the pandemic hit. “Fear wasn’t on my mind when we started in-person classes for our 2-5-year-old children from September 2020. Masks were mandatory for all and parents were not permitted at the school compound among other things. Surprisingly, all the children followed the rules. Not one child or staff fell ill during the entire session ending in June 2021,” she shares. She’s looking forward to the upcoming new session too thus, though many others fret of consequences otherwise.
But in the 3 months of her online classes, she also admits to having faced an immensely increased workload. A job that often started in the morning used to end by late afternoon in normal times. But now, has stolen precious hours of family and relaxation time.
“Though we are not making as many videos compared to last year, we are regularly creating educative-cum-fun online quizzes for children to gauge how much of each topic have they understood. Numbers of online classes have increased this academic year starting in April 2021 (in India). There are reinforcement classes, query phone calls and assignments pouring in for correction after the classes are over. We are working from home for about 16-17 hours on every working day even now,” shares Ms. Mukhopadhyay.
“At a personal level, although we were all working from home, we were loud enough to shut our doors in different bedrooms. My husband thought I was over-working, not paying attention to the house… You get distracted a lot – something is on the stove… let’s take the dog out for 10 minutes… now we have got used to it,” shares Ms. Rani.
In America, like in India till recently, most teachers were exclusively in the online classroom until March 2021. As schools in America started experimenting with the hybrid model in April 2021 – where parents had the choice of sending their children to school or opting for online classes only, the teaching scene became further complicated.
“From April-June 2021, we had very few students coming to school on select days of the week in the hybrid model, while most chose to continue online. I was teaching virtually simultaneously from the school premises as I taught the students present in class. Concentrating on and managing both is a big challenge,” explains Ms. Rani.
“What is a teacher feeling? We are the last ones to be worried about even though we voice ourselves the most… It would boost the morale of all teachers – the future makers – if parents and students speak up and share one good thing their teacher did for them during the pandemic.”
Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India.