These are frightening times! Uncertainty is all around us. With our minds worried about the economy, employment, infection rates, death rates finances, relationships, physical and mental health, etc. we have forgotten all about the most neglected and underpaid section of our society – The Teachers.

Yes, I am a teacher who nurtures and leads the students in their fascinating journey of discovery. With the sudden closure of schools during the COVID-19 lockdown I am also thrown off the equilibrium like many others. Schools, colleges, and universities closed overnight and suddenly I had to unlearn a lot of things and learn many more new things. How I wished there was a handbook that could provide the most pragmatic approach and crystal clear guidelines to help me navigate through this upheaval, but there was none.

Dramatic changes in Education – From pedagogy to ‘panicgogy’ when ONLINE teaching becomes the order of the day.

Technology had always intimidated me. It was never my strong point. I was more comfortable with the whiteboard, marker, and a duster. But all this changed in the blink of an eye. Online teaching was a fancy buzz word which became a reality. I found myself grappling with a laptop, trying to update myself by searching for words like “how to teach ONLINE”, “ONLINE teaching techniques, “best ONLINE teaching platforms”, and “ONLINE teaching tools”. Planning for an online class requires a lot of re-learning. Though technologically challenged I had to take the bull by its horns.

A School teacher holds online class during the Lockdown in India (Photo Credit: Educate Magis)

 Finding the right online teaching platform is just the first step. Teachers around the world wanted to know which platform to use. Is it Zoom? (Before the pandemic Zoom for me was something you did on a camera- that is change smoothly from a long shot to a close-up or vice versa. Language change is a lengthy process but pandemic changed our vocabulary with surprising rapidity). What are Google Classrooms? Is that better than Zoom because it is an LMS? Now what’s an LMS? (Internet companies sure seem to like their abbreviations. They just sound so professional) what about Microsoft Teams?  How do I ensure interactive learning through several apps, such as Flipgrid, Padlet, Quizlet, Storyboard, and Pixton.

How is home school working out- What do I miss and what do I worry about

Oh, how I miss walking up and down the classroom, checking the progress in learning, and ensuring discipline. I now appear as a thumbnail on the screen. I have turned into a disembodied voice. Now parents don’t send their children to school but I have entered their homes through these online classes. Sometimes parents and guardians also sit for these online classes and judge my accent and my knowledge. This can be pretty intimidating at times.

I worry about internet connectivity. All of a sudden the screen freezes. There is a weird echo. Two dozen students stare at you when you don’t understand how to unmute the microphone.  I worry about how to keep the children attentive. I worry about how to ensure effectiveness and progress in learning? I find it interesting as well as daunting to teach students who are better versed in handling the features of Zoom and Teams than the subjects that are taught to them. I worry about the youngsters who are regressing to using the signs or emoji like the ancient cavemen. To teach them to write a proper sentence can be challenging. It is arduous to make question papers for online tests and discover a method so that students don’t cheat. Corrections have become extremely strenuous! This online shift meant lots of trial and error and I have tried my best to make peace with it.

On Line fatigue – Delays on phone or online meetings even by a few seconds make authorities perceive the responder as less focused

The familiar rhythms of school life have been disrupted. There is constant work. After the online classes, there are virtual meetings and presentations at all odd hours. This ‘online fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Can someone wake up to the fact that online meetings are more tiring than face-to-face ones? And then after the meetings, we get back to preparing for the next day’s class.

We find humour even in these difficult conditions as we need to maintain positivity and create a powerful mental health ‘safety net’

There can be some funny experiences about these online classes too. One day one of the students brought her Labrador to class and introduced the class to him…One day a student came in a full Superman costume and another day in a ninja turtle costume. One day saw a pretty girl put on makeup while using the computer as a mirror during the class… Another day a student didn’t realize her mic was on because she couldn’t hear anything and she proceeded to go on ranting about ‘this stupid sh*t’ doesn’t work!’  Once a student “forgot” to disable the mic. Everyone heard how the helicopter mother was coaching the student how to act- Sit straight, smile, pay attention. Another interesting incidence happened when a cool dude’s mic was unmuted and he started rapping but kept messing up while everyone was stifling a laugh. So just like in the classroom, distractions and disruptions are plenty

Education Boards and School Managements should shed ambiguity – Who said teachers don’t need resources, support and appreciation

The education boards also are indecisive about the curriculum and the way the content would be tested. This adds to the uncertainty. Additionally, the management of the schools can get unpredictable too during these pandemic days.  They also seem unclear about the rules and regulations that need to be adhered to once the schools reopen. All this increases the work of the teachers with little benefit to the school and the students, other than ticking boxes. The management of the schools need to ensure that they have the right hardware and good internet connectivity. They need to help the teachers to transition to virtual classrooms. Schools seem to be in a massive mode of triage.

Compassionate leadership is the need of the hour- Reflect on whether layoffs are needed. What are our other options to reduce costs?

To add to the miseries, thousands of teachers in private unaided schools have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers have been forced to resign or pressurized to accept lower salaries or unpaid leave. The salary cut is as high as 60 to 70 percent. Teachers were never paid a good salary and now with this cut, it would be difficult for them to sustain. Online classes have increased the student-teacher ratio due to which many teachers are made redundant. These are the same loving teachers, dedicated gurus, who supported the students during these difficult times and showed them the way through this uncharted territory. Many teachers are quitting this profession. There will be a need for social distancing once the schools open completely and that would mean lesser students in each class. From where will these teachers come? Post pandemic schools will bounce back but teachers won’t.  There just aren’t enough qualified teachers so value those who are in the field.

 The world Asimov depicted has come crashing forth- An opportunity for the technophiles due to the pandemic

Isaac Asimov’s story, The Fun They Had, set in the future in the year 2155 now belongs to the pantheon of classic science fiction, filled with an elegiac nostalgia. In today’s context, though, it rings uncannily true. It first appeared in a children’s newspaper in 1951. It’s a story about two children who stumble upon a “real book”—a relic from a distant past they have never encountered before. Tom, the older one, informs the younger Margie that the book is about a school where human teachers, unlike the mechanical teachers they have at home, educate children. All their learning was at home, on a computer. They didn’t know what a human teacher was. Their mechanical teacher “taught” them and graded their responses. Children had to assemble in a building every day.

Margie wanted to know about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighbourhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it….And the teachers were people…

The screen was lit up, and it said: “Today’s arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday’s homework in the proper slot.”

The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen: “When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4…”

Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.

In this pandemic year, it is interesting to note the eerie resonance of Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Fun They Had,” While online classes have allowed the creation of at least a semblance of an actual classroom, the give-and-take and the personal relationships among students and between students and teachers is glaringly absent. It is common to hear a teacher who has been doing lessons online complain that a large percentage of students absent themselves, and the results of this will be dreadful. Potentially millions of students will be promoted to the next educational level without having the requisite knowledge or skills. The result will be that, by 2021, vast numbers of students will be nearly a full year behind in their knowledge and skills. Teachers of all educational levels must find ways to deal with this potentially disastrous situation.

I would love to see the students walk up the paved walkways and into their traditional classrooms where they are loved for who they are, among friends and caring teachers and whiteboards and labs and frog dissections and math equations and recesses and music and …

I would love to see all this because I love these children as my own!



Educationist & Columnist

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