By Ambreen Arshad
There have been many superheroes since the pandemic hit the world. They have kept going out and about to do their work while the rest of the world was told to stay at home. Most of them are acknowledged and applauded for the work they did to keep the world going as it came to a standstill due to the lockdown.
But there is one class of people who played a big role during this pandemic to maintain a semblance of normality and they are our teachers and educational staff. Teachers, the world over, have been working harder than ever to do their job in a totally new ‘online’ setting that required them to turn to new methods of teaching, adapt to and overcome its challenges, and
then stir their students and their parents through the unfamiliar world of online classes.
The teachers have kept the classes going, conducted exams, completed academic sessions, carried out complex standard operating procedures (SOPs) to keep everyone safe when schools reopened and, most of all, helped their students to cope with the pressures of the ‘new normal’.
It is because of these efforts that the teachers of the world are being celebrated and recognised on World Teachers’ Day 2021, October 5, with the theme “Teachers at the heart of education recovery”. According to The United Nations (UNESCO), this theme for Teachers’ Day is “in respect of their determined and diligent efforts in the crucial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Every year on Teachers’ Day there is talk of students showing their gratitude to their teachers by giving them cards and gifts, showering tributes in writing and speeches, and other such touching gestures. But this year, we want to do things a little different, we want the teachers to be the ones expressing themselves on this day, telling us what they went through and are going through in the uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on to the whole world.
Young World talked to a few teachers about their experiences during this time to better understand their struggles and efforts.
Going crazy in a digital world
Ayesha, a primary school teacher, shares how tough it was to learn new skills and conduct online classes.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know how we were going to do it. The schools were initially closed for months, so thankfully that gave us the time to plan a strategy to conduct online classes and learn the technical skills needed to prepare lessons without a whiteboard or teaching aids normally used in the class.
“It was totally crazy! All the lessons and workings had to be prepared beforehand digitally, to present to the students on the screen. We would work late into the night, calling up colleagues to ask for help when we got stuck and helping the less tech-savvy to learn what they needed to do the next day in class.
“I remember once I was taking a class and the internet went off. I didn’t know what to do! Then I called up a fellow teacher and, luckily, she didn’t have a class at the time so she quickly moved in and took over my class. Later on I learnt how to connect my laptop to the hotspot of my cellphone data and use the internet in case of such emergencies.
“I have learnt so much in the last year about technology and spent more time in front of the screen than I did in my entire life. I am really happy to be back in the class, with my students sitting in front of me while I teach. How I missed the whiteboard!”
Majority of the world worked at home, some set up home offices, some just sat on the bed or sofa and opened their laptops, and most never changed out of their pyjamas.
With teachers, things were more difficult. They had to conduct classes with both their microphone and video on, so that they could be seen and heard at all times.
This meant that they had to take care of what the students would see and hear. They had to select a room where no other person entered and no household sounds came, in order not to cause any disturbance or end up with any embarrassment.
Imagine everyone in the family being at home 24/7. Then most of the members either working from home or studying from home. So they all need some kind of privacy, a secluded corner of the house where there is no noise and good internet connection.
Ayman is a high-school chemistry teacher who has three children in various classes, in the middle-school to college. She shares the experience of the whole family sharing workspace, and sometimes gadgets, at home.
“So my house has four rooms, one of which doesn’t have very clear wifi signals. So we had to find spaces for three kids to attend online classes, my husband to work from home, which meant frequent Zoom meetings, and I had to take online classes with the video and microphone on. It was chaos, seriously!
“When I look back, I don’t know how we sailed though those days! Most of the time we were either fighting over gadgets since there weren’t enough for everyone to use, or constantly whispering and tiptoeing around the house so as not to disturb whoever was online at the time.
“While earlier I would scold my kids for their hands free microphone not working after only a couple of weeks, I was the one whose microphones had to be replaced the most during the last year and a half.
“And then my old laptop gave up on me while the markets were still closed and I had a tough time getting a new one. The extra expense this led to was very tough to manage since we had not planned for it,” discloses Ayman.
Rukhsana is a middle-aged Urdu teacher, who sometimes used an old PC at home to do school work and check emails. Her computer literacy was limited, and so was the capacity of her PC.
The monitor had no built-in camera and the speaker quality of the system was very basic. For online classes, she had to buy a camera and microphone to attach to the PC and learn the features of Google Classroom to conduct online classes. She had a very tough time dealing with technology, just like some of her students and their parents.
“We have not been trained to teach online, we just can’t start doing it overnight, especially if one is not a regular computer user. I didn’t even know how to switch on my PC earlier and all of a sudden I was required to prepare lessons on slides and teach online. It was a nightmare, and the worst part was accepting that I was so ignorant or constantly messing up something that most people learn in one go. Sometimes, I would not even realise that my microphone or video was off and I would be teaching, only to find out when a student would say it, or I would hear giggling.
“Understandably, when the students realise that the teacher doesn’t know something or is confused, you can’t expect them to take you seriously or be very attentive in class.
“Thankfully, my principal was very helpful and she assigned a teacher with me initially to help me out with the lesson preparations, homework checking and learning all the apps and systems.
“I thanked God when the schools reopened, but even now we are not free from online classes as students are coming to school on alternate days, with one group being at home as the other group is taught in the school. However, now we take online classes inside the school, where there is a better PC and there are people to help out in case of any problem.”
The unsettling uncertainty
Besides conducting classes, the teaching and non-teaching staff of schools, such as principals, coordinators, etc., had to play the role of counsellors to students and their parents during the pandemic. In addition to guiding students though the technological maze of online learning, the school staff also kept constant contact through emails and phone calls to answer countless quarries, or just lend an ear to terrified teens who were to give their secondary school or college exams.
While many students didn’t have exams and were cleared to move on to the next classes, the fate of those in Matriculation, Intermediate, O level and A Level classes was uncertain for months. In situations where they were not sure if they would be giving exams or not — with some exams being cancelled at the last moment, some not cancelled despite urgent requests from students, and the uncertainty of their results and further admission — it was the teachers that most students turned to for advice and airing grievances.
Mr Shahid is a sought-after A level teacher, teaching in various colleges and coaching centres of Karachi. He narrates what a nightmare it has been since the pandemic started.
“Will the CAIE exams take place or not was a question that has haunted everyone linked to the Cambridge examination system. I have spent hours talking to my students, trying to calm them down, especially before the expected grades of O and A Levels were announced last year in August.
“We were all worried about how the Cambridge University was going to grade the students. I had calls and messages from my students, since we were not meeting face-to-face at the time, where they were literary crying and depressed about their future. It was also so tough for us since we didn’t know what was going to happen and, as teachers, our students expected us to have all the answers. We had to give them hope and keep their spirits up, while hiding our own anxiety.
“It may surprise some people, but like our students and their families, some of us too can’t sleep the night before the CAIE results and are nervous as if it is our own result!” Mr Shahid confesses.
These are just some experiences shared by a few teachers, but it gives us the important insight into what extra toll teaching during the pandemic took on the teachers and how they truly are heroes at the heart of the education recovery that we are making. Our teachers and educators deserve all the gratitude and praise for what they do.
Thank you, teachers! A very happy Teachers’ Day!
Published in Dawn, Young World, October 2nd, 2021