“If Martin Luther had to create a Facebook page, how do you think it would look? How would he promote reformation using this page?” Preeta Nilesh, a history professor and vice-principal from Kelkar-Vaze College, stumbled upon this assignment idea for her second-year BA students while interacting with her department’s alumni. “I would have never thought of such an assignment had we not moved to online teaching,” said the 57-year-old.
As the country celebrates Teachers’ Day on Saturday, the Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the “job profile” of a teacher: From standing in front of blackboards to getting behind the cameras and on computer screens. Educators have embraced technology with help from their children or students, learnt the ropes of PowerPoint presentations, innovated with limited resources and worked around interfering parents to keep the learning going. “Our lives are now centered around online activities. Instead of sharing copies of physical notes or reference materials, we have to scan through videos and online articles before sharing it with students. The internet is vast and we can use it effectively,” said Preeta. “It will be interesting to see how students apply social media to history.”
Moving online has been challenging for many teachers, but most have managed well. After over 38 years of classroom teaching, Bombay Scottish High School’s mathematics head of department and vice-principal Sarah Thomas had to reinvent the wheel and embrace technology. “The day after our city went into the lockdown, we sprang into action to continue education. We had two days of marathon training for online learning. From learning how to set up a video meeting to creating to presentations, a lot changed overnight. I suddenly spend over three hours preparing for a one-hour class each day because while I know my subject really well, the online experience requires a lot of resources,” she said.
In her early 60s, Thomas has spent the vacation viewing videos and tutorials to improve her skills. “I miss walking around the classroom to see what students are doing. Children seem to have a network issue when I ask them a question, but they are also the most helpful when there is technical glitch.”
While online teaching has its constraints, it has also given teachers a chance to learn. Many have taken courses on using effective online tools for teaching. “We are forced to try new things and think out of the box on the best way to deliver the same syllabus. It has given the profession a new dimension. We are constantly attending webinars and scanning resources to improvise. With parents watching over, we are under scrutiny, but are constantly improving. Four months ago, I wouldn’t understand that the pictures in my PowerPoint aren’t aligned perfectly, but today I am using augmented reality to teach my students,” said Sangita Varthanan, a teacher at Nalanda Public School, Mulund.
The format, however, has some negatives as well. “There is no eye contact with students which we miss the most. Students sometimes need the little nudge from their teachers and peers,” said Thomas. Work hours are extended too. Preeta said she has to sift through documents and videos before sharing relevant content with students. “I just need an extra pair of hands and 24 more hours in a day,” she added.
But several parents are demanding a discount in school fees as physical classes are not on, resulting in pay cuts for teachers. “Everyone is telling us how to do our job,” said a fourthgrade teacher at an IB school, who finds teachers are being “judged at the micro-level” as parents sit beside their kids. One teacher, she added, invited the virtual wrath of a parent for reprimanding her child in front of the whole class for being five minutes late. Then, there are parents who allow their children to bunk class saying they can’t wake them up early and those who help their kids cheat in tests by feigning connectivity issues. “No one respects teachers. We also deserve to be called frontline workers,” she said.
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