Work, Re‑cultured: A 24‑Year‑Old Teacher Finds it Difficult Supervising Her Students Online
“The kids sometimes will just randomly log off and say their internet wasn’t working.”
In Work, Re-cultured, The Swaddle brings you a snapshot of what work-from-home culture looks like for Indian professionals across industries. In this installment, a 24-year-old English and History teacher, Prithika Lathia.
I’m a teacher at an international school, teaching English & History to 7th graders. We went into lockdown around the second week of March. After the summer break, we resumed school on June 23 for the new year. Ever since we’ve been conducting online schooling.
Before lockdown, my work timings were 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the primary reason I’m mentioning timings is, my work stopped at 4:30. And that is the key difference between my work life before lockdown and in lockdown. Work has been unnecessarily and overwhelmingly stressful. I’m physically, emotionally, and mentally tired all the time. It also has a lot to do with the basic nature of the job — dealing with the youth.
I conduct all my classes on Google Classroom. Ideally, my students have to put their videos on, but they’re obviously conscious and I guess sometimes uncomfortable, so they get away with it on some days faking excuses like the camera isn’t working or some internet connection issue. However, most times, their cameras have to be on. I conduct the lesson, with my camera and mic on too. I present my screen — sharing resources, presentations, etc. They simultaneously note it down in their books. I ask constant questions throughout the class to see if they’ve understood. If they have doubts, they’re allowed to unmute and ask me anything.
There have been some new students in my class this year and I really feel like I’ve not been able to form that connection with them. It’s tough to do so over a screen when they’ve never met you or there is a significant lack of personal time involved during online school. I do miss having that personal time with them, or just being around them, in a classroom. They feel different too. Physical presence is so important when it comes to education and schooling. I feel like you do learn better and you zone out less.
I do feel bad for the students cause they do get tired sitting in front of a screen. It’s exhausting. Movement is restricted too. I do get the feeling that they zone out pretty often and I don’t blame them. It’s hard keeping their attention and interest piqued at all times. I sense a complacency and insipidness settling in. The spark and joy of learning seems to be diminishing each day, in front of a screen. Also, it’s really hard to see and control what they’re doing on the other side of the screen. For example, I was teaching something in History. They needed to be listening to me and grasping, comprehending what I was saying. Instead, I could see one of my students looking at something else and doing something over the Internet. The only way I realized that was that he was wearing glasses and the reflection and light of the screen was shown in his glasses.
It’s very draining correcting them constantly about these really tiny things. And with online learning, you have such a lack of control over student space and what they do. Another challenge has been getting their cameras on. For some reason, they feel so shy and uncomfortable, it’s a discussion and reminder every morning. Another challenge has been the students freezing their screens. So one day, another one of my students froze his screen. So according to me, he was present in class and I could see him and he wasn’t moving, but it still looks normal. Until I asked him a question and he didn’t respond, I realized he wasn’t on the screen at all. He had just logged on, froze himself and for all I know, may have gone back to sleep in his bed. Another challenge that I face is that sometimes these kids take screenshots and may have images of you that you necessarily don’t want them to have.
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Once, I felt like I heard the screenshot sound going on in my class, but when I prodded further, they obviously behaved as nothing happened. Also, instead of note-taking, they start to take screenshots of my presentations and don’t write in class. It’s frustrating. Additionally, I can’t check their notebooks online, so I don’t know the state of their notes. The kids sometimes will just randomly log off and say their internet wasn’t working or will log in and log out continually — genuinely Internet issues in this case — and I’ve to repeat instructions at least five times. With online learning and an increase in screen time, I too feel more exhausted. It’s harder and less fun to plan for activities and play a game with them.
I’ve also been facing a really hard time teaching the students in my class who are on the learning disability (LD) spectrum. I have a couple in my classes and it’s incredibly hard to be there for them, support them, and educate them correctly. When my LD students were in school, they used to have someone called a shadow teacher who would sit in my class next to the LD student and oversee everything and really help with note-taking and writing for them and basically going over everything with them after I taught it. Now they don’t have that shadow teacher around, and some of their parents work, so I feel terrible, but it’s also exhausting teaching those particular students online. As a class teacher, it’s also really hard to recreate a classroom atmosphere online. I can’t put up charts or sayings or birthday wheels. Also, as school protocol, pre-Covid19, the kids would bring a cake to school and it would be a celebration. Birthdays for them are now so sad over Zoom. All we do is sing for them, which most students don’t partake in cause they feel so awkward, and send e-cards. It’s hard to make children’s birthdays special over zoom.
Especially for young children, I don’t think online learning could ever substitute for actual, physical classroom learning. And parents find it hard too, because they need to be around to facilitate the learning, but they’re working too, so it’s chaos. We went through online workshops to see what tools and apps we could use to help the students. But attending those workshops, in addition to planning an entire curriculum, lessons and syllabus adapted to online learning was just an entirely different task.
In schools today, there’s so much discussion on a student’s emotional and mental well-being. My question all the time still lingers every time that conversation comes up — what about your teachers’ emotional and mental well-being? I think this is a larger conversation that needs to be had within every company, irrespective of your industry. However, it may be a biased perspective, but I feel like teachers, need to be supported emotionally and mentally, especially in a time like this. If you don’t do that, how is the teacher in charge going to be able to give and teach her students?
I love what I’m doing, but there’s not a shred of doubt or confusion, that I am working harder in lockdown than I was before lockdown. It’s not just teaching — there are so many small things or variables that go into just school life, and trying to recreate that and giving your best to your students, juggling personal life that now involves more responsibility since the lockdown, and constantly seeing my phone light up. Balancing on a tightrope that home and work life has been hard, exhausting, and draining.
Schools and workplaces do need to give more thought and alter the way they work, because, we are living in an altered state of reality currently. Recognize that we are living in a pandemic and change what is needed. You changed and adapted to a student’s new life, but did you do that appropriately for teachers and take into consideration their new altered lives too?
As told to Rajvi Desai.