The COVID 19 pandemic has clearly brought about many changes in our lives. I have been following the news and several articles about the pandemic and its impact on various professions. What I missed in them is a representation of the educators/teachers in our country. How has the lockdown been for them? What are their experiences? How are they expressing their emotions? and what tools and support do they have to manage with the situation, and possibly thrive in these times)?
According to a report from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation 2015-16, there were more than 86 lakhs school teachers in the country. Since the lockdown, schools are closed across the country. But most teachers are working. Many government school teachers are either at home, supporting their students and completing the school-related tasks or have been assigned COVID- 19 related duties. The role of the teacher seems to have shifted upside-down. New ways of educating young people are emerging. Teachers are expected all of a sudden to acquaint themselves with technology while also creating lessons and content that is accessible, learner-friendly, and fun for their students. There have been many single stories and stereotypes about government school teachers or public schools in general. Such as he/she who can does; he/she who cannot teaches, teachers just waste time, does not work, coming late to school, does not pay attention to students, etc But I have another story – an alternate story of government school teachers. Teachers that we work with and who are so passionate about teaching and giving their best for their student’s growth.
Since the lockdown, Apni Shala team has been interacting with the teachers from our partner government schools from Mumbai to co-create community outreach for children and their families for relief and mental wellbeing support. In doing that, we have also been hosting online workshops for social and emotional wellbeing of our teachers and principals.
“Some principals who participated in the workshop shared with us, ‘we should organise such workshops for our teachers too. This offers a space for discussion and informal meetings and helps us improve our mental health as this time has been a test for all. Also stress has become very visible for us and there are different reasons for stress apart from COVID-19. A different space is required such as this kind of workshop done by Apni Shala’,” shared Krutika Khare and Abhijeet Dhurve, Programme Leads and Principals’ Wellbeing Workshop facilitators.
To take this conversation further, I interviewed three teachers, Seema Bind, Grade 8 Class Teacher, Nitin Ahire, Grade 5 Class Teacher and Heena Attar, Grade 4 Class Teacher to understand their experiences better. Here’s what they had to say:
Shahbaan Shah (SS): What does it feel like to be a teacher at a time like this?
Seema Bind (SB): A class teacher of grade 8 shares, “being teachers, we have great responsibilities towards society and children.Also, I have started online teaching to bridge this gap with precaution and considering my students’ conditions. It’s our priority to give due importance to students’ safety and their education too”.
Nitin Ahire (NA): A 5th grade teacher shares, “during this time all I can think of is how I can help my students to come out of such stressful situations. In whatever way possible to let them know that we are there for them and to support them. I have been in touch with them through phone calls, video calls for checking in with them, and also sharing worksheets or any sort of resources useful for them”.
SS: Since the time lockdown started what are the different kinds of duties assigned to teachers in this pandemic?
NA: Duties which were assigned to me was to keep in touch with the students, engage them in activities, and share resources online as much as possible.
Heena Attar (HA): A 4th grade teacher shares, “I have been appointed on Covid-19 related duties such as tracing of contacts of positive patients and managing the quarantine centers in schools. But this work makes me happy as I am part of a good thing where we are saving people and their close ones. It also takes a lot of courage to do a job like this. I feel proud of myself.”*
SS: In response to the new role assigned to you, what are the adjustments you had to make to adapt to these new roles?
SB: I have to adjust my personal and professional life together. From the teacher’s point of view, we lack direct contact now with students due to which analyzing their physical, social, mental, emotional state remains abstract and we move ahead hoping that students might get this topic. Even pupils don’t open up as they do in class for their doubts/problems. So we have to just assume it and proceed further. It is important for us to understand that it is difficult for a lot of our kids to access technology. First, we need to understand the various needs of students and go ahead with the rest of the work. Understanding our students more in terms of their need is something I am learning.
NA: I tried to make myself available for the students so that they feel supported. I send them resources and check-in if they have any doubts. I also talk to them to understand how they and their family are doing and try to help them as much as possible.
SS: How are you coping with the current situations? How has teaching as your profession helped you in coping?
SB: Teaching gives lots of patience and faith. In this drastic condition, I have the faith that everything is going to be normal, our students will overcome this situation, they will be utilizing time positively and effectively and learning new things. We just need to have patience. With this positive attitude personally and professionally I’m moving ahead with hopes and energy to face any situation.
NA: I have also been trying my best to reach my students and trying to stay connected. This makes me feel nice. Also, I share worksheets, videos, and various subject resources to help them keep up as much as they can with their academics. Some teachers have personally tried reaching out to the students in their capacity and providing them the support they might be seeking at this time.
SS: What are your hopes for the students after this pandemic?
NA: I am being very positive. Our students are fighters, their struggles make them even stronger, I wish I could reach out to every one of them. Challenges will come but we will face them together and I will try my best to engage them positively.
HA: As we go into the new definition of normal I want my students to be more open and accepting with the changes.
I noticed that there was so much compassion and a sense of hope in teachers’ reflections and sharing. Interacting and listening to their thoughts made me wonder about a few things.
Imagine being chosen, trained and prepared to do a certain thing and then being placed in a context where none of what you were trained or prepared for was applicable in the same way. To add to it, you now have additional roles or responsibilities expected of you, and all this while you are simultaneously working through the changes and challenges this new context has brought with it into your life. How does one make sense of this new reality, adapt and then persevere?
In my conversations it became more and more visible that the role of a teacher goes far and beyond what conventional wisdom tells us. The long standing argument, for how the teaching profession is undervalued, and against how teachers are dealt administrative responsibilities (census duties, election duties etc.) has received a lot of arm-chair appreciation and activism. But maybe, it is time for us educators, caregivers, educational organizations and institutions to think about what is the role of the teacher in a post-pandemic and post-lockdown world given how our system still continues to tread the same path. In the language of metaphors, do we want to go back to thinking of teachers as a mere vehicle that transmits knowledge or a dispensable resource in the landscape of education, or even a peg in a machine that we move around as per convenience. Or, must we reimagine their roles and the scope of their impact on the lives of young people, their families and communities. And then, who knows… perhaps, this may lead to that imagination manifesting itself in the way teachers are trained, treated and valued by our system?
About the Author
Shahbaan Shah is a Programme Facilitator at Apni Shala Foundation. In his role, he facilitates social-emotional learning for children, educators, and parents in a variety of settings and supports Research & Development initiatives. He holds a Bachelors in Sociology and is an alumnus of Apni Shala Fellowship. Shahbaan has previously written for Teacher Plus, a national publication for teachers in India.
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