The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 led to the shuttering of schools globally.
This forced a rapid change in the profession of educators around the globe. All it took was a single notice by authorities, and teachers now had to teach differently than the conventional way they used to. They were asked to leave their beloved classrooms and create a learning environment that is 100 per cent virtual yet efficient and engaging so that students' learning doesn't get affected.
The response of educators around this sudden change has been mixed. While some took it as an opportunity to learn technology and create an online learning environment as good as offline, many educators faced many challenges and lost motivation and hope yet continued imparting education as best as they could.
While researching educators' responses to the sudden shift in their profession, I came across some inspiring and encouraging responses and some hopeless and tiresome ones. I believe all educators' responses are justified, as sudden changes without prior training led educators to another teaching environment that may be different altogether for most of them. And uncertainty may not be the best pal for all. It could be fun and challenging, but not all have the same liking for uninvited and unknown "opportunities".
UNESCO's post on teachers' efforts during covid-19 disruptions mentions how many low-income countries have faced acute challenges due to the unavailability of needed resources for online education. The numbers stand globally about 50%, and 43% of households do not have a computer or access to the Internet. The post states that to ensure that resources' unavailability doesn't hinder the students' learning needs, teachers prepared take-home packages for their students.
While we struggle to keep ourselves and our loved one's safe, wonderful educators worldwide ensured that learning doesn't stop for their students while having their battles at their end.
Below, I share stories and experiences of educators and their response to the pandemic.
In a Washington Post on Pandemic teaching, Justin Lopez-Cardoze, a seventh-grade science teacher at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. with nine years of teaching experience, shares his story first day at school during the pandemic.
"It was the first day of school with students. After eight years of first days, you would think I would feel calm and confident in my ninth. You want to do things right, to like you and say, "This class will be incredible." On those first days of the last eight years, the moments felt so magical. I would see new faces, bright smiles, goofy personalities and nerves suddenly disappearing. It felt right.
But my ninth first day? I felt uncomfortable. I'm used to hearing and seeing students interacting with each other when presenting on the first day. In Zoom's online world, all you hear is yourself while all your students are on mute. And that day, most of the tiles were blank backgrounds with names. I didn't hear a laugh. I couldn't observe body language. What once felt like joy in my classroom quickly turned into emptiness."
The excerpt above makes it clear that online learning is no substitute for the classroom environment. Not just students but teachers can feel the lack of in-person interaction and the physical ailment of the classroom. However, the need for time requires teachers to be a go-getter for the online environment. Upon seeking guidance from his principal, he further adds, "I felt defeated, but in a unique way, which made me feel like even more of a failure." I told my principal, her response stuck with me. "It feels worse because you have built years of what has worked well for you," she said. "You have the background, and you have the experience. You have the expectation. Ignorance was bliss for you on your first day on the job several years ago. Now, you're trying to live up to that expectation when the world has changed so drastically."
Similar to the response of Justin's principal, we could see many teachers going by this belief.
“What was there, it was good. What there is now has to be made right, and it is upon teachers to do it.”
The principal adds, "Create a bigger picture to discover the avenues that strive towards the high expectations your students deserve," she said. "And select those paths as the decisions you will make as a teacher for your students at this time."
Justin Lopez-Cardoze listened to his principal's advice and shared how it transformed him and the students into optimal learning agents in mere 18 instructional days. The subjects taught were changed, and maybe they studied different things. But online learning did keep the education going for students, and that's what matters the most. He may not have been able to teach students how to read a procedure with scientific tools and chemicals this year in an online environment, but doing a demo on making peanut butter and jelly sandwich made students learn how to co-write detailed procedures in groups to control every move he made to create one.
His final thoughts are, "For the longest time, I viewed distance learning as limiting my quality of instruction. I thought, "Well, I won't be able to do this because it just won't be the same through Google Hangouts or Zoom." It turns out I was right. But I had a choice. Should I accept those limits, or should I embrace the potential and leverage my creativity to create promising outcomes? I have chosen the latter. Is everything perfect? Absolutely not. And there's a long way to go. There will be lots of magical moments and wins, with lots of failures. "But I'll fail with the intention of finding a different path to follow."
The same post shares the story of Laura Estes-Swilley, an English teacher at Durant High School, Hillsborough County Public Schools, with teaching experience of 21 years. She shares her teaching experience in the COVID-19 situation, saying, "It is difficult to feel good about teaching right now. In my Florida district, everything feels wrong: Our governor doesn't seem to support education through budgeting or rhetoric; we test our kids until they cry; education policy is determined by people with no understanding of teaching and learning; there is little concern for the coronavirus crisis on a state level; my district is in the throes of a difficult transition to a new superintendent."
While the government authority seems to ignore the teaching staff's concerns, the principal helps educators morally. She mentions, "We were inspired by our principal, the leader who counts most in our daily lives. Our students have a choice between e-learning and attending brick-and-mortar schools. I am teaching in the classroom, but many of my peers teach e-learning from home, and some are teaching a few online classes from their empty classrooms. Then there are those teaching classes in person and online synchronously, with 50 or 60 students per period. Those teaching from home feel cut off, and in many ways, they are. The teachers juggling in-person and online students at the same time are overwhelmed to a level I've never seen. They feel misused because they are. "
Adding to the state of teachers and what a typical day looks like in the new normal teaching day in the pandemic, she adds, "Gone are the days of lunching with our peers, talking about our days or what works with a specific kid or lesson or text. Gone are the days of just sharing our lives. Teaching has always been isolating; we are almost always apart from each other. Our lives are filled with kids, and that's the best part of teaching, but sometimes we need adult voices. There are a few now."
Not only teachers but students also feel the in-person communication with peers and their teachers. She adds, "I see that it is even lonelier for our students who have only Zoom contact with their teachers and their peers. I know they are home for good reason, but I miss them on campus, the way they swell a crowd, as Shakespeare would say".
In the context of sharing the drill of keeping everyone safe by taking needed preventive measures of wearing a mask, sanitising and maintaining social distancing, she further adds, "I'm so tired of the phrase "the new normal." None of us was prepared for this in February, but we have gotten ourselves together since March. A teacher is always a learner, so I look for lessons. When I consider these students I have only known for a month, I feel incredibly hopeful. They are resilient. They sanitise; they wear masks without complaint; sit six feet apart at lunch; embrace the opportunity to be in school; are planning for the future; they are excited to start their adult lives. In short, they are beautiful. And I am lucky to know them."