While the two stories above talk about the challenges educators faced, it also shows how educators' community came forward to help and inspire each other in these challenging times. In another post on EdWeek, Sophena Flowers, Special Education Teacher, shares her teaching struggles in a remote learning environment. She shares, "Having the students move away from a physical class where I am there to teach and answer questions immediately and where I could read the body language and facial expressions of my students take away from my effectiveness as a teacher, relationship building, and the personal touch that special education students need."
Another teacher appreciation story comes from Queen's University Belfast, U.K. In this post, Professor Tony Gallagher from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's shares his experience of witnessing educators transform and fulfil students' learning needs in a way never seen before. He compares the current situation to war and mentions how the after-effects are the same.
He says, "During a crisis, assumptions start to fall apart bit by bit, and people start to question things they previously accepted and granted. Teachers certainly fall into the latter category, taken for granted until people were forced to confront the essential role they play in our children's lives. The pandemic has brought us to think and re-evaluate the skills it takes to be a teacher - that is going to change – and how we assess those skills. I think that transformation will happen in politics, and it will happen in education as well."
Sharing his experience from when the breakout happened and schools closed down, making education shift online, he mentions how he saw teachers looking for ways to move their materials online. He mentions, "A lot of teachers were sharing resources, materials and ideas. The response from teachers when there was a period of uncertainty was magnificent."
Not just education, but educators took to the responsibility to educate parents and train them to educate their children on the seriousness of the issue at hand. They made sure that parents conveyed to children why there was a sudden change and why it is essential to do things a certain way that They wouldn't normally do without scaring them.
At last, he adds, "Everyone should be confident that teachers are doing an amazing job, and even more so when all this is over, and everything returns to normal, the teachers will be there ready to do the other transition, which is about getting back to normal schooling and filling in any gaps over what we have gone through. We can trust our teachers to do really well with our kids. This is a once in a lifetime event - there hasn't been anything like this since 1918".
There is no doubt about the dedication and fantastic work that educators have shown during the pandemic. With no certainty when it is going to end, it is applaudable how educators turned out to be forefront fighters and did what needed to be done. However, the effect of this is evident on their personal and professional front. In this survey of teachers in Australia, Dr Natasha Ziebell and Dr Daniela Acquaro, Associate Professor Wee Tiong Seah and Cath Pearn, University of Melbourne, share responses from teachers on being an educator covid-19. Teachers' responses are regarding how it is affecting their life. As per the data collected, 68 per cent of primary teachers and 75 per cent of secondary teachers report more working hours every week ever since they have moved to remote teaching. Almost half of the teachers say they worked almost an entire extra day during this period, and some reported working more than 20 hours extra per week. In addition to this, they express their concern about online education affecting students' emotional wellbeing as this has been a challenging time for many families.
A few quoted responses are:
- "I'm getting up around 4 am most mornings to finalise my day's lesson planning and do corrections. That way, I'm available during class time for my students and frees/recess/ lunch. I can then help monitor my three children's schooling."
- "The pressure on us is enormous right now. It is difficult to manage healthy breaks away from work because parents and children and our leaders all require so much from us right now... It's hell right now for teachers. A literal living hell."
However, the positive side of the situation expressed is the professional development and community building. Educators expressed that they were finding creative, new ways to teach traditional lessons and, for many, the transition is a boost in their digital literacy. The pandemic and sudden shift to online learning led to the rapid development of broader professional networks – sharing expertise and working collaboratively.
A few quoted responses are:
- "I'm planning activities with teachers and discussing online teaching strategies more than I would normally discuss and plan with teachers ordinarily. I'm also sitting in on other teachers' Zoom lessons, or they are sitting in on mine, so I'm witnessing some of my colleagues teach for the first time".
- "I believe that there will be many opportunities to challenge the many rigid practices of teaching which haven't changed for years …it is a great opportunity for us to look at education as a whole and ask ourselves, What do we truly value in education? What are we doing well? What can we do better and grow?"
The stories above come from countries with vast or little resources to take care of their education sector. Poor countries have faced a situation much worse than the rest. On TeacherTaskForce, educators share their experiences of teaching during COVID times. The educators bring attention to the inherent inequities in education systems and their implications for distance education in rich and poor countries.
- "Private schools in urban areas are investing in online schooling for their pupils. However, the level of investment is not standardised and not consistent among schools. … Online education is not a feasible option in a country where most people have no access to the Internet." - Nadya Faquir, a teacher from Mozambique
- "Online learning is based on the assumption that students have the possibility to follow online learning at home. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all students. Less advantaged children have a greater chance of falling behind." - Anne-Fleur Lurvink, secondary school teacher, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
While the whole world is standing on the edge with no certainty of when the pandemic will end, we can't keep the future of our youth at stake. Learning must not stop, and educators take centre stage in ensuring that they do what needs to be done. The only backbone of the education system is the teachers. They are the key to reach learning goals irrespective of context and situation. With the current COVID-19 crisis, they are the ones who are making sure that nothing hinders the education of their students. Offline or online, they are innovating and doing everything to ensure that their students' learning needs are met.
For your next read, I highly recommend you read this personal story of an educator, titled "Former Teacher of the Year: Crisis forced us out of our classrooms and maybe our comfort zones". In this piece, Casey Bethel speaks of the silver lining in these challenging situations and will give you the perfect dose of inspiration to keep moving.
Do share your experiences and stories of teaching in the COVID-19 in the comments section below.