Teaching is an exciting and rewarding carrier. When COVID-19 found us in 2020, teaching faced an unimaginable challenge for teachers. When remote teaching began in Massachusetts, I sat before my laptop, Google classroom meeting in progress. When directed to join "Breakout Room-4," I was ready to fall through the floor. There I was, looking at a single screen and wondering where the other four rooms could be. On Facebook, my former school colleagues in Bangladesh echoed similar sentiments, bewilderment, and then becoming tech wizards over the needs of our times. We agreed to be diligent and patient with the reminder to the vexed teacher within each, that pandemic-teaching was not on our plan for the chosen carrier.
In the second week of March 2020, Massachusetts in the USA declared a state of emergency for the virus. When the announcements came, I was in the middle of a regular school day, going back and forth in the high school classes. "What? What? How long?" We asked each other. Everyone in the school had a couple of hours to prepare for an indefinite closure. A colleague said, "Well, who knows how many of us will be left to return to the building if and when it will be safe again." My colleague had a better idea of the pandemic. I was the ignorant one and thought it would be something short and like a flu would be gone in no time. I have heard of the Spanish Flu or the Plague that took lives so long ago, but those were chapters in history. I had no idea that we would be adding another chapter of the pandemic books. Fear gripped me; were we going to vanish like people of Mohenjo-Daro and other civilizations that we think may have faced epidemics and dying chapters before us?As COVID-19 raged without a vaccine, after four/five months, it was evident that we could not reopen the in-person learning for schools. The students from K-12, a whole new education system of screen-dependency unfolded in the high school where I worked. Like many other institutions, the school system tried to find ways to keep the school running while everyone was safe. The younger children were less prepared for online learning. The full-scaled remote schooling put the parents and guardians on the spot. As quarantine set, the ways to keep children engaged within the four walls of the home were like endless walls. How to keep life running on the screens as family, jobs, schools, and health faced unimagined uncertainty? In the pre-pandemic days, helping kids with the school was mainly the homework. But with online learning, there were new tools on the Internet to learn, the WIFI and the additional gadgets. As people began to lose jobs, online learning faced another hurdle: the added Internet bills and new devices to support the family members put families on the edges.
Remote teaching was not much different from teachers in other places of the world. For the teachers and their lesson planning, the hours and days held unpredictability within every minute. On the other hand, family and friends in Australia mentioned having daycares and other educational facilities open for longer days into the pandemic. Few countries had milder hits it seemed.
However, in the overall remote classes, the early education, K-12, faced the most significant hurdles as they were not equipped to handle the online lessons. For instance, entering Google meet, finding your class, learning to mute and unmute the microphone, raising digital hands, finding breakout room, and much more: the 4/5-year-old kids had to learn all these and do them correctly. It was much different than the video games that they enjoyed for the fun of it all. When 2021 entered the scenario, the pandemic was running havoc in lives, but the school students took online classes with a sense of mastering the tech-know-how as it was for the teachers—the older siblings who needed to step in to help younger ones somehow. As parents had to go in-person to work, with older siblings babysat their younger siblings. It is a good thing when families stick together, and together they were fighting to make ends meet. But many of them did not have a PC or had to share it with their siblings. The normal teenagers' life of exploring the big world outside the home came to an abrupt halt. At the same time, some students with hard-hit families started working part-time. My heart melted when one or two of them would be absent for a few days and come back to tell us about layouts or sickness and explain why they needed to be off. We were just happy to see them coming to the Google meet. The teachers did not stop reminding them that education has to support them through their noble efforts to stand by the family.
We are into 1/4th of 2021, and the pandemic is going strong. The obstacles on the teachers' end making learning feasible through the new online versions continue. Google, Zoom, and other platforms used for schools were incredible saviors for the pandemic era. We could run classes with breakout rooms helping to support the students individually. The challenge was to have the students engaged on the screen and get through the day's lessons. The teachers are doing their best to make online classes exciting and absorbing. It was impossible to coerce students to come to the camera. Not everyone was comfortable with the home backgrounds. The teachers showed immense patience in their responsibilities while giving space to the students. Between the lessons and the students, the teachers had to learn where the limit was. Pandemic teaching is like learning to teach all over again, in theory, and practice. Life is an ongoing uphill battle; from the stay-home mom to the people working at different life stations is excruciating with the pandemic. One question that remains unanswered for every one of us is, when will the virus go away?
Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA.