Back when I was a kid, I used to wonder why my school teachers called themselves unaided teachers – well, I think the pandemic has helped me to understand the gravity of the adjective used – Unaided. There was little assistance or help that came their way in the last 9 months of the academic cycle, leaving them worn out as we finally start seeing light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. While the pandemic has been challenging to a lot of professions, one cohort of people who deserve more of our empathy is school teachers.
We all have had different types of teachers in our school lives – the strict ones, the nice ones, the cool ones and even some dissuading ones. But we all recognise that the immense role of teachers in shaping societies is beyond dispute. As some of the most influential role models, their responsibility is not restricted to academic enrichment.
In Kerala, while the government schools are of great standards compared to other states, private schools continue to allure a lot of students promising them better and higher quality education. These schools compete against each other to build massive auditoriums, swimming pools and smart classes. They hire basketball coaches and professional dancers to impress parents and promise them of the all-rounded abilities their kids would acquire. While the job description of teachers – disciplining and directing school kids, completing subject portions, preparing kids for extra-curricular activities, and organising cultural/celebratory events – is daunting and laborious, the pandemic has turned out to test their limits.
To impart the quality education that it promised, each school quickly figured out its ways to conduct the academic classes without fail. Teachers were asked to switch to the online modes of teaching. The initial months of the academic year were spent in deciding content, creating slides, learning to navigate through YouTube uploads and figuring out the nitty-gritty of Google meets. This wasn’t easy for the teachers – they were unprepared and inept. They had to learn everything from creating a rectangle box in PowerPoint to editing class videos and conducting various activities over Zoom meetings.
Every generation has a propensity towards different things. We all can attest that technology is not the easiest subject for the generation of our parents and teachers. Yet, many teachers paid out of their pockets to buy laptops, learnt how to create slides from YouTube videos and attended online classes to understand the nuances of shifting their modes of teaching. This process turned out to be unpleasant, exhausting and nightmarish to many, especially teachers who are relatively older.
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The school management made the journey even harder by forcing greater academic loads as assignments and test papers, thereby placing more burden on teachers’ shoulders. There are schools which asked teachers to organise activities and create videos for Onam, Diwali, Christmas and even one in memory of Sugathakumari. These are teachers who already have the added burden of looking after their kids and elderly at home, due to the unavailability of daycares and household help.
While the online classes were new to everyone, kids found it easier to prank their teachers and put them in difficult positions, leaving them helpless. Social media joined in the fun of mocking teachers where kids could pull off mischiefs without getting dispelled from the classes. Teachers were ridiculed despite the toiling work they had put the night before to conduct the class as usual. Some of the teachers who are tech-savvy could easily spot a kid who tries to take them for a ride. However, a majority of teachers could not and were easily deceived.
The outlook of kids and their parents towards teachers has changed quite a lot over the last years. This academic year muddled by the pandemic has changed this equation even further. For teachers who look forward to new faces and bright smiles every academic year, staring at the muted tiles of kids on screen is far from ideal. Many teachers chose this profession for their love of imparting knowledge to the chirpy young ones in classroom and they dearly miss the joy of meeting, greeting and teaching kids in-person.
It has always been ironic that unaided teachers get paid far less than their aided counterparts regardless of the hefty fees being paid. The country is going through an economic recession and many have been hit by it. However, even some affluent parents have decided to not pay school tuition blaming it on the online mode of teaching. Many schools have cut down heavily on teachers’ salaries, while some have not even paid teachers for months! I wonder how many of us could even think of working harder than before, while not getting paid!
The in-person classes for 10th and above have been started in the state. Teachers would now have to prepare for offline and online classes. Many of them have already been burnt out owing to the colossal amount of work they have done this academic year. However, they still would attend their next class with a hearty smile wishing everyone “Good morning!”. I sincerely hope the school management, students and their parents are more mindful of the struggles teachers go through and the hard work they put in. Let’s learn to recognise and empathise with this group of people who have shaped us to be what we are and would do the same for our kids as well.
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