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The Heartache of Online Teaching

Last year when Coronavirus gained a forceful entry into our world, we quietly backed off and accepted the intruder and even rationalized that perhaps it is a friend in disguise, impelling us out of our comfort zone. We adapted and swiftly moved on to virtual schooling and learned to take classes on Zoom, Teams or Google. We did not complain or crib, in fact, everyone was quite busy discovering the newer possibilities, various apps, platforms that could bring some excitement and life back into our classrooms.

Children too took to it quite sportingly. They rather enjoyed this new order and seemed amused at having the school shrink into a tiny screen in one corner of their house. Adding to the thrill was the newfound opportunity to fiddle with gadgets. They even enjoyed exploring new boundaries with teachers a little baffled and tried to experiment with all possible ways of escaping the teacher’s control online.

The Parents had their share of fun too, as they enjoyed the opportunity to watch teachers in action from the comfort of their living rooms or bedrooms. For once they had full control over their child’s learning. This happiness was balanced or rather overshot in no time by the additional pressure that the facilitation of this online education placed on them. Soon they found themselves pulled in all directions with multiple demands.

The uncertainty steadily pushing its deadline little by little, plummeted any hope for reopening of on- ground school. The speculation and the novelty of the situation kept everyone amused, engaged in constantly seeking solutions for survival in 2020, this made it quite an enterprising year for all while locked within the walls of their homes.

As the year moved closer to the end, People hoped that the nightmare would pass with it and life would go back to normal. The common feeling was that one year could be written off as a bad dream or a wake-up call as long as now we could move on and leave it all behind us. However, the extension of “corona kaal” in 2021, with the second wave hitting harder than the first, has not just thrown us off guard once more but added to helplessness and frustration as this time the novelty has worn off too.

Being forced back into a lockdown, the schools once again constricted onto screens, the frustrations of online schooling are beginning to cause an acute heartache to all students, teachers as well as parents.

The Pains are numerous. To list a few let me begin by sharing the top three.

The Fatigue Factor:

What we can achieve when together on the ground in a day and the amount of work we can do is abundant in comparison to the on-screen strain of a few hours of teaching and meetings.

The strain of trying to keep an eye on several little windows where children are sitting, slouching, or sleeping in several postures with all kinds of light angles and some in total darkness. Some zooming into the camera to lend their facial features for anatomical study and others barely keeping the top hairline of their heads on display. This makes it an eye test for teachers along with that of their teaching and technical skills.

Constantly trying to figure out who is “speaking now” and who is “trying to speak” but is on mute calls for a superhuman level of alertness in 40 minutes of a class leaving one exhausted by the end. All senses working on a heightened capacity throughout the online sessions, ears perked up to hear what’s being said through poor network connections, fingers performing multiple feats to ensure a smooth flow of the class, and eyes trying to grasp the macrocosm within the microcosm of windows.

Twenty to thirty percent of the class-time goes in frustrating commands to “sit properly”, “adjust camera”, “mute yourself”, “unmute yourself”, “do not jump on your chair”, “do not go for a stroll, come back” etc.

With mute on and perhaps a mayhem unfolding in their backgrounds even the children are suffering the parallel conversations and coaching going on simultaneously by teachers screeching on one side of the screen and parents adding advisories on the other!

It all works well for teachers who believes in spewing out their plans turning a blind eye to the little windows on the screen.

Not just the physical exhaustion, what is disturbing is the emotional disconnect leading to an exhaustion of the heart.

The Heart Fatigue

No more giving that eye contact to children, sometimes, to transmit your love and concern, on other times, to convey boundaries. They seem to be looking elsewhere even when they are looking at you on screen.

No more a pat on their back to gently wake them up from the mental slumber. To gain one sleepyhead’s attention, one has to disrupt the whole class’s rhythm and flow on the online platform. No more giving a warm personal smile to one child or looking from the corner of one’s eye.

No more “Good morning hugs”. No more holding their hand as they struggle with writing. No more impromptu passing a personal word of encouragement to one disengaged little one in class. No more “let’s go out for a class in the garden today”. No more let’s sing together because of the lags and the cacophony such attempts create online.

No more safe space for children to share their pains or feelings, some of them lack personal space and are constantly in company of family members who are hovering around. No more sharing lunch boxes and relishing birthday cakes and canteen samosas together. Children too can, no more sneak in a few moments of pure crazy fun around the water cooler or make naughty side talks, pass chits amongst friends, the little antics that kept them rejuvenated through the entire day of taxing lessons.

The heartwarming aspects of schooling having disappeared what remains is a less juicy if not completely dry version.

Besides the fatigue of the head and the heart, there is also a nosedive that learning has taken on online platforms. Learning is not mere learning of content. School education has a huge amount of hidden curriculum and invisible learning that shapes and impacts a learner. Given the online schooling scenario, the intangibles of learning have suffered a complete loss.

The Loss of Hidden Curriculum

What students learned by observing each other, observing the teacher, peeping into each other’s notebooks, watching their peers, sharing their stationary, waiting for their turns, dealing with a bully, looking after their stuff amid everyone else’s, forgetting homework, remembering to carry homework has suddenly gone amiss.

What they gathered from the classroom walls and “quotes of the day” at the entry of school or by grabbing their friend’s attention physically by turning his head is now out of bounds.

How teachers impacted learning by peeping over children’s shoulders as they framed their answers, giving a timely nudge or a nod, keeping a check on how they were processing information in their minds, and keeping them on track is not just a challenge but impossible online.

Just standing close to a child so his wandering mind stays focused on the task, sticking a sticker on a child’s sheet or drawing smileys on their hands to encourage them instantly, whispering a cue in another one’s ear to help him correct his mistake, these are countless opportunities lost, as children sit on the other side of screens in isolated individual compartments.

To conclude, it would be unfair to completely discredit what technological possibilities have done for us. We indeed owe a huge salutation to technology for enabling us to traverse through these tough times. One cannot even imagine the nightmare if technology and communication were to be taken away from this era. It indeed has given us a great second chance at keeping the connection alive and keeping the learning going. Not just teaching the multiple apps and platforms have even enabled the teaching-learning process to maintain its fun element too. By enabling group work through break-out rooms and numerous live interactive boards, the classroom engagement has been quite high. When I point out all these gaps, it is in no way to dishonor the brilliant lifesaving role technology has played for all of us. It is only to express the aching cries of the heart of teachers whose lives are made warmer and richer not because of content that they transact or the lessons they teach but because of the lives they transform, the children they reach out to the smiles they spread and the legends they create day after day. We are missing the normalcy as we once knew. We are missing the proximity, the power of being in one room together. We are missing the classroom laughter. We are missing the personal touch in all ways.

Let us pray that we don’t have to go through this too long. Let’s pray that children get back what they rightfully deserve, a right to be with their friends back in school.


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