We must all agree that teaching is a stressful job. Since the pandemic, it has become even more stressful. Prior to the pandemic, teachers had to make a number of sacrifices, now it is even worse. Many teachers are stressed mentally, physically, and I dare say spiritually. Several teachers, because of online teaching, were exposed to types of behaviours that they would not be exposed to during face-to-face classes. These include parents exposing themselves in the background during classes, people using expletives in the background while class is in session, or using them to students and teachers during class time, male parents being inappropriate and making sexual advances to female teachers, among other complaints. One of my experiences include watching a fight between two siblings break out beside a student who was online doing classes.
The concept of teaching online is new in Guyana and has been a very good innovation made by the PPP/C Administration, however, while a few teachers were trained to use Google Classroom and Zoom, all teachers are required to use the platforms. Whether or not school reopens next term, an incentive of a tablet, laptop or a cellular phone should be given to our teachers as part of the equipment used as a part of the learning kit — used to conduct online classes.
Online teaching and learning can, undoubtedly, be a challenge for many. I would never discount or downplay this reality. However, the mindset of many educators, students, and parents has made the experience all the more tedious and frustrating. Some persons are simply Luddites. They are opposed to using the new technologies and so they easily feel overwhelmed when there are glitches with their use. Still, a call for the resumption of face-to-face classes — in a modified fashion, of course — cannot be the sole or foremost elixir.
We need to be open to adapting. Adaptability is high on the list of skills that senior executives desire in their employees. Such a skill enables one to survive and thrive, especially in this current milieu. Moreover, “If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward.” (John Wooden)
How well are our teachers adapting and how well are they modelling such a skill for our students? Are we simply complaining and berating everyone we deem responsible for our woes?
If the great digital divide is mended, but our education stakeholders remain technologically resistant, many of our current problems with online teaching and learning will persist. We need an attitudinal shift. Otherwise, even our face-to-face sessions will be denied the transformative impact of technology.
We can effectively adapt by learning, as well. In this information-rich age, we can teach ourselves to use the latest innovations. YouTube, for example, has schooled me in the use of many online tools. Just this weekend I watched several tutorials, paused them intermittently and practised the steps shared. This was not always easy, but I was consistently open to learning and overcoming the challenges.
Teachers and parents, we have to be open-minded and receptive. We are lifelong learners, and our professional portfolios should be diversified and enhanced throughout our tenure.
Let us be unafraid and unashamed of erring in front of our students and our children. In fact, our students and children are digital natives, and they are happy to assist us when we are unsure of what to do. Learn with them. Grow with them.
Remember, too, that there are many technological tools out there that can reduce your workload. Yes! Be open to exploring them. We can do this! Stay positive! Teachers, you know how to do this in face-to-face classrooms. Parents, you know how to do it in raising children. For all of us, migrating abruptly to an online teaching environment in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has strained our skills to the breaking point. There were many losses, failures and frustrations along the way.
Even so, a lot of things went well. We figured out how to use video conferencing, although “you’re still muted” is now a fixture of classroom dialogue. We got better at organising and delivering online educational materials. We devised new ways to test what students could do. But improved access to information is not enough to work the magic of turning information into knowledge.
Much of that transformation depends on keeping students engaged. Some students can thrive while working on their own, but most rely on their teachers to create structure and motivation. In fact, teaching is like parenting in this regard. Sometimes kids don’t really care about what we’re asking them to do. But they do it anyway because they don’t want to disappoint us or their fellow students. Almost despite themselves, they fall into the habit of doing their work, and they learn.
This dependence on teachers entails a solemn responsibility. It is our job to believe in our students even – or especially – when they don’t believe in themselves. To cheer them on, to sympathise with their struggles, and to show them the way forward. We know this because, in these difficult months, students have thanked teachers again and again for believing in them. For caring about them as people and for believing that they can succeed.
Whether our teaching succeeds in the next school term will depend largely on how well we are able to create those bonds outside of face-to-face classrooms.
For most of us, that is a work in progress. Teachers will need more time and training to learn how to do this effectively online. Parents need more flexibility and recognition than ever before about their impossible balancing act of parenting, working, and now teaching. Let’s salute our teachers and parents with a deeper understanding of what “education” means.