Reports have emerged of teachers struggling with their online classes, and the increase of stress and fatigue. The Catholic News interviewed four teachers to find out what their experience has been since the official reopening of the school term September 1. Two of the teachers are in the Government system; two are in Catholic schools. The four seem to have taken the adjustments in stride, even while acknowledging the challenges presented with online teaching. Names were not used.
The Ministry of Education had offered online training to teachers in August, an ‘Online Education Resource’ workshop which one young teacher in an RC secondary school described as “useful”. It “reinforced strategies I used online, and shed a lot of light on Creative Commons[a nonprofit organisation which helps persons and organisations overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity], and selecting materials that offered licence to share.”
While the workshop laid a foundation, some had to explore further on their own. A teacher of 34 years in the Government system said, “I needed a more hands-on approach. I looked at YouTube tutorials, and in consultation with members of my department and other HODs [Heads of Department] we decided to use two main platforms, Zoom and Google classroom. I learnt by force.” Her sisters are teachers as well, and they provide support to each other. “I also had valuable assistance from the library staff at my school and a young techno-savvy teacher in my department.”
A male teacher of a Standard Four class in another RC school said: “I have not been formally trained. However, learning by trial and error and constant practice I was able to get the hang of how the online process operates.”
The challenges presented by online teaching were the same for all teachers interviewed: issues associated with the use of technology (disconnection of WiFi) and the inability to give as much individual attention. One teacher mentioned students being disruptive while another had the experience of a student attending a class barebacked. In larger classes, where it is easier for students to remain quiet, the young teacher at the RC secondary pays close attention and calls on the “shyer ones”. Giving SBAs (School-Based Assessments), especially practicals, and group work was also another difficulty the teachers faced.
There are also instances where students are logged in but not actually attending to the class, so the proviso was made that videos had to be on. This also prevents impostors from entering the classrooms and being disruptive, but it still occurs. Parents also can be a source of interference, “Teachers are now conducting classes in students’ homes and we are aware of the presence of parents listening to our every word and even joining in.” Parents however have a role in ensuring discipline and will be contacted in cases of severe indiscipline.
Despite the challenges, all teachers were committed to ensuring efficient delivery. The youngest female of the group interviewed (in the Catholic secondary school) reflects on her delivery and tries to improve for the next class. “I will review (briefly) what was covered before, provide better material that aids in delivery or give a short quiz to assess what they do not understand and work from there.”
Working from home blurs the line of domestic and work life, often with domestic responsibilities and personal time relegated as work receives greater focus. One teacher indicated relief at not having to face the morning traffic in commute but “preparation for classes now take much longer as PowerPoint presentations, worksheets, well basically everything must be ready and waiting for the class. This of course takes a toll on domestic life…I have no children of my own and I have a supportive family.”
All the teachers interviewed indicated that preparation for classes is consuming a fair amount of time. The 30-year-old in the Catholic Secondary school said, “I now have limited time for myself and my family has commented that I am always working. But I do have to stop and make time for me.” The senior teacher says that her eating times are affected and “I do feel tired at the end of the day. Between the hours of preparation and the screen time, it can be rough.”
Through “trial and error”, the only teacher in the group with two young children has worked out a schedule and has made time for herself and children’s online learning. At her school, the teachers have been scheduled with at least an hour between classes by the Principal who took the needs of the teachers into consideration. “That helps. I go about my day as usual. I have always been in the habit of getting up at 4 a.m. so that remains. It works.” She teaches Forms One to Five at a Government secondary school.
The Standard Four teacher of the Catholic primary school summed up his philosophy to teaching in the new normal, “It’s a trying time for all of us but I do it with a smile and for the glory of God and His children.”