There’s not a neighbourhood, a community, or an industry in this country, or for matter, the world that has been spared from Covid19 since January 2020. 2021 as a year for the education industry in particular has been extremely heartbreaking as we pray for many educators who have lost their fight against the deadly virus. From senior school leaders to talented teachers, thousands have become a part of history that added to the rising numbers this country has recorded and continues to since March 2021 as the severity of the second wave unfolds. We have seen the collaborative efforts of so many ‘friends’, ‘family’ and even ‘strangers’ who have volunteered and tried their best to provide support, not to mention the front line workers who have worked every idea to save lives. This virus has destroyed an incredible amount and even time may not heal many wounds. This is our reality!
And then we must also remember that there are the hundreds and thousands who despite the devastating news around them must continue to work behind the scenes and plan for a year ahead so that the teaching – learning can be optimised, and try their level best for the sake of the children. While getting vaccinated themselves, and coping with their own challenges as a family – emotionally and financially, they must put on their ‘brave’ faces for the sake of the children they nurture and parents they need to motivate to ensure that the process is a seamless transition from one virtual year to another. Many managed to go back to their classrooms and work without their children in them (children were not allowed) as some States allowed them to resume partial work in October/November 2020, some even had the pleasure of watching their masked and socially distanced children come into their classrooms for some States were functional up until March 2021, and some confined to the walls of their houses or apartments were the evergreen troopers who continued to be enthusiastic about the on-line engagements as they concluded one academic year, or in some cases will continue till June 2021.
Teachers in some private schools have been ‘released’ from their employment duties given school parents defaulted on fees and enrolment numbers dipped, and some have seen revision in their salaries as managements unable to sustain the financial burden with fees being reduced had no choice; the good news is that many continued to enjoy support from management and parents which for me, is an encouraging trend. Teachers in these pandemic times had many of their own lessons to ‘unlearn’ and learn – they have found that they needed to walk-the-talk and became those life-learners they preached about, as they embraced virtual teaching and navigated a world on line. For some this, was a herculean task just as it was for students and their parents at home, given the unfamiliarity of it all. For some, it was an opportunity to rise and create, optimise and emerge as super facilitators as they harnessed the power of technology to its fullest and made the best of its availability.
For some, lack of access to resources rendered them helpless but they did not give up and found alternatives – home kits, going to neighbourhood clusters to teach etc. The wise men often remind us that ‘when the going gets tough’ there will always be some that drop off the race, some manage to just survive and some excel. This industry is a reflection of every kind, and I am sure next year teacher awards will reflect this journey and acknowledge the efforts sincerely. And I hope the celebration is for effort and not simply results!
Good news does not end here. This industry that seemed to be polarised as national and international cohorts of educators also saw some boundaries fade away, which led to more collaboration and unity. Webinars and virtual conversations about effective teaching-learning practices ensured that many were able to access thoughts, ideas freely and invest more time in understanding its impact which quite frankly had not happened with success previously.
Educators and teachers were sharing more, using technology to create best practices and generously transferring data to each other in the spirit of ‘helping’ out a fellow teacher who was lost in the virtual world.
Blessings, of course, they surely are. Our vast country with thousands of schools in their own little worlds previously became a part of a ‘virtual community’ that helped them access strategies easily, and cost effectively enabling them to improvise. Social media became a haven for ideas, and finally research skills became as important as delivery in the virtual classes. Teachers accessed global discussion boards, and training options beyond their academic board ‘quota’ and the focus turned to skills rather than content alone.
Given the lack of ‘physical’ connect which help forge stronger bonds with students in the Brick N Mortar model, teachers recognised the importance of communication and were mindful of the student well being. They became counsellors, guides, and mentors more than ever before, and at times, simply a shoulder to cry on for families that were suffering so much. There are numerous instances when the teacher in quarantine herself and grieving for a personal loss was available to support families that were recovering, putting aside personal grief for the children’s sake.
Parents have openly admitted that in these trying times, their bond with the teachers emerged the saving grace for their children, as they were at sea in terms of managing the chaotic life at home.
While not perfect in any case, the shift from a ‘mere teacher-parent relationship to a more ‘partnership’ model that highlighted empathy, patience and mutual respect brought the whole school-home equation to a different level. There are some cases where managements and parents locked in fee disputes unfortunately did not capitalise on these relationship advantages that would have made learning seamless. Lesson?
These past months that became a year have many lessons to be analysed and many, many reflections that will ease way for curriculum re-think, content quantum that will be planned, the mode of delivery to be creatively scheduled, etc but more importantly, socio emotional learning, life skills integration, effective communication with families and mindfulness will dominate as more macro ideas to ease the transition into the new year.
For one, it is time everyone accepted that virtual or physical, learning must continue and effort must be to plan in contingencies, put a price on wellness and mental health for all stake-holders and approach the year as one of possibilities and celebrations of the opportunities that present itself rather than focused on what could have been, and what is being missed. That world may never come back again, and with that acceptance we strive hard to protect and plan ahead for a future that must be lived and also treasured dearly as a mark of respect for all the sacrifices made in the past, and for all the lives lost trying to make the world a better place.
As they say, ‘the show must go on’ for the sake of our future, the future in those virtual classrooms for the time being locked into their homes, waiting to be inspired!