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Adventures in Learning

Timeless Teaching

This is a post published on December 3, 2020 under Mentor Posts on the website of Cygnus Centre of Excellence https://cygnuscoeonline.com/ .  This is re-posted here with permission. The efforts of Cygnus COE to make a difference in the world of teaching and learning is commendable.  Please do visit their website, check out their various sections and leave feedback.  And, if you like, please share and comment on this blogpost.]

“I can’t attend the program on Saturday or Sunday because we have webinars on those days, every week!” – this from a teacher who works Mondays to Fridays on her online classes. Weekends?  Who needs them?  This is lockdown, we don’t have weekends, nowhere to go!

The teacher’s phone rings at 11:45 p.m. Nearly midnight.  It’s the Coordinator.  “We need to discuss the program for tomorrow morning”. Wait, that’s less than eight hours from now – and even less, as the call continues for 45 minutes. After the call, the paperwork begins.

Texting at the table, a teacher explains apologetically, “We have to keep our WhatsApp available to parents.  If the parent complains that we have not responded, we will get a letter from the school.” The family nods knowingly and eats dinner in silence, punctuated by beeps.

These are just three examples of what has happened to teachers’ lives over the last few months. The new-found excitement of using technology for learning and teaching has brought along the dark side of the obligation of being online and ready to take a call always. Gone are the days when meetings held in school remained in school.  They now spill over to fill every available moment of the teacher’s time. There’s a saying that work expands to fill the time available.  In this case, I can safely opine that it overflows beyond the time available for its execution.  One Principal confessed, “We have to be seen as doing something, if we are going to charge fees!”

Online Teaching for Dummies

Doing something at any time of day. This is more apparent in those unfortunate teachers who imagined that they would retire gracefully, ‘warm their bones beside the fire’, and occasionally take a peek at an SMS on their “Unsmart” Phones, if there is such a thing.  Not only do they have to struggle with purchasing, unboxing and learning to use the new Smartphone, they have to do all this without “The Manual”, an imposing book that they would cling on to for anything they had bought in the past.  Today the manual is available on the website (what’s that?  does it bite?) or as Smartphones for Dummies, ordered from Amazon — ecommerce, for the uninitiated. 

I have seen teachers struggle to get around mobile phones before they were told that the best way to manage online classes would be to get a laptop!  And all the while, classes have to be run, whether you know how or not.  Never in the history of teaching, with its highly reliable predictability, has there been a greater dependence on trial-and-error, with an emphasis on error.

One-eye is King

So, into this steep learning curve we threw both the teachers and the early adopters.  “In the land of the blind, one-eye is King”, goes a famous adage.  And so, many teachers, by virtue of their seniority, started dictating the processes to the rest, resulting in dozens of emergency meetings for planning and implementation.  Others who “know” started instructing those who don’t know yet. Lack of planning, which couldn’t be helped, resulted in crazy schedules for those behind the scenes, responsible for groups of children who were apparently ‘missing out’ on education.

It is these well-meaning, unfortunate souls who got the school to shift from Zoom (when it become bad news for security) to Webex, to Google Meet, to Microsoft Teams (when it became free), and in some cases, back to Zoom (when it was absolved of most crimes, including being Chinese).  Can you picture the confusion in teachers’ minds as they struggled to download and master new technologies?  Not to mention the “instructivist” approach when they had to teach the parents (who always had alternative opinions) and their fellow teachers (who knew better since they had sons and daughters who were Gen-Z).

As a consultant to teachers and schools I went through it all — writing help files for the secure use of Zoom, making help videos for Google Classroom, assessing other platforms which were hard-selling to schools, implementing plans for schools that chose to take a step back and plan, getting myself certified, and even participating in webinars in the hope that I could add some value.  Which I’m sure, I have done.  Now I am writing articles! 

Eight Days a Week

However, the need for keeping one’s nose to the wheel as a teacher remained and actually grew. Gone are the days when teachers worked half a day, half the year (holidays!) and of course, for half the pay.  Only the latter remains and is threatening to go downwards with the 20% drop in fees.  Now it’s round the clock, eight days a week, with no holidays.  How did this happen?  

In my opinion, it’s largely due to the misguided notion that a portion of the syllabus has to be finished.  A good teacher finishes the syllabus, and sometimes finishes the students along with it!  If you would like to hear my views I will take up the discussion on core syllabus in another article.  This one is about “timeless” teaching.  So, if the syllabus doesn’t change and the time available for transaction, the method of transaction and the tools of transaction DO change, then there’s going to be an awful lot of thinking, planning, compressing, executing, assessing and evaluating that’s going to happen outside of class hours. Simple.

Happy Holidays!

Of course, to end on a bright (?) note.  The pandemic has brought happy holidays to some school communities.  In at least one school the teachers went ballistic when told that creating WhatsApp groups or email lists with the students was the best way to involve all stakeholders in the learning process.  They objected vociferously and refused to let the students have their phone numbers.  All communication was through the official school email id.  Naturally the quality of communication remains sporadic and peripheral, with parents using their own WA groups to figure things out.  Reduced communication with students, limited to pre-planned video conferences, zero contact with parents, limited to report cards online, and an every-man-for-himself approach to syllabus, can result in quite a bit of spare time for teachers. 

And spare time equals spare money. Teachers now figured out the use of online systems for private coaching!  But that’s for another occasion. I would be happy to hear your comments and queries.