Errant students, painful parents & long hours: Hallmark of online classes for teachers

Digital era rips teachers’ dignity


July 17, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

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Online classes have taken a heavy toll on teachers across India (MIG photos)

Online classes sound very hip and cool, but they have doubled the workload for teachers, who may not be in the limelight during the pandemic. Yet, they have been waging an impressive battle to keep the classes going on even as they face abuse from school managements, students and their parents.

“It seems like we are sitting in a park while taking online classes. Anyone can pass a comment whenever they want, parents peep in or even sit with their kids to see how teachers are taking the classes and on top of that the school management always keeps on interrupting while we take our classes,” a 29-year-old teacher at a primary school in Kolkata, tells Media India Group.

The last four months have been the toughest and most challenging for the teacher who preferred to remain anonymous. She says she has been a teacher for over three years and has handled all kinds of challenges that a teacher can face in a classroom. ‘‘But I had never imagined that taking online classes can be so difficult and so shorn of even basic dignity for us teachers,’’ she says, recounting several incidents that have occurred over the past three months in her school and which have created havoc in her life as well as that of other teachers.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic schools all over India have remained shut since March and therefore teachers have been instructed to take virtual classes.

“A junior school coordinator while taking an online class was abused by one of the kids/students of grade 2 in the online chat. The same thing happened with a vernacular teacher. She was abused by a student of class 7 during the online class. These incidents are quite common and mostly teachers are being harassed not only by the students but mostly by the parents,” she adds.

The teachers say that as children know that the teachers can do little against them during the digital classes, they take advantage. ‘‘They do what they want and it’s a matter of shame for us where we get ragged by students, even though their parents are present,’’ says a teacher from a school at Maheshtala, another locality in Kolkata.

Perhaps every teacher has similar stories to recount. ‘‘I take my classes on Google Meet. So, during the classes, often, we have to exit the meeting window and display slides on the subject. During this time, we cannot see what the students are doing, whether they are chatting or have switched on the video. The students take full advantage of this and gossip with each other. But you can’t say anything to the students as the parents will say that the teachers are mentally torturing the kids in front of everyone. And the students don’t bother about us and take even our scoldings very lightly, laughing at us. But we cannot take strict action as the students are not physically present and also because their parents tend to make a big scene even if we scold the children who are out of line,’’ says another young female teacher from a school in New Town in Kolkata.

Indeed, more often than not, teachers are finding that handling the parents of students is a bigger challenge. The teachers say that due to the lockdown as the students as well as their parents were staying home, the parents often watched the proceedings of the online classes a bit too closely and interfered with their teaching.

‘‘When I take online classes, I can understand the parents are sitting with their kids. And they literally observe everything about the teacher. How is the teacher teaching, her pronunciation, the explanations… everything. I have even faced situations where parents write down questions and give it to the child to ask the teacher, just to see whether the teacher knows the answer. There are instances where the child says that my father asked me this question and I couldn’t understand, so will you please give me the answer. Often, it is something that is not even in the curriculum,’’ she adds.

The teachers say that their classes are often hampered as parents participate in them, answering questions posed to the children. ‘‘Some parents have made this into a competition, as they know that other parents are also sitting with their kids and they don’t want their kid to look weak in the class,’’ she says. Recounting a recent incident, she says during an oral test that she was taking, one of the students forgot to switch off the mike. The mother prompted the whole answer that the teacher could listen to.

The teachers say that some of the parents, even if they are clueless about teaching, watch the classes closely and then complain to the school management that their teachers are not good enough and why should their child be paying tuition fees to have inferior instruction in the school.

Many teachers also reproach their school managements for exploiting and abusing the teachers since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. They say that in many schools several teachers have been summarily dismissed or at least their salaries cut dramatically. And yet, the workload for the teachers has increased tremendously. “We don’t have fixed timings anymore. Our classes technically start at 08:30 and we are supposed to be online till 15:30. However, the school management dumps additional workload on us whenever it pleases them. We simply get messages about additional tasks through WhatsApp. And every task comes as being an urgent task to be completed then and there. As a result, since the lockdown began, we have been working double the time than during the normal school days. Yet, many of us only receive half our salary,’’ says the teacher from New Town.

Not content with classroom related responsibilities, schools have also made teachers in charge of chasing parents for payment of the tuition fees. ‘‘We are expected to call the parents whose children have not yet paid the fees and we have to remind them continuously and then report to the school management. This is an entirely administrative task that has never been any teacher’s job. But during the pandemic, most schools seem to have adopted this practice,’’ says the teacher.

With the pandemic not displaying any signs of easing any time soon, there is complete uncertainty over when the schools may be allowed to reopen. Until then, the teachers know that their nightmares would continue and that they can only survive by toughening up.



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