The switch from teaching to learning, and other pandemic lessons these teachers are grateful for

On Teachers’ Day, tutors recount how their profession stood tall in the face of adversity – right from the initial days of confusion and far-from-smooth transition to online teaching to an eventual phase when they were better able to understand and use technology

Written by Taarana Madhok

Eighteen long months of the pandemic have taken its toll on teachers. As steps are being taken to gradually reopen schools, on the occasion of Teachers’ Day, tutors recount how their profession has stood tall in the face of adversity – right from the initial days of confusion and far-from-smooth transition to online teaching to an eventual phase when they were better able to understand and use technology.

“When classes went online last March, I was in a state of shock,” says Veena Thadani who teaches biology at St Mary’s Junior College (SMJC) in Pune. Even for a seasoned professional with over forty years of teaching experience, nothing could have softened the blow. With the initial jolt having faded over time, she is now more at ease. “This batch is my faceless class,” Thadani says, marvelling at having spent months teaching students she has never met.

The period between March and May 2020 was one of rigorous learning for all instructors. “Our teachers attended hectic training sessions to prepare themselves for the upcoming term,” says Sujata Mallic Kumar, Principal of SJMC.

Before long, it was apparent that online classes altered the very essence of teaching. “I often felt like I was addressing a wall,” says Bindu Unnikrishnan who teaches physics to students in classes X to XII at Vikhe Patil Memorial School, recollecting the initial reluctance of students to turn on their cameras.

Devina Joshi, history teacher at Dr Kalmadi Shamarao Junior College in Pune, too admits that moving out of her comfort zone of ‘chalk and talk’ instruction wasn’t easy. “Initially, I felt technologically challenged,” she confesses.

With months of practice and exposure behind them, they are now quite at ease with the gadgets and technology. Unnikrishnan uses simulations to make physics concepts come alive, while Joshi has screened films for her students.

Unnikrishnan points out that online learning has made up for certain drawbacks of in-person classes. “Students’ doubts can be solved even outside the classroom and lessons can be recorded for those who learn at different paces,” she adds.

And then there are teachers who have approached online learning in unique ways. Pavan Iyengar, cofounder and teacher at DLRC School (Drive Change Learning and Resource Centre) views this phase as one of connection with the home. “The kitchen is the best lab,” he says, explaining how his students have conducted science experiments at home.

“An online drama class was unheard of,” says Insiyah Kirloskar, Founder of Expression and Freedom Speech and Drama Academy. Along with senior teacher Mitalee Dalal, Kirloskar has managed to recreate the entire curriculum online, including improvisation activities and end-of-term plays. “The energy of the kids can be felt even virtually,” Dalal says.

Despite the drastic changes their vocation has been subjected to over the last eighteen months, teachers have found that their bond with students has withstood the travails of the pandemic. “Through the Covid-19 phase, my students shared their frustrations and successes with me. I felt like I was a part of their lives,” says Unnikrishnan.

The digital tools now familiar, most teachers plan to keep using them as well as the new skills they have acquired even after the pandemic. “The future is one of blended learning,” Unnikrishnan declares.

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