Virtual Classes in Pandemic ...

… Teachers’ Health Suffer in Attempts to Strike a Work-Life Balance

This article has been jointly written by Asmita Pant, Anand Singha, Rupesh Kumar and Sangam who reported for this story from different parts of the country. They are postgraduate students at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune.

Teachers are habituated to look after their students’ social-emotional wellbeing, but with the pandemic and virtual classrooms, teachers are suffering with no one to look after their wellbeing. Often teachers’ concerns for the students come at a cost to themselves. Its high time problems faced by teachers are addressed and understood by all.

Dr. Kamlesh Sharma never missed her weekly yoga classes. She called it ‘spiritual healing’ – it helped her stay rejuvenated after a draining week. All of it came to a halt last year, when Kamlesh, an associate professor in Raj Rishi College in Alwar, Rajasthan, and a single mother of two, found herself in shambles: teaching students in the online mode while steering her family through the crisis thrown up by the pandemic.

Recalling the initial periods of the lockdown she says, “There was no work-life balance. I struggled with the transition as adapting to new technology caused frustration and stress.” Kamlesh’s daughter, Ojasvi praised her mother’s dedication and pointed out the difficulties she battled. “I invested a lot of time to help my mother understand all this new technology and after a while, she was at ease. But the time was difficult for all of us; she used to be under immense stress and her patience levels dropped considerably.”

When virtual classes first began, teaching in the online mode seemed almost an impossible task.

Manju Choudhary, who teaches 9th and 10th standard students in Army Public School describes the transition to virtual medium as new and challenging. “There are students from various economic backgrounds. Some of them don’t have access to gadgets and as a teacher, this poses a very big problem,” said Choudhary.

For her, the online medium of teaching was chaotic, and the mornings were especially difficult as she also had to make time for household chores. “She used to get worried before her classes, but we always tried to help her out,” says her daughter, Aditi. Her son Amol, mentioning how difficult it was for her to take out time for herself and her family, said “She spent her evenings attending virtual staff meetings and preparing recorded lectures.”

Dr. B.C. Gupta, a physician in a government hospital in Alwar, explains, “Persistent screen exposure results in eye dryness and weak eyesight. I suggest my patients take regular breaks, wash their eyes, blink more and prescribe a lubricating eye drop.” Prolonged sitting, as Dr. Gupta told, can cause back and/or cervical problems. “There is not much that we can do. People are limited to their homes and all their work, be it, office employees, teachers, or students, is done online. Many teachers came to me complaining of headaches and nervous breakdown.”

Course Hero, an American education technology website, conducted extensive research on more than 570 — full and part-time faculty at two and four-year — colleges and universities across the USA in November last year. Findings of the study revealed that three out of four faculty reported significant stress as a result of challenges transitioning to new modes of pedagogy—the major source of anxiety for teachers by a considerable margin. Almost two-thirds of the teachers mentioned that catering to the mental health needs of students in the virtual mode led to anxiety.

School Education Gateway, an online platform for teachers, school leaders, researchers, teacher educators, policymakers, and other professionals working in school education in Europe conducted an online survey (to find out how teachers are coping up with online teaching) between 9th April to 10th May last year which involved 4859 people — of whom 86% were teachers or school heads.

– 27.5% of teachers admitted that they struggled with preparing academic content in the virtual mode while 25% said that they struggled to assess students in the online mode.

– 42.7% felt the biggest challenge related to supporting pupils was keeping all of them motivated and engaged in the online mode.

– 43.3% of teachers suffered from increased workload and stress and working from home was turning unbearable.

Dr. Jitan Solanki, a Ranchi-based Psychiatrist says that the mental health situation of teachers is alarming. "The increase in exposure to smart devices and laptop screens has led to a substantial increase in stress and burnout levels in teachers," said Dr. Solanki.

"Some of the teachers diagnosed with depression got to a point where the anxiety caused by online teaching led to self-harming tendencies and a desire to inflict enough pain upon themselves so that they could avoid taking online classes, I advised them to take a break, " added Dr. Solanki.

"Anita, one of my patients tried conducting in-class activities to encourage more participation in the online mode and to emulate a traditional classroom atmosphere but failed miserably as students would not turn up which jolted her morale," said Dr. Solanki.

Mitali Hazarika, a teacher in Maria’s Public School, Guwahati, says “I’ve never been this exhausted. When the lockdown was imposed, I wished I had an alternate plan.” The sole earning member of the family of five, Mitali relied completely on her job to make ends meet.

Rupanjali Saikia, a Science teacher in Modern Senior Secondary School, Guwahati, had a terrible experience with her students. "I remember, once a student logged in with an alias, unmuted himself, and started playing raunchy songs during the class,” said Rupanjali. “Some people deliberately keep their cameras off. So, we never know if they are actually present or have just logged in for the sake of it,” she added.

Pankaj Singh Rathod, who runs ‘Rathod Tutorials’, an institute in Dhanbad, coaches students for various competitive engineering exams.

It has been a tough year for him without the physical presence of his students. He said with teary eyes, “I am used to being around students. I have been feeling lonely without them for the last one year. I hope that the government allows the reopening of coaching institutes soon.”

As a result of the stress, Rathod has been suffering from high blood pressure. He has been worried about his students’ performances which have a direct implication on his institute’s reputation.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Sumanto Banerjee, a home tutor, who teaches 44 students from class 1 to 10. He was forced to teach in the online mode during the first two phases of the national lockdown.

Sumanto says, “The initial days of the lockdown were extremely difficult. I had to take up online teaching for the first time in my 22 year long career.”

“When I was teaching offline, I could read their expressions, and make sure that I had their attention. But with the lockdown, I’ve had to learn teaching from scratch as the online mode put many barriers between me and the students. From presenting the screen to sharing materials online, everything was challenging,” he added.

Teaching young students was the most complicated part for him. Due to their low attention span, they get bored too early and end up leaving the class midway.

During the pandemic as the students were at home, and the parents were not paying the fees, many teachers faced financial issues. Many teachers became unemployed while others faced a 50% reduction in their salary. Some of them even resigned from their jobs.

Ramnath Jha, who worked for 33 years, resigned from his job as a Mathematics teacher in a private school last August. Jha said, "I love teaching and if given an opportunity I would take it up, but only in the offline mode. I was hooked to my laptop for over 12 hours attempting to comprehend the subtleties of the new medium but found it difficult. I realized that I was not competent enough and was not able to do justice to my profession, so I handed in my resignation."

Amrita Devi who taught English in RJ School, Guwahati, has a different perspective. “The transition to online mode of education is a very viable measure especially in these trying times.”

Although she has a positive outlook towards this transition, she also mentioned that “It was already difficult to cope with the online mode, and network hassles, housework, and interference from family members and pets causes further distractions.”

Asha Kaushik teaches primary classes at Delhi World Public School, Alwar. Despite difficulties, Kaushik looks at the bright side in times of crisis. “During the pandemic, we had an opportunity to enhance our knowledge. No doubt, it was difficult for us (teachers) but we put in our best to make things easier for us and our students.” Kaushik, who has a 6-year-old daughter, says “Being a mother and a teacher is difficult, but I like to believe that I managed well because of my family’s support. Many parents appreciated my work as a teacher and all the difficulties felt worth it.” Her husband appreciated her willingness to learn and remarked that she managed both her professional and personal life well.

With all the talks about virtual learning being the most feasible way to continue the flow of education all around the world in these trying times, what most of us have failed to realize is that it has inflicted certain mental scars on teachers that don’t appear to be healing any time soon.

Images (c)


More by :  Asmita Pant

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