Covid 19 exposes the way we treat our teachers   

online teaching

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition”, said Jacques Barzun. Rightly, did he point this out that ‘teaching’ is no more respected as a profession neither ‘teachers’ are accorded their due share of acknowledgement for the work that they do. This is not to say that teaching has always been a respectful profession and teachers acquired a great status. However, with the passage of time, more so, post liberalization era, the teachers, especially public school teachers have been constantly attacked. Teachers are no longer praised either for their professional services or public services. It has become blatant during this pandemic.

During covid-19, teachers have been working tirelessly on the instructions of government, education departments, school principals vis-a-vis meeting the demands of parents and students. Although, teachers have been working as a personal worker for the government in the past as well but the pandemic have increased their work load by ten times and also have exposed them to the virus while delivering duties as a public servant. Sadly, their plights, the numerous challenges they face on daily basis are not taken into consideration, nor is their work of pandemic gets acknowledged.

Discharging duties of public servant

Teachers have always been employed on several of duties other than teaching such as census, election duties and implementation of various governmental schemes meant for public school students. However, during pandemic, the teachers have been employed in tasks such as ration distribution to the students’ home, deployed in the hunger relief camps, in food distribution centres, supervising night shelters, supervising quarantine centers and also deployed at airports. While discharging several of these duties, the teachers had to manage the travel on their own. Moreover, without government taking any responsibility for their health and life as there is a risk of getting infected, some of the teachers were reluctant to engage in the duties of pandemic. However, some teachers, putting their own life and of their families’ aside, have hailed the move (distribution of ration by the teachers to the students’ family) as it would benefit their students and the public at large. The teachers are working as the frontline workers, however, they are not treated at par with the other frontline workers such as doctors/health workers primarily. Teachers have complained that there is insufficiency of protective gear and rest days for them. Moreover, they are not considered liable for compensation which other ‘corona warriors’ would receive in case of damage to their health and life. This step motherly treatment of the government towards the public school teachers who have been risking their safety as frontline workers and also bearing the burden of academic requirements of students displays not only their typical callousness towards teachers but also is inhumane. This kind of treatment of the teachers by the government has larger repercussions for the professional identity of the teachers.

Lack of technological training, surveillance and mental health

Those teachers who are not working as the frontline workers and also those who are working as one, are trying to catch up with the academic needs of the students. The teachers who were not trained and adept in using the technology for the purposes of teaching-learning are struggling with this new dictum. ICT was not a compulsory paper in the teacher education programme until recently, however all of the teachers adept or not, have been trying to connect to the students. Nevertheless, online classes are not anywhere like real classes and there are many challenges that the teachers face on everyday basis. Teachers prepare material, select material, rehearse the same and sit in front of the camera to deliver the content knowing that many parents would be keeping a watch on them. As a result of this, a teacher from Gorakhpur has been suspended for using the content which apparently was not suitable for the nationalistic fervor. The teacher in her defense told that she did not know how to use the technology and took the content material as it is from google. Moreover, sometimes school principals also log in to the online classes to check on the teachers taking up classes. As if, all this was not enough, the technologically smart children find ways to block teachers’ id or classes or write nasty things on the screen. Moreover, talking to the camera for long duration is exhausting and tiring for the teachers. This monologue does not give any idea to the teachers about the pace of students’ learning as the former cannot ascertain whether his/her students are listening or understanding whatever has been talked about. Teachers are continuously on whatsapp to respond to the queries of students and parents. Teachers themselves in their personal blogs have reported that now they are working for more than 12 hours a day and they are at the verge of mental breakdown. Constant surveillance, monotonous and monologue classes, technological glitches and staring at the screen for long hours have made it difficult for them to remain sane. Moreover, during the period of lockdown when everybody is at home, the burden of household chores has also increased. Knowing the fact that there are more women teachers and considering the patriarchal nature of society, it is understood that the former has to bear the brunt of this as well.

So, the teachers are the frontline workers, meeting the academic requirements of students, satisfying the concerns of the vigilante parents, adapting to the technology and also bearing the brunt of the patriarchy. However, their concerns, their voices, their needs, their requirements are not taken into consideration and instead they are the ones who face the wrath of the principal, parents and the education departments. They are yet again not acknowledged for providing services to the public. While people stand in their balconies to clap for the health workers, nowhere does the teacher finds even a mention among the list of people whose work is praiseworthy. The taken for granted attitude towards the teachers is not new but until when can they work like this without getting discouraged and demotivated? Would it be fair to demand a change from the discouraged and demotivated teachers? Whether we have ever tried to understand their challenges or to listen to their stories in the wake of accusing them and making them scapegoat for everything gone wrong in the education system? This certainly needs introspection.

Aarti Mangal, Research Scholar, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, School of Social Sciences, JawaharLal Nehru University.



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