Rejigging Teachers’ Role During the Pandemic

By: Kunal Mehta

Abstract

This article is a conceptual analysis of the role of the teachers during pandemic. It also takes into account how a teacher conducts his or her business of imparting education in the post Covid academic ecosystem.   Besides, it covers a whole range of issues that brought a paradigm shift in  the  teaching  pedagogies  during  Covid-induced  restrictions.  This research paper also attempts to highlight  how  ‘care’ of students by teachers is integral to the role of a teacher. The paper goes deep into the causes that shape the identity of teachers besides studying the status of the teacher. The paper raises a pertinent question as to how the lofty ideals of NEP -2020 can be realised without assigning a pivotal role to a teacher.

Keywords: Teachers, pandemic, technology, innovation, management, education

Introduction:

The whole world was thrown upside down by the novel Corona virus.  A tiny virus that originated from Wuhan in China took the entire world into its vice – like grip. Lockdown was imposed worldwide to stop the spread of this highly contagious virus. India also imposed a nationwide lockdown of 68 days, which brought all activities to a grinding halt. However, two activities remained operational. Hospitals and health professional kept leading the nation against its fight against the deadly virus. Another activity that caught the Volume II, Perspectives – A Bilingual Interdisciplinary E-Journal, JDMC

 attention of the world for the first time was the teaching-learning process/activity. This activity was not interrupted even for a day during the lockdown period. The mash-up of technology and the commitment of the teaching community keep the flag of education flying was the main driving force that did not allow the novel Corona virus to play havoc with the  future  of  the  students.  The teaching community quickly and passionately  embraced  technology  and  came  into  action  mode  to  pass  on  instructions  to  the students in an entirely new ambience.  Their efforts bore fruits and the process of education was saved from being derailed.

Research Objectives:

The main objectives of the paper are as follows:

1. To study the new role of the teaching community.

2. To present some successful pedagogic skills that can be followed in the post-Covid academic ecosystem.

3. To understand the critical role of technology in aiding the teaching learning process.

4. To understand as to what exactly the role of a teacher is.

5. To analyse factors that shape the identity of a teacher.

Research Methodology:

This study reviewed several online and offline articles on the issue that are related to the key areas of online education. It was basically a cross-sectional analysis.

Analysis:

Covid-19 was a bolt from the blue. It impacted every section of society. One category which was hit hard by the pandemic was the teaching community. Covid -19 threw normal life out of gear and compelled human beings to reorient their strategies to pull on with their lives. The teachers also restructured their teaching tools/methods to reach out to their students. Though it was a herculean task, the teaching community rose to the occasion. The teaching community is not a homogenous unit.  The hierarchical structure in the teaching community has its own needs revolving around curriculum and pedagogical strategies.   This posed a grave challenge to the community to get themselves tuned to various tools offered by technology to keep the teaching-learning process   alive   during the critical period of the pandemic. Teaching is not a mechanical exercise. It is rather an emotive exercise, wherein a whole spectrum of feelings are coalesced into one unit to transform information and above all to make students ponder over a wide range of issues. The lockdown did not shut down educational institutions only, it put the whole process of imparting education and instructions under lock and key. First, teachers were not very familiar with the technology and they did not know how to handle it. Since lockdown was not planned and it was imposed   hurriedly to protect the citizens from the highly infective Corona virus, the teaching community was at a loss when they were asked to  switch  over  to online mode. Besides, there were other hiccups,  namely,  net  connectivity,  duration  of  the  lecture  to  be delivered,  time-table etc. Constraints  with  flexibility  in  time-table  was  itself  a source  of  utter nuisance. There were other problems also. A teacher had to take care  of  his  or  her  own  children  besides  tending  to  the  academic  needs  of their students.  Since teaching-learning  had  gone online  they had  to  monitor  the  online instructions which were being imparted by school and colleges o their own children. So, a teacher was caught in a very difficult situation. Yet, they handled the situation dexterously and bravely. Since teaching online was a new experience for the teachers across the globe, it was difficult  for  them  to  absorb  the  shock. Many serious challenges  cropped up.  A language teacher  found  it  difficult  to  transmit  instructions  to  his  or  her  students  online.  Literature or language can be best taught in a physical environment. Since teaching of language and literature is more of an emotional exercise than a cognitive one , these subjects cannot be taught in the online  mode. The challenge  was huge. Yet, language teachers took the challenge  head on  and made  their best  efforts  to teach stories,  novels,  and grammar  via  gadgets, a hitherto unknown pedagogical tool. The experiment was difficult to conduct but academicians across the globe carried out the difficult  experiment of teaching language and literature the way it is taught in a physical  classroom situation.  Another peculiar problem that was completely ignored during the pandemic was how to motivate and train a tribe of teachers that was on the verge of retirement and  was averse to  the idea of using technology to transact the teaching-learning business. There was no mechanism available to organise training programmes for them. Yet, efforts were made to train them. Online orientation training programmes/short  term courses  were held to train both young   and   old  teachers.  Teachers themselves  showed  keen  interest  in  leaning  various  e- techniques/strategies to connect themselves to their students. The speed with which the teaching community accepted the change and adapted themselves to the online mode of teaching clearly gave them an edge over the ugly situation created by the lockdown and saved the teacher- taught relation from  being damaged  during  the  pandemic.  In this  peculiar  situation,  the  roles  were reversed.  Teachers learnt  how  to  handle  and operate  various technological gadgets from their juniors,  including  their children and grandchildren.  This strengthened the centuries old  notion that  a teacher  is always a student and never stops updating their knowledge. Thus, the pandemic induced lockdown came as  a blessing in  disguise for the teaching community as they  had  to  undo  the  traditional  mode  of  reaching  out  to  their  students  and embrace  new tech-mediated   strategies or methodologies to enter into an unknown territory of virtual classroom. Initially, it put a lot of strain on the community and it found it very difficult to come to terms. It bred cynicism  among a section  of the  community as they  found technology driven  instructions  incomplete  and  asymmetrical.  However,  the  stringent critics of  online  teaching ultimately fell in line during the course of time   and embraced it with an open mind to preserve their status as a transmitters of knowledge. In brief, it was an altogether different experience for the teachers  and  the  taught.  Teachers are  eternal  seekers  of  knowledge  and  their frontiers of knowledge  keep  expanding.  They keep  striving  to  gain  and  amass  knowledge.  Without this sacrosanct exercise, a  teacher ceases to be a teacher. Like Ulysses, they keep exploring new and innovative   ideas. ‘To strive, to seek, to find  and never to  yield’  is their motto. The Pandemic failed to  deter  the  teaching  community  to  chase  their  academic pursuits;  it increased their hunger to explore the unexplored territory  of  e-books/knowledge. The Pandemic  taught the  significance  of  3Ls  to  both  teachers  and  students. These 3Ls  stand  for  ‘Life  Long Learning’.  The Pandemic made the teaching community  give  up  the old and traditional mind-set and adopt technology to stay relevant in the system. It made clear to the teaching community that they were operating in a different  age. It is an   A -3 age. It stands for Anyone, Anywhere and Anytime. Now, instructions can be given any time, at any place and by anybody. The importance of big  classrooms for  the  transaction of the teaching- learning business was rendered meaningless, albeit temporarily, by the Corona virus . That space was squeezed by internet driven online teaching.  This gave a body blow,  though only partially,   to the old  notion that no business could be conducted without a school and a teacher. It introduced the concept of virtual classrooms with multiple teachers.   To seek instruction  from  a school or college teachers became a thing of the past. Now, in a virtual classroom, there are teachers galore. One can watch videos posted by the experts/teachers   on various social media channels. Now, YouTube is the classroom. Teaching in the classroom has become a Kodak moment.  A Kodak moment  stands for  a short  memorable moment.  The Kodak  entrepreneurs  never  realised  that  digital  camera  was going to  become a reality  in  the  times  to  come  and  they  did  not  mould  themselves accordingly. And, when the digital  age  unleashed  its  attack,  Kodak  became history.  The  same principle  applies  to  the teaching  profession.  The old blackboard method is  to be augmented with online  mode of  learning. It is an age of flipped classroom or blended teaching. Technology has changed the whole pedagogical paradigm  of instructing in the classroom. It has made clear to all the stakeholders of the academic world that it is mandatory to adopt to new modes of pedagogical methods lest they should be rendered irrelevant in the academic ecosystem and be designated as ‘Kodak moment Community’. It is a fact that technology is going to dominate academics  in  the  post  Covid  environment.  It is  also  a  fact  that  physical  mode  of learning  is  not  going  to  be  completely  replaced  by  technology.  Yet, technology  is  going  to dominate  the  whole  system  of  education.    Academic  instructions would  now  be delivered   by   both, physical and online modes. This age would be called phygital. Already, the whole academic world across the world has experienced this big change. The big question/challenge is how to implement the phygital model effectively. Kolb’s Learning theory can well explain this emerging concept of   phygital model. This model puts emphasis on experiential learning. As per this model, a person experiences a feeling and then its gets transformed into a thought. This is how transformative learning process takes place. Since online teaching is a new phenomenon and not much discussion has yet been done on this issue, it is not very easy to say anything as to how phygital model of education can be strengthened.

The pandemic changed the way  educators used to think and conduct theirbusiness of teaching. Before the outbreak of  the  pandemic, the word technology was used in a very general sense in the  field  of  education. It was used in common  parlance  to denote  a range of   digital devices, online and blended systems, tools and other facilitating objects (Brown and Sammut,2012). But, it   is now used commonly in the field of teaching. Many teachers have already tuned themselves to this new mode of  teaching. This new model (phygital  mode of teaching) chiefly consists of three  critical factors: Social element, Cognitive element and Teaching element (Garrison 2000). The Social presence  stands  for  the  ability of  the participants  to project  themselves as real people, the Cognitive presence means drawing meaning through sustained communication, and the Teaching model  is  composed of  the design  of  the educational  experience and the  creation of  sound knowledge  to  help  society.  This whole process is  described  as Community  of Inquiry (CoI) model. When a student interacts in an offline/online class with peers and teachers, a healthy exchange of ideas takes place which, in turn, adds to the confidence of students and improves their knowledge. The phygital  mode of  learning can  help  students present  themselves as  real learners  and  can  interact  with  their  educators  and    peers to  gain knowledge.  This will  improve their cognitive behaviour, which in turn  adds to their  academic strength. Blended teaching  model/flipped classrooms  are the new designs that can be put into practice to pass on instruction  from  an instructor  /educator  to their students. The new mode of education can be broadly divided  into  two  categories:  Online;  and  Flipped  classroom.  They are  also  called synchronous  and asynchronous modes of leaning. Both teachers and students are present at one location in the synchronous mode  of learning. Hence, it gives ample opportunity to students to ask questions and raise their doubts to get them resolved at the spot. Webinars, online classrooms, and video   conferences  are  the   examples  of   synchronous  classrooms.  On   the   other hand, asynchronous mode of teaching refers to a flipped classroom wherein students are taught about the topics to be taken up in a physical classroom through recorded audios or videos. Hence, students have access to the previously recorded lecture videos of their teachers in addition to the online study materials (Hsiao, 2012).  Kolb’s Learning Theory also puts  emphasis on what is called ‘conversational learning’ approach. The chief aim of conversational approach is to enable learners to convert meaning  and experience  into  knowledge.  The teaching community took the challenge head on  and  embraced technology with open arms to reach out to their students who were otherwise stuck in the dark ages. There are plenty of stories of teachers who tried to reach out  to maximum  number  of students  via technology.  The arc of their  teaching operation got a push  with  the  use  of  technology and it  expanded  far and wide. Here is  an inspiring tale of  a maths teacher  from  Bhatinda,  Punjab.  Mr Sanjiv  Kumar  who  was  teaching  mathematics  at Navoyda Vidayala  before  the  pandemic  stuck,  immediately learnt how  to handle  technology to connect to his students. With an 18 years’ experience under his belt, he made every possible effort to connect to his students. His efforts bore fruit. He also got connected to overseas students. This was how his passion to keep the  flag of education flying during lockdown helped a number of beneficiaries  (The  Tribune,  30  Sept  2020).  Women teachers also  played  a  crucial  role  in engaging  their  students  via  online  mode.  Though they  came  across  several  challenges,  they braved  all  odds  and delivered  their best.  The women teacher had to  face hostile students and demanding  parents during the online   delivery of instructions. A few bad students made online teaching a difficult experience for women teachers. Sleazy contents were posted on  WhatsApp groups  during  online  classes.  Women teachers faced harassment. Coupled with online harassment, women teachers had to look after their families, children and kitchens. They put in their best efforts to maintain a perfect balance between their online classes and the classes of their children. They also had to attend to household chores. Yet, they played the role successfully.

Remote learning also exposed  gender inequalities in the  social set  up  of our system. The girl students were at great disadvantage. They were not allowed by their parents to use smartphones. And their phones were ‘supervised’ by their family members. It was really very difficult for  teachers to conduct online classes. Yet, they  went beyond such problems. They exceeded the brief.  They convinced  the  parents  or  the  caretakers  of  the  girls  students  to  allow  their daughters to  attend online  classes.  Another issue that troubled the  teaching community was inaccessibility  of  the  pupils  to  smartphones  and  internet.  Poor parents  could  not  afford  a smartphone,  let alone  a separate  set for  each child. Poor internet connectivity in rural and hilly areas  made  it  almost  impossible for  teachers to connect with their students. Yet, the brave teachers braved all odds and they carried out the teaching learning activity via SMSs or at a time  when  internet  connectivity  would  improve  in  the  area where  the students were residing. There were certain instances where teachers pooled in resources to buy a smart phone to the  needy  and  deserving  students.  A few  teachers  also  got  the internet  pack  of  a  few  poor students  recharged to keep passing out instructions to them. This was how the teaching community rose to  the occasion. Teaching is  not merely a passing of  instructions. It is also about care- care for the physical, emotional and psychological needs of the students. Thus, a teacher is a  care  giver.  Caring, kindness  and  emotionality  are  integral  parts  of  teachers’  work  and personality.  Without possessing  these  qualities,  a  teacher  cannot  transact  their business effectively in the class. About caring, O’Connor says that while this choice led them to sometimes “get exhausted and think about certain kids all night”. or be perceived in a disempowering way, all   teachers engaged in teaching learning process consider care being an integral part of their professional identity ( O’Connor,2008, p. 121).

O’ Connor further  described caring as the emotions, actions, and reflection involved as teachers help their  students  in  a  variety  of  ways.  While caring  appears  to  O’Connor  to  be  an  action, Noddings describes care as a relation. Caring is not to be considered a set of rules or actions, it is “a response to individuals with whom one is in relation” (1984, p. 497). Thus, a teacher must develop a strong bond of camaraderie with her students to engage them in a constructive learning process.  A teacher  comes  to  know  from  a  smile,  a  nod  or  a frown  of their  students whether  the  student  is  showing  any  interest  in the  lecture  or  not.  During offline instructions,  a teacher  can  notice the behaviour  of their students and can  plan the lecture accordingly. It can also help them understand the state of mind of a student. But in the online mode of instruction, it is very difficult for the teachers to keep tabs on the behaviour of their  students.    This disturbs  the  whole  applecart  of the teaching-learning  process.  As teaching involves emotions and is primarily driven by the element of care, online teaching denies this big opportunity to both, the teachers and the students. This is one of the biggest drawback of online mode  of  learning.  The global  pandemic  caused  a  huge  intrusion  into  the  relationship between  teachers  and students. The difference  between  the out – of – classroom which includes policies, research, administration et al and in-classrooms that includes interaction with students was    completely blurred.  Teaching is  primarily  an  interaction,  and  Covid-19  diminished  this interaction, giving a body blow to the otherwise warm relationship between teachers and their students.  Nias (1996), a writer about the moral nature  of teaching, wrote  about  the intrusion that took place into the professional territory of a teacher as under:

Far more intense was teachers’ and head teachers’ reaction to what they saw as ‘intrusions’ into their physical or professional territories… Golby [Michael Golby, as in “Teachers Emotions, An Illustrated Discussion”  (1996)]  asked  two  experienced, committed women  teachers in English schools, one  primary,  one secondary, direct  questions about their emotional reactions to school life.  The major  source  of  their  affective  satisfaction  and  emotional  security  was what  Golby describes as “the intimacy of teaching children.” Problems arose when other people–colleagues, parents, OFSTED inspectors– breached,  or threatened, the  tight boundaries that they had drawn around  this central  area of  their work.  Then they felt anxious,  impatient, distressed, depressed and angry (para. 26).

The challenge posed by  Covid-19 brought into focus the identity of a teacher. Though it was a subject of intense discussion in the pre-Covid academic world, this question got the attention of the policy  makers  worldwide  during  the  pandemic.  Since the  big  responsibility  to  keep  the teaching  learning  process  alive  falls  on  the  shoulders  of the  teachers, renewed attempts  were made to define the role and the identity of a teacher. It is a common belief that the identity of a teacher is a social construct. Society and its discursive discourses shape the identity of a teacher. Foucault argues  that  selves  do  not  develop  within  a  vacuum; they are implicated by  exterior structures and regulatory forces. From Foucault’s perspective, identity formation is a by-product of  power/knowledge.  Thus, the  identity  of  a  teacher  depends  upon  discourses  that  society initiates  in  its  set  up.  During the pandemic,  the role of teachers  was  redefined. Their identity  was strongly linked to the emotional support that a teacher provided to the students. A teacher was given  the  title  of  a  mentor,  helper  and  nurturer of  students. Yet, the parts of a teacher’s identity were determined by the interests of  the stakeholders.

The role  of  a  teacher underwent a complete change during the pandemic. A teacher became an important cog in the academic wheel. Had a teacher not responded to the disruptions caused by the novel  Corona virus  and not  embraced technology to  reach out to their  pupils, millions  of students would have been deprived of the fine experience of learning. This, in turn, would have weakened   their academic   foundation.  Kudos to the  teaching  community  for  displaying unparalleled commitment to their profession. But, it begs the question: What role is government and society playing  to give teachers their dues?  This is a very  crucial issue. Society expects a teacher to be  a babysitter. Yet, it does not  want to give  it s due  to teachers. The condition  of teachers  in  the  system  is  miserable.  Their working  conditions  are  deplorable.  Most of  the teachers  in  schools,  colleges  and  universities  are  working  on  adhoc/temporary  basis.  Their salaries are  peanuts.  They are  also  subjected  to a lot  of unacademic  jobs. There are different categories  of  teachers working under  different categories  like SSA,  RMSA, Computer faculty, Shiksha Providers , Service Providers et al under different pay scales!  This is  sheer exploitation of teachers and it does not augur well for the society and country. The society should realise that  teachers like    physicians  fought  like   warriors during  the  pandemic  and  kept  the  virus  of ignorance  away.  Had the  teaching  community  not  taken  the    bull  by  the  horns,  the  whole academic world would have plunged into darkness.

It is,  however, ironical to note  that the  role  of the  teachers during the pandemic has not got the   attention  that  it  deserved.  The focus was kept  on  latest technological tools,  completing ignoring the roles of the teachers who  dexterously navigated through the various technological tools to reach out to their students.

The National Education policy (NEP) 2020 also does not comment much on the role of a teacher. NEP   puts   emphasis on  structural   changes  with  respect   to  institutional  restructuring  and consolidation, transforming regulatory system, effective governance and leadership, inclusion of skill  –  based  vocational education and internalisation of higher education. Alas, the crucial role of a  teacher  has  been  abysmally  ignored!  How  can  the  lofty  aims  of  NEP-2020  be  realised without  keeping  the  teaching  community  in  its  centre.  NEP envisages  an  increase  in the  Gross Enrolment Ratio( GER) to 50 percent by 2035. This lofty goal can never be realised without the active participation of the teaching community.

Conclusion:

The aim of this article is to introduce readers to the critical role that teachers played during the pandemic. The paper concludes after making a thorough analysis of the issues that are linked to the topic that there is a need to rejig the role of a teacher in the post-Covid environment. The paper concludes that technology can never replace a teacher from the system. Technology is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Secondly, a teacher can revolutionise the system if they are given what they deserve.

References:

1.   University News, Vol.59. No14. April5-11,2021

2.   Nimse BS : Attaining Degree Is Not The Destination Achieving

3.   Front.Educ., 10 June 2021. I https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2021.646557

4.   Front.Educ; 09 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.583775/full

5.    The Tribune, Sept 30, 2021

6.    Foucault, M (1979). Discipline and Punish , New Yark, NY: Vintage

7. O’  Connor,  K.  E.  (2008).  ‘You  Choose to  care’: Teachers, emotions  and professional ident

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