As they compare notes on the new school year, a teacher in India nearing retirement talks with a younger teacher in Britain about the obstacles and surprising revelations of teaching in the pandemic.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
The coronavirus knows no borders. And that means people living half a world apart face some of the same upended routines, daily challenges and new normals, including teachers. Ira Onkar is an English teacher in Mumbai, India.
IRA ONKAR: So I’ve been teaching 32 years now. In December I’ll be retiring.
PFEIFFER: She’s been teaching online since India’s lockdown started in the spring.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Meanwhile, in England, another teacher is moving from computer screens back into a middle school classroom.
AMY TAYLOR: My name’s Amy Taylor. I’m a science teacher in South London. I have been teaching for eight years.
CORNISH: So NPR’s International Desk got these two on the line to share notes on how to cope, their struggles and their revelations, starting with the challenges of online learning.
ONKAR: Of course, for some, we are really worried because some of the students are really not joining the online classes. They are in their native places. Since Mumbai, you know, is a business center, so mostly parents, fathers, have jobs here, so children move in here. And so some of them have poor network connections or maybe just no Internet.
TAYLOR: Ours sounds quite similar. We have a lot of kids who might have Internet problems or Internet issues. And for some teachers, it was the lack of knowing how to use the computer programs.
TAYLOR: And so not only did we have to teach the kids how to use it, a lot of the teachers had to teach themselves.
ONKAR: Yeah. We all face the same problem. Teaching online was not really a cup of tea. But still, we’re still learning. Actually, our students know much more than we do.
ONKAR: Sometimes if I have a problem, they help us. Ma’am, do this. Do that.
TAYLOR: Has teaching online changed the way that you see your job?
ONKAR: Not really. Only thing is that I somehow find that I’m able to, you know, connect with the students better. We have bigger classrooms than I think any other place in the world. We have about 52 in each class. So it’s difficult in a physical classroom to, you know, really be one-to-one. And since they don’t have many distractions as in a classroom, I feel that they’re learning better.
TAYLOR: That’s so interesting because we have much smaller classrooms. It’s about 28 to 30 in a classroom. And I personally believe that at home they have more distractions – you know, their mobile phones or their television or their brothers and sisters.
ONKAR: Of course. There are other things. there are other things which are actually a hindrance for even the teachers because, you see, Mumbai is a place where we have very small homes. There is a space crunch here. So normally people have a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom house. And now with parents working from home, you know, if by chance somebody’s mic is on, it’s the father screaming at one end of the room and the mother screaming on the other end. So, you know, thank God there is an option of mute all (laughter).
TAYLOR: Yeah. When we first started teaching online, it was all about academics and the curriculum and how do we get them to learn. And then eventually, what we noticed is that some of the children were being really withdrawn.
TAYLOR: And their mental health was suffering. And in a way, this pandemic has shown me that my relationship with my students in my class isn’t just a science teacher, but actually it’s a role model. It’s another adult that they can talk to. And we started doing phone calls home. And I remember one of my students being like, why is Miss Taylor on the phone? Like, what’s going on? And I was just like, I’m calling for a chat. How are you? And that was really nice.
TAYLOR: Will you continue to teach online now? What’s happening now with school?
ONKAR: Yes, most probably until December.
TAYLOR: We are going back to school full-time in September.
ONKAR: How do you feel about it?
TAYLOR: I personally feel quite excited to go back. I was actually becoming a bit like the students, you know, apathetic towards the work. I think going back to school is going to be something that kind of kickstarts my love of teaching again, and I’m really, really excited.
ONKAR: And the parents are willing to send their children?
TAYLOR: My honest opinion is, I don’t know. I think that a lot of parents want to send their children because their children are not doing any work at home. But I don’t think we’ll have 100%. I think maybe 70%, 80%.
ONKAR: Yeah. Yeah.
TAYLOR: One of my other concerns, I think, about going back to school is about teacher workload. And in India, especially with classes of 50 children, do you ever experience that kind of teacher burnout?
ONKAR: Yes, definitely. I think that is why I find this a little more relaxing because at least I have some time to myself.
TAYLOR: Especially when we were in lockdown, it was quite negative. You know, lots of people were struggling, and lots of people weren’t being happy. And I was actually finding my job quite nice, quite – the fact that I could get up later and I could mark in my own time. And I don’t think easy is the right word, but it was just less stressful.
ONKAR: Yeah. And it kept us, you know, from getting into depression, I think. When you are with young students, you just pep up so much, and it makes you happy to see their smiling faces.
PFEIFFER: Amy Taylor from London and Ira Onkar in Mumbai. They were brought to us by NPR’s Greg Dixon, Lauren Frayer and Frank Langfitt.
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