Schools reopen: Join Chennai’s Sishya teacher as she reunites with her students after 18 months of Zoom classes

September 16, 2021. I am back in school after 18 months! And I am cautiously optimistic, despite being fully aware that we can never make up for the lost days.

I walked in early and had to restrain myself from giving dear friends a warm hug. COVID declaration forms were signed, hands were sanitised and we were in class, after oh-so-long.

I started out with a quiz in each of the classes, trying to guess the identities of my wards. After more than a year of online class, I had never really ‘met’ many of my students. I did stumble now and then, but it wasn’t a bad score overall.

Meeting teenagers after 18 months has its share of laughs. I did swallow a comment and a giggle when I saw a young man whose uniform trousers was on a slow trot along the shank inching towards his knee. Several voices are breaking, grating, struggling to find identity especially in not-yet-a man’s land. A student who had never seen me on campus quipped “Ma’am, I thought you would be much… Bigger in person”. “How I wish!” I muttered.

I reached out to the little ones after the first day on campus, and a XIIth grader said, “I felt nothing had really changed about school. Being back really made a difference… I was able to focus more, and being around my friends was awesome!” Another agreed. “I found that I was not getting distracted at all.”

Besides the ‘veteran’ students, I was curious to know how the new XIth grade entrants felt on campus. Perhaps grateful to be in the midst of minds and antics of people their age? Relieved to finally get a break from their families? “Ma’am, this is the most normal I have felt in a long while,” said one student. Another chimed in, “As a new kid, online classes are not easy. I’m glad to be on campus because the feeling of making new friends face-to-face, and being able to shout out answers in class without having to unmute myself is a comfort.”

Tamil Nadu, Chennai, 16/09/2021 : ( FOR METRO PLUS ) Students on the first day returning back to school after the pandemic at Sishya school, Adayar, in Chennai. Photo: Ravindran R/The Hindu

Tamil Nadu, Chennai, 16/09/2021 : ( FOR METRO PLUS ) Students on the first day returning back to school after the pandemic at Sishya school, Adayar, in Chennai. Photo: Ravindran R/The Hindu   | Photo Credit: Ravindran_R

When students taught teachers

The school provided two rounds of training to get teachers ready for hybrid classes on campus. Our mode of teaching-learning will be a mix of online and offline classes for the foreseeable future. Students have been divided into batches and will all get a chance to experience both forms of learning.

All through the pandemic, the young tech-savvy generation has been making life easier for us teachers. I didn’t ever have to ask Google or Alexa when stuck with technology; my students would jump in to guide me through the troubleshooting steps. The teacher-student distance did blur and a bonhomie blossomed.

I must confess the joy of learning from one’s own students is not something words can convey.

I have navigated three decades of holding forth in classrooms in Mumbai and Chennai to audiences aged 15-21. But, moving online posed unexpected new challenges. My confidence to gauge a student’s state of mind was eaten away, slowly, steadily with an inadequacy to gauge eye movement, body language, comprehension across rectangular screens.

The fine lines between truth, white lies and a blatant lie dissipated when students wrote in on yet another device that despite their prayers, audio fairies had failed them. ‘My Internet has failed; there is a power-cut at home; I am out of data’ became as insipid as ‘I forgot to bring my homework’ lines.

Then came another googly… assessment and evaluation. I had to push myself to correct papers digitally. Reams of digital answers left me with a pain ‘in the neck’, the lumbar spine, and dry eyes.

The diffidence and fear that nurtured tech-phobia had to be conquered. Triumph, we did with a little help from each other and family. But as deaths mounted, fear enveloped each of us. It struck close to home when colleagues lost partners and students struggled to come to terms with personal losses.

Fears and frustrations of the graduating batch of 2021 had to be constantly allayed; but I am grateful to them for having trusted me and let me into their lives. Today, most of them have reached their universities and embarked on fresh journeys.

I have always been a great friend of the blackboard and chalk. Now I wonder whether I will ever go back to seeing my fingers covered with chalk dust! This I do know… however adept I get on a smartboard, I will truly miss you, my chalkboard.

The smartboard however is a very exciting space. As an English teacher I plan to take the class on a virtual tour of The Globe Theatre, trek the Yukon Valley and watch and listen to poets reading out their own works.

So here we are, back in near-antiseptic classrooms, observing all standard protocol, cautiously working our way out of the COVID conundrum.

At no time has people skills been more pertinent and the ability to see, observe, offer a shoulder and build trust seems to be the need of the hour.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 1:52:28 PM |

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