Meet Tamil Nadu teachers going the extra mile to help students during lockdown

V Mahalakshmi   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

To attend school today, it has become a prerequisite to have access to a laptop or smartphone with a good Internet connection. But not every student may be privileged enough. This is where their teachers come in. From taking classrooms directly to students’ homes, to sending them good books to read, the pandemic has encouraged teachers to come up with new ways to connect: one that is driven more by love and passion than merely a sense of duty.

Book worms

S Uma Maheswari never forgets to stock her handbag with books when she leaves home for work. A Math teacher for Classes VI to X at MBN Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Chromepet, Chennai, she set up a library in her classroom in 2018. “Access to the big school library is less for a lot of students,” she says. The smaller one in her classroom, is more personal. “There will always be some book or the other on my table,” says the 42-year-old. During lockdown, she wanted to continue to encourage her girls to read.

S Uma Maheswari

S Uma Maheswari   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

She sent copies of Thumbi, the bilingual children’s magazine to 15 students. “They were thrilled,” she recalls. “It was the first time many of them received post in their name.” Students have been sending handwritten reviews of the stories on their class WhatsApp group. Uma shares books to read on the group — she photographs individual pages. “I’ve seen that mastery over language gives students the confidence to take on any subject.”

The viral teacher

V Mahalakshmi’s story went viral recently. When the lockdown prevented her students from going to school, the Tamil teacher at Government Higher Secondary School, Panruti, took the classroom to her students. “There are 43 students in my class, among whom only 10 have smartphones,” she points out. And so, armed with books, she sets out every evening to streets in her neighbourhood to meet students.

“We gather under a tree or at someone’s verandah to ensure physical distancing and talk,” she says. These are mostly Class X students. “Once they received their textbooks, I started explaining concepts from the books,” she adds. But these meetings under the tree with her students are not necessarily subject-oriented. “We play word games, sing, talk about the Tirukkural, I also motivate them to remain positive since they are quite confused about not being able to go outside and play with their friends,” says the 49-year-old.

Classes at home

English teacher R Malathi, who works at the Government Higher Secondary School in Kanjikoil in Erode, was saddened that only 27 of her 43 Class X students had access to a smartphone to attend classes over Zoom. Their counterparts in other schools, meanwhile, were busy with their online classes; portions were being completed at a steady speed. Malathi spent sleepless nights wondering how to help her students catch up.

R Malathi

R Malathi   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

She then thought: why not invite them home for lessons? “I divided my class into batches of eight students each,” she explains. “Initially, parents were worried about sending their children; but I explained to them that I would enforce physical distancing.” And so every morning at 9 am, her students arrive at her home, dressed in their school uniform. Classes go on till 1 pm. Malathi feels that their performance is much better than in school. “They like the new environment; they have also realised that they should make use of this opportunity,” she adds. Then, there is the bonus of refreshments: Malathi serves biscuits, cakes, and savouries. “I want to do my best for my students,” she says. “This comfortable life I lead is thanks to them. I cannot call myself a teacher if not for my students.”

Ironing out tech issues

When classes went online, a lot of N Suresh’s students had no clue how to go about the new normal. The 39-year-old teaches Math at Panchayat Union Middle School, Kurumandur, Gobichettipalayam. He decided to simplify the process for his students. He put together a manual for Zoom with screenshots and step-by-step explainers.

N Suresh

N Suresh   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Every day, his WhatsApp status features a student’s work; for instance, it may be an essay in beautiful handwriting. “I also put up such work on Facebook, many of my friends have promised to send these children books,” he says. A kilometre from where he lives is Indra Nagar, where 35 of his students live.

In the evenings, Suresh visits them and gathers them under a neem tree. “I talk to them about the pandemic and ask them not to worry. Many of them have only basic phones, that their parents take for work,” he says. “I ask them to wait for the phones till their parents come back, and to refrain from playing games with them.” Parents approach him asking how their children will cope. “Sometimes, all it takes is a few words of strength,” says the 39-year-old. And a teacher who listens.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 9:52:39 AM |

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