One day soon we all will sit closer!
I taught English for the Plus One classes last academic year. Though familiar with textbooks, teaching online was like being pushed into the deep end of a pool. You either swam or sank. My colleagues and I swam. Not that we were much spoiled for choice.
A small mercy was that a few were familiar faces, as they had studied in the school till Class 10. Gradually, I got to know the rest of the students, individually. This happened based on their tendency to answer in the chat box of Google Meet.
Teaching online to an unseen audience is an unnerving experience. I needed constant reassurance that pupils could hear what was being taught, also that they cared - two entirely different things. During classes, I grew weary of my own voice, often keeping on talking if only to fill what otherwise would have been a deafening silence. I often wondered aloud in class if mine was the solitary, disconsolate voice in the cyberspace of Plus One Online.
On the brighter side, those who were adept at typing would send repartees to my droning. They used emoticons, emojis and SMS lingo in the chat box. This made me aware that the English of my cyber-savvy students is an alien language to me.
In technical matters, students were plagued with inconsistent secure data connection. With the mike turned on, they could not view the teacher’s presentation. If the camera were on, the teacher could not hear them. If both were to be switched on, they would lose the connection and find themselves out of the class. Game over.
Another tricky area was assessment of work. It was painful to wade through a mass of PDF files of answer papers and mark them. The strain on the eyes was enormous. In turn, this made me sympathise with students, constrained to sit for hours, their gazes fixed on the screen. To compound their misery, they were cut off from friends for most part of a week. The sheer tedium of it would have got to me too!
My students were keen to contribute information, by Googling in real-time, on the topic at hand. Moreover, they peppered me with random topics, dictated by the web. What did I think of Atletico Madrid’s win over Real Madrid? It was tempting to banter, yet we managed to stay on course and finish the prescribed portions well in time.
In terms of technology, students won hands down. They could figure out all the buttons and bobs on the Google Meet interface and tell me what I was doing wrong. Did I want add-on apps? Change the layout? Or change the background? Need an all-new attendance monitor? You bet that all these were my wants. I only had to ask them. They were the undoubted masters of the medium.
Inevitably, there arises a valid question. Would I desire to do it all over again? Sadly, at the time of writing, the choice is not ours. Here is a prayer, though: “Oh God, give us some day, our daily dose of the class bell, chalk and duster. And more of “Silence, please… Stand up, you, there, in the last row... Can you all not crowd at the canteen counter?... You want another PT period?... Form a line, please... Oh, so this is your handwriting, is it?... Those who go for dance practice must complete the notes... We can SEEEEEEE if you are copying... Why don’t you sit closer?”
Maybe, one day soon we all will sit closer!
(The London-trained teacher is English faculty at Silver Hills Public School, Kozhikode)