Lockdown Life of A Teacher: How WhatsApp groups replaced classrooms

As teachers, we have unlearned and learned a lot more since the lockdown forced us and our classes the digital way.

 |  6-minute read |   29-07-2020
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I have never been tech-savvy, I admit. Not that it was ever an issue — until the lockdown was announced and I realised I had to take online classes.

We teachers were expected to form WhatsApp groups of classes. Well, that was no big deal. Till we realised that some students had not provided the correct mobile numbers and could not be included. Thus it started.

Next came the 'Google forms'. I had no idea what they were but had to learn since we had to use them for making online quizzes and tests. We had instructions to make tutorial videos from Day One. The only catch was that there were no instructions on ‘how to’ make these videos.

Then came the Zoom meetings that were waiting for me. The time table for online classes then cropped up. Everything was ‘online’, you see. We had to assign online homework and worksheets to the students and click the online ‘daily diary’ that was to be sent on our school WhatsApp group every day.

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Students submitted their homework and had to be checked. But how? Online, of course! The checked homework had to be submitted every day in the staff group. But how were we to ‘tick mark’ the homework?!

The learning was immense and it had to be done ASAP to survive in the digital world. Thankfully, I had my son, who came to my rescue. And thanks to the lockdown, he was stuck at home.

And thus began my offline learning to get online savvy. He taught me video editing, uploading and all sorts of complicated jargon and technology. First things first, he installed the Zoom app on my phone. The conversations would be something like:

Me: Beta, my voice is inaudible in the ongoing meeting.

Son: Mummy, click on the microphone icon!

Me: Beta, I don’t want my face to show during the meeting.

Son: Mummy, switch the video off by clicking on the video icon!

Of course, my novice technological skills would irritate him at times. But we persevered. And soon, other teachers also sought “appointments” with my son to teach them video-making skills.

Soon the students also lost the enthusiasm of learning the online way and were getting irritated with the math period, followed by the science period on their mobiles. As teachers, we had to call the students (or their parents if the kids did not have mobiles). Some would not respond and others would switch their phones off altogether.

I work in a government school and many of my students are from the BPL (below poverty line) category. I am used to getting messages like, “Ma'am, my father has not got his salary due to the lockdown and there is no balance in our phone. Hence, I will not be able to attend classes.” Are there any solutions to these problems? Charity, yes. But for how many and for how long?

Earlier, I would not answer calls from unknown numbers. However, now I do. “Hello? Madan Lal? Hello?” and I patiently answer, “Sorry! Wrong number.”

We also had to record the phone calls made to the parents as proof. Since my phone did not have the call-recording facility, necessary arrangements had to be made.

One look at my phone screen now, and you will see how far I have come on the digital journey. The home screen is full of all sorts of apps from Diksha to ChakIt. All shining as medals of my achievement.

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And then there are certificate courses. Mandatory, says the principal. We need to post the certificate in the WhatsApp group. Mandatory. A hundred per cent participation by my class in online quizzes. Mandatory, of course. At least two videos of the classes to be uploaded every week. You guessed it! Mandatory! Pictures of students studying at home. Mandatory — need you ask?  

Jokes apart, these are strictly monitored along with the online teaching schedules and modules.

As a teacher, I have to submit a list of the students I have made calls to. Authorities call up the students at random to cross-check the status of the classes and studies. For instance, one day the teacher gets a call from the principal: “The girl from your class did not answer my calls and you claim that you spoke with her today!”

And then there is the social non-distancing. At 9.15 in the morning when I am still in bed with dishevelled hair and in my nightclothes, holding the phone to my face reading messages, there is a video call! I try to press the ‘end call’ button but the damage is done. I have accidentally answered the call and the student (or worse, her father!) has seen me. And promptly there is a message from the student’s number — “Sorry ma’am! Dialled by mistake!”

The ‘daily diary’ snapshots, that are sent on the staff group, display your bedsheet designs too. Else, a fluttering page by a novice photographer.

There are the class leavers too! At odd hours, the phone chimes with a notification that reads “Student Sandhya has left the WhatsApp group”. Obviously, as a teacher, I have to drag her back to class. We have ‘student of the week’ too for rewarding the best performance. Bleary-eyed, you ask the 'student of the week' to send her photo for the class DP. And she sends you the picture of an actress! Your eyes suddenly open wide and you see the picture again. Thank God! It is her photo only.

The online tamasha obeys no rules of time. From early morning to late at night — ask any teacher if you don’t believe me. There are the 5 am messages, the “goodnight” messages, “thank you ma'am” smileys, “sorry” GIFs, and even “Happy Teej” messages on the WhatsApp groups from the loving children. There is no stopping them. “Ma’am, check my homework”, followed by a “Ma’am, please check my homework”, followed by a dozen more “check my homework” messages until you leave that halwa preparation midway and just sign the homework.

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There are times when the principal sends an urgent message on the group for the staff members. Not everyone has their phones stuck under their noses at all times and some teachers read the message late. The next message from the principal: Were my staff members asleep?

But looking back at the months gone by, I have over 50 YouTube videos, umpteen number of Google forms and state-level video broadcasts to my credit. And of course, the salary credited to my account at the end of every month from the Sarkar — no cuts. Thank you, Education Department.

The phone memories are full and our hearts are full as the online jamboree goes full-on!

Also Read | Lockdown Parenting: How to deal with your child's online summer classes

Writer

Payal Arya Payal Arya

The writer is an educator with dreams of becoming a singer, writer, artist, and a good mother, one day.

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