The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

‘People must understand that this situation has a toll on us too’ – teacher

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 26 March 2020, 09:18 Last update: about 12 days ago

Lessons and lectures are still in full swing as teachers have had to adapt their work to the current realities and teach online, after the COVID-19 pandemic saw the government shut down schools to minimise the spread.

Teachers now have had to adapt to working on online platforms, some of which belong to the Church or private schools while others are being manned by the Education Ministry alongside the Working Group which was set up.

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A number of primary and secondary school teachers spoke with The Malta Independent under the condition of anonymity, and shared their thoughts about teaching from home.

The teachers were asked about the sudden change the school closures brought about, and how they are adjusting to online teaching.

Most of the teachers expressed that they are still adjusting to this change in setting, which takes away from the typical classroom dynamic between teachers and their students.

“When it comes to primary and secondary schools, the switch to online teaching changed the learning experience to lecturing rather than teaching, which ruined the whole active learning ideology,” one respondent said.

A number of teachers pointed out that there have been a number of comments and posts complaining about teachers having started their holidays earlier.

“What they don’t know is that we’re facing a much harsher reality now than we usually do,” one of teachers said.

Another teacher shared this sentiment, saying that people need to understand that this situation had a mental and emotional toll on them too – “abruptly needing to switch from a real to a virtual classroom is quite overwhelming, considering that our lesson plans weren’t meant for that.”

Other teachers said that they are doing their best to help each out by pooling in resources. Teachers are always looking into new ways of interacting with their students; such as through iLearn or Klikks coupled with Skype, Messenger or other communication portals to send them activities and explanations while children send comments and scan their work to be checked, a number of the teachers explained.

The challenge of teaching from home

Primary school teachers pointed out that the toughest challenge they faced is the lack of human contact between them and their students.

“At this age the human aspect is very important. Hugs, smiles, games, hands on activities, a little bit of chaos and lots of fun are the norm of the day in our classroom. All that is gone,” one primary school teacher said.

Nonetheless, this lack of human interaction was a common factor in all responses, even for secondary school teachers, as they also enjoyed spending time with their students as it allowed them to gauge whether or not they are being understood. In class they could easily do this by picking up on facial expressions or asking for difficulties, but now they can’t.

“We also need to take into consideration that not every student comes from the same kind of household; some students might not have parents who can or are willing to help them with their work. They might not even have a laptop or computer, internet or a printer, and some resources might not be that easily accessible for everyone,” one respondent said. This also counts for students with learning difficulties who need extra attention in the classroom.

Is there a positive side?

On a more positive note, some teachers highlighted that this experience is taking them out of their comfort zone and stretching their abilities by using their surroundings and experiences as a source of learning.

It is also bringing educators and parents closer together, which helps the latter understand their reality.

“I’m not saying that all parents are completely oblivious to what’s going on in their children’s educational life, however, while they’re with their children 24/7, they might understand how truly important it is to be invested in their kids life and future,” one teacher said.

Additionally, online teaching and learning gives students more freedom as they can opt to work in any order they like rather than the usual structured classes they have in school, some of the teachers highlighted. Thus, children can take more responsibility for their own learning. In this scenario, educators are taking the role of facilitators of learning that provide direction and possible avenues for learning.

One teacher pointed out that this distance has given them more time to slow down and balance their work and personal life more effectively which was not as manageable when being away from home.

The teachers were asked whether they are receiving enough support from the government and education authorities in terms of teaching methods and materials.

“There has been support from the very start. IT services, Education Officers, SMTs among many others are all on board and everyone is doing their utmost,” one teacher said.

Overall, all respondents showed appreciation for the support that they are being given as they can see the effort that is being put in by the authorities to facilitate the process.

“They appreciate that we’re taking it so seriously (not that there was ever a doubt) and that we’re all pulling the same rope; SLTs, teachers, LSEs, students and parents alike,” another teacher said.

Some respondents also praised the Malta Union for Teachers for being a great supporter and continuously defending their rights.

However, it was pointed out that there is reason to think that the primary school sector is being given more importance when it comes to resources.

Changes and recommendations

Some respondents were satisfied with where things stand at the moment and are looking forward for further updates. However, there were others who felt that students should be playing a larger part in online learning, so that those who are vulnerable are not left behind, while others want to make sure that the Education Ministry uses this situation as a learning experience.

“No one expected it or anticipated it, but it came. I think it would be a good idea for the educational sector to be more equipped and prepared where online teaching is involved,” one teacher said.

Likewise another respondent believes that “after all this is over, an assessment should be carried out to find the way forward which helps the children recuperate what is being lost due to this situation.”

“This is a stressful situation even for the children. Learning in a stressful situation is very difficult. Let’s not stupidly change this situation into a political agenda. Our kids’ futures are at stake,” a teacher concluded.

 

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