‘Mute yourself’ is the new ‘keep quiet’ – how the lives of teachers has changed because of online learning

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‘Mute yourself’ is the new ‘keep quiet’ – how the lives of teachers has changed because of online learning
Senior school teacher Surekha Patra taking an online classBI India
  • Ahead of Teacher’s day, we look at how the teacher-student relationship has changed in the ‘new normal
  • The classic ‘keep quiet’ has turned into ‘mute yourself’, while the teacher struggles to finish an online class with, hopefully, no disturbances.
  • Online learning means not only the student at home, but also parents who were once seen only during PTA meetings have now become a part of the process
Ankita, an IT professional, was woken up by the words, “Are you on mute?” The oft-repeated phrase on online calls rang in her ear, she sprang up on her bed, and found her laptop and phone lying there, harmless. Before she could rule it out as a nightmare, she heard her mother-in-law Surekha Patra ask “'Children, am I audible?”

While Ankita counted her blessings and tried to get back to sleep, Surekha was in the other room, handling a crisis of her own ⁠— 40 students logged in for online school.

The pandemic has changed the school experience for teachers, students, and parents. This is being called the ‘new normal’ and not everything about it is right. The classic ‘keep quiet’ has turned into ‘mute yourself’, while the teacher struggles to finish an online class with, hopefully, minimal disturbances. That’s the least of all the adjustments that everyone has had to make.

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To start with, the acoustics of an online classroom are different

Senior school teacher Surekha Patra shared that most of the time she’s stuck doing a balancing act between students who are on mute and those who aren’t. Cars honking outside schools have now been replaced by clacking utensils, parents bickering in the background, and sabziwaalas (vegetable vendors) hawking outside the window.

The teachers had to learn new things first

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For hundreds of teachers across the country, the lockdown didn’t just mean they were stuck inside their homes, it also meant they had to suddenly learn all about ‘Zoom classes’ and online learning. Teachers, who have been used to the blackboard and chalk all their lives, now had to create excel sheets and learn to ‘share screen’.

From makeshift tables to adjusting the phone over a stack of books, so that the students can see the blackboard at home, teachers aren’t just teaching but also relearning the ‘how tos’.

In fact, many started borrowing the selfie sticks and tripods of their kids and set them up in front of a blackboard at home in a typical Indian jugaad.

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The teacher’s dilemma – sleepy, hungry children on screen

For Leena Mishra, a primary school teacher, the problems weren’t just about learning new skills. It was also to hold the naughty children’s attention. “Unlike the scenario in a physical classroom, students during virtual classes keep moving in and out as if playing a game,” she told Business Insider.

“After struggling for a while, I was finally able to 'share my screen' with my students to show them the revision questions. But as soon as I did, the talented students left no chance of exhibiting their skills in painting on the screen. Starting from doremon to Mickey mouse, every cartoon was drawn in different colours on my screen,” she said.

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Meanwhile, as students can’t raise hands in class, now the ping of Zoom’s ‘raise hands’ feature is how Patra knows that students have a doubt. To make sure students are paying attention, she now takes up names randomly to answer questions.

But then, every question asked by the teacher is now followed by a long queue of “yes ma’ams”. Enough for any teacher to wish she hadn’t asked the question in the first place.

However, for Mishra, this experience has brought with it a big bag of jokes and many embarrassing moments. She has heard one of her students scream, “Mummy, give pasta!!”, while in another case, a grandfather wrapped in just a traditional lungi sat next to his grandson peeping into the screen with amazement.

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The horror – peeking parents

A curious student is what a teacher wishes for but what they get in online education is nosy parents. Online learning meant the child was home and the parent whose visit was best reserved for a parent teachers meeting, is now right next to the child peering into the screen.

When her eight-year old son is studying online, Mansi, a working professional, can hear another parent nudging the child, “Why don’t you give the answer to that question?”

While Mansi is happy that her son’s school has streamlined homework, she has heard fellow parents complain about endless activities that the schools organise to keep the students engaged.

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These are stories from places with reasonably good access to fast internet and from people who have smartphones. For the rest, the experience could be far more traumatic, if at all, they have any access to online education. The pandemic has not just brought technology into schools. It has also changed what it means to be a teacher and a student.

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