Educator warns colleagues of online stress

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AN educator is urging her colleagues to adapt to the new modality of online learning or suffer if they continue to deliver lessons as if they are in a physical face-to-face setting.

The literatures in English teacher, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer on condition of anonymity, shared that she has been an educator for almost 27 years and also spent some time teaching in the United Kingdom where online learning was integrated long before COVID-19.

Like some parents, the educator is also concerned that the only thing being stressed is academia and the volume of work being issued is more suitable for face-to-face interactions as opposed to an online setting.

“There’s a lot of stress that is associated with sitting before a computer, especially when the process is approached as if it is a face-to-face interaction. The number of assignments that are given, no breaks between assignments and the expectation that it be delivered at the end of the class or the window given for due date is very close. It is stressful and I witness children, including my own biological children, suffering emotionally,” the educator said. “There’s a sense that the only thing being stressed is really academia, so the other needs of the students are not being catered for.”

The educator further bemoaned the stance some of her colleagues have taken in their approach to online teaching and learning.

“I have seen a teacher in particular who just gives the students assignments and basically don’t teach. I have seen a situation where immediately after the online interaction, an assignment is due. I am also talking from the perspective of a parent. I am seeing where the resources are not quality assured and standardised. I don’t get the impression there is this collaborative approach as it relates to how the schools are basically getting together to ensure whatever reaches the students are to a particular standard. A medium like the online platform, which sometimes does not depend on literacy for its impact, illuminates the frailties as well as the strengths of teachers. I don’t get the impression that that is being addressed,” the educator told the Sunday Observer.

She explained, “The resource being broadcast to the students, whether it is a PowerPoint, whatever it is, should be quality assured, standardised and done from a collaborative perspective. When you can duplicate a resource, you cannot duplicate a teacher’s creativity or intellectual capacity and natural ability. If you have a common resource that’s duplicated, that’s quality assured and standardised that goes out to the students I think it would place every body in a position where the playing field is a little bit levelled. When you have a good teacher, then the only group that benefits from that good teacher is actually the students he or she interacts with. The online learning is a fabulous way of duplicating master teachers. People have said that before, but they are talking about it as it relates to radio and television. But administrators need to take this approach in terms of collaborative planning within departments. That would make a big difference and there are ways in which educators in the online learning environment can facilitate more interaction.”

Besides, the educator said the current tone of online interaction is didactic when it should be dialogic or interactive and it does nothing but invariably create a barrier between the teacher and student.

But she said that while there are creative ways to make online learning more interactive, the greatest hindrance is the ego of educators.

“There is a lot of ego that is central to the process and we are not willing to listen to any advice or to try anything different. I’m talking about educators and I am including myself. It is what I’ve done and what I do. I taught in the UK and realised that online learning is a viable, active and powerful part of the teaching and learning environment. They believe you learn by travelling, so learning was not confined to the classroom. Parents would take their children travelling in term time because it was cheaper to do so. While these children were travelling in eastern Europe or somewhere on the continent they would have access to their lessons. That was an established thing. We are behaving as though it is a nine-day wonder or if this is something impossible. But where our educators put their ego aside, where our educators are willing to learn and to listen, we could make online teaching and learning far more impactful and far more beneficial to our students,” she said.

Moreover, the educator said so strong are egos that solutions brought to the table are often scoffed at.

“When I came back from the UK, I had an online department for my subject area and I have approached no less than four or five principals in my parish with the idea of accessing this resource for the department and nobody has taken me serious. I have even conversed with someone in the ministry, who at first seemed excited and interested in what I had to offer, only to be told there was no interest.

“The head of the English department at a particular school was recording her lessons and putting it on social media. She was using a white board and I communicated with her and said you can convert that white board into a smart board just by using PowerPoint and not only would that be interactive, but it would also be serving the purpose of immersing your students in the lesson. She was teaching a language lesson and she took offence to it. She wasn’t happy. I am wondering the extent to which we are serious, the extent to which we are paying lip service or the extent to which we are ready to sell the slave which can read or think. It is sad, it’s painful and it’s also interesting,” she continued.

The educator also said that Jamaica continues to operate in a culture where a bully approach is adopted, rather than consider the perspective of the student.

“We believe that learning has to be punishment and if children don’t suffer, then we wouldn’t have taught them anything. I am seeing that being punitive is mistaken for efficacy. Any system that depends on seniority as a system of reward will become stagnant. See children as your clientle not your subordinates. Stop blaming parents and children for your own shortcomings,” the educator said.

Meanwhile, educator Dr Amos Campbell shared similar sentiments to the teacher and revealed that from as early as 2004, he has been advocating for mix-modality learning in schools, but was met with resistance.

“I developed a CD so that students could still be in the class when they go home. The then principal did not like the idea. Again in 2008, when I finished my Master’s in Education, I was willing to help the school set up online learning, the principal again refused. Now in the midst of a pandemic, some parents do not wish to have online schooling,” he said.

Dr Campbell added: “Challenges help us to find new ways but I don’t get the impression that teachers want to find new ways. Every sector, even the church, now has to learn how to go online. The more the COVID cases rise, the more we are going to find we experience lockdown and more gatherings will be limited.”

Dr Campbell further urged other educators to consider that this is the way to go since there is an invisible monster called coronavirus, and as such, make the most of it.

“There’s a challenge with COVID and there’s a challenge with online learning. Which of the evils are we going to choose?…Online schooling can produce more since the Google Suite Platform gives us the opportunity to conduct both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Mask-wearing is going to be a challenge because not everyone wants to wear them in public spaces. We have to protect our teachers because students come from all over the country to attend schools and some are visitors to other countries… There is no easy solution; the best way out is to become innovative and skilled in our presentation of online lessons. Learning can still take place. I do not see the world turning back. Even when COVID-19 disappears, there is no telling that a new virus will not be unleashing itself upon the world,” he said.

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