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With almost inhuman expectations from teachers, especially the female teachers, it is now like bonded slavery in which almost all the norms of labour laws are flouted.
“Can’t you hear my silent scream? They are so loud they echo in my dream”
One of my students recited this poem written by Aaron during their team project presentation on Depression and Social Anxiety. I was lost in its powerful narration when a ping on my official mailbox pulled me away.
All teachers to upload the PPTs of this week’s topic on the google drive by 2PM sharp, the email read.
“How can I explain so people understand this? It’s like walking around in a suffocating black mist,” the student continued.
Online Microsoft training at 5PM, everyone to be right on time, the mail further read.
I can’t explain how this feels; it’s so extreme, the student continued.
I am a high school teacher in a reputed school in India.
From past few days there was so much uproar in Media about the apathy of the students towards the efforts of teachers in the current scenario. But this is just half of the picture. There is one more perpetrator no one is pointing out.
In this tug of war between the parents and the Management, it is the teachers who are getting pulled from both ends.
Let me take you through one of my online-teaching days.
Today is Wednesday. I will have three classes of 40 minutes each with 15 minutes break in between. Five minutes from each break I have kept aside for chopping, frying and cooking the meal. Remaining time I will juggle with cleaning, checking over my children who are also taking their online classes in other rooms, having a quick breakfast and most importantly, reply to the work-related deadlines and notification emails and whatsapp messages.
Of course, I will not be able to finish all the tasks, so the backlog I will have to carry forward. By the time I am done by the classes, it is already 1.30 PM and then I get a notification from the Coordinator to keep a support class for a student, followed by an important staff meeting. While having lunch with family, I attend the meeting where the Head informs us about the plans of further refinement in our ‘service’ to our parents by including more online tools, which means more trainings, more documents, and more screen hours.
And it doesn’t stop at that. By 11 pm, I am finally done with preparing lesson plans for next day through e-books, checking the worksheets and also helping my kids with their online assignments.
For some ridiculous reason, the management thinks that those 40×3 minutes of teaching periods are the only contribution we have made for the organisation. So, multiple documents are created, new ‘ideas’ generated to ensure that teachers spend regular office hours, and even more than that, for the organisation. In the absence of formal work hour, now every hour is a work hour, be it Sunday or a holiday.
Imagine the screen time of the teachers. I am sure if there is some research done post-pandemic about the health impact over people, teachers will be the main community grappling with diseases like migraine, cervical issues, heart issues.
I am one of those lucky few whose salary was not impacted in the current crisis. But salary which used to be earlier my right has now become a tool of harassment. It is like a bonded slavery. Almost all the norms of labour laws are flouted.
Honestly, I feel the biggest harm this virus has done to our present society is by giving some people the taste of inscrutable power. Now housing societies have their own constitution, school management have their own unchallengeable laws, and the government has its own deadlines to meet and thus choosing to ignore ‘petty’ issues.
For a BBC reporter it may have looked cute for the viewers to see his kids barging into the live reporting, but in virtual classes, things like this are straightaway labelled unprofessional.
Like a colleague recently lost her job because her toddler joined her during the online class and insisted to sit on her lap as her husband was busy in his online job in other room. Or another colleague who would explain Treaty of Versailles to her students while negotiating rates of vegetables. She was among those unfortunate ones who got stranded outside her home during the lockdown. Another teacher, a calm and dignified math teacher turned into a nervous wreck from a confident teacher having fifteen years of experience, when overnight the world expected the teachers to become superwoman and saviour of the young generation and thriving business of education by learning complicated skills in a short time.
What we all are conveniently forgetting in this scenario is that it is not a ‘Work from Home.’ The situation here is completely different, more demanding.
In the absence of housekeepers and domestic help, vulnerability of young and old members, and the curfew timings, we are running the one-person show. I don’t want to start the debate on gender equality but as a female teacher I am expected to be a provider to my students, organisation, my husband, my elders, my children and everyone around me, and on top of it all keep the professional integrity intact by finishing endless tasks in given deadline, and yes keep my hair intact in a neat bun when during that fifteen minutes break I am mopping the floor.
Imagine the impact it must be having over the family of a teacher when their professional issues are exposed as they crumble under stress in front of them.
The pandemic and lockdown have tested each one of us. They have turned our worlds upside down. Whether we like it or not, we need to accept the change and move on with much that is less-than-expected. But the problem lies in the fact that the management is using the expectation of the parents as a stick to push the teachers beyond their limit. Both the parties use these submissive creatures as beasts of burden for a joy ride through this dark tunnel.
There is an urgent need to look into the existing labour laws and their careful monitoring, because very soon like Darwin’s natural selection through Covid-19, a major chunk of our talented and hard-working teachers will go extinct because they don’t have the right skills to cope up with the need of time and satisfy the greed of a certain lot.
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Vartika Sharma Lekhak is a writer based in India. She is the author of the
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