Home Based Learning: An Educator's Perspective
As a wave of national lockdowns has washed over the world due to COVID-19, millions of people have had to switch to Work From Home (WFH). For many, these new work conditions have bred an amalgam of frustrations ranging from the absence of a comfy office chair, to the now overwhelming presence of family distractions, and, the crushing weight of homebound boredom. In retrospect, the majority of us are probably doing just fine, at least when it comes to work matters. Nevertheless, for some, the WFH mandate has been more than just frustrating - it has been borderline catastrophic. Entire industries have been flipped on their heads. Some have simply disintegrated overnight, while others have been forced to build completely new systems from square one.
Education has undoubtedly been struck by the recent changes, particularly in public schools. Here in Singapore, schools officially shutdown nearly three weeks ago and the transition to Home Based Learning (HBL) has certainly been bumpy for all involved. Parents are struggling to manage their children and their jobs simultaneously, students must adjust their learning styles to keep up in class, and technical difficulties, specifically relating to security complications with the commonly used video platform Zoom, have only made things all the more stressful. However, no one involved has had to carry quite as damning of a burden as educators. Not only have they had to plan their curriculum for multiple classes in a day, strategize how to maintain engagement with approximately 20-40 students per average class, grapple with technical difficulties of lagging videos and glitches, but they are also balancing the provision of emotional support for their students and often managing their own families and duties at home. Not to mention that, like all of us, they are humans dealing with the same personal anxieties that adjoin the reality of living through a global pandemic.
Even though educators need as much support as they can possibly get right now, the public has not provided much kindness, understanding, or empathy. Continuously, they have been chastised online for problems that have arisen with HBL. They have been outright blamed for the security breach with Zoom, despite receiving no official training on how to use the video platform that is facing a company-wide crisis of security. Additionally, they have endured criticism from Forum articles featured in the Straits Times, even though such articles do not contribute any professional expertise or solutions for how they could improve. It has been troubling to witness how little people seem to comprehend the gravity that presses on educators.
An Educator's Personal Account
With the intention of instilling more humility and empathy towards their situation, we sat down to have a call with one of our favorite teachers in Singapore to hear her personal experience with adjusting to HBL and how the changes have impacted her daily life.
Hopefully, her experience can be a window into the life of teachers for those who may not have fully grasped their significance and all they do to keep Singaporean youth well educated in trying times. Surely, we can all take the initiative to give them the proper appreciation that they deserve. If you can, reach out to any teachers in your life to thank them and cheer them on! #CherishyourCher
How have the past few weeks been for you? How are you adjusting to HBL?
We all pretty much knew that the switch to HBL was inevitable, and felt like the few weeks leading up to it, when the government decided it would not fully close schools and instead had one day of HBL was a way to prepare us for what was to come.
When they did decide to close down the schools, we were given two days notice to prepare. We had to scramble to get all of the materials we needed to make it all work for the next month. I had to bring books, papers - I got to bring home my computer monitor to make myself more comfortable at home. It was a lot of logistics to manage. It was also the last chance we had to meet up [with other teachers] face to face to discuss how we would all manage attendance, discipline, and new resources being generated for some basic protocols to start with.
Overall, most teachers are still trying to adjust to this new working format. It has been a totally different ball game for teaching. We are constantly changing our protocol based on what works and what doesn’t work. It is a constant process of learning, and re-establishing routines - which can be very frustrating. Just when you think something is working for you, it could so easily get banned or potentially overwhelmed by the network of new users. Now we are using a lot of free tools, but what if companies decide they want to start charging for those tools? We have to then start over. We don’t have much control over this and have to always be prepared for change.
What have been the biggest problems you’ve faced?
Definitely using a webcam to communicate with the entire class. There are always technical issues that we have no control over. Sometimes it gets choppy so students can’t always hear me, sometimes I get disconnected, sometimes students get disconnected. It all causes delays.
Usually only one person can talk at a time which makes things very slow, and disrupts organic discussion. We have to be very systematic about who can speak and when. We try typing messages in the chat but that isn’t always helpful because it affects the pace of the lesson and the engagement of the students.
With these delays, we have to be realistic about how learning outcomes can change when things are moving slowly and we aren’t always sure how well the students are able to understand.
What does an average day look like for you?
A normal day for me is around 12 hours. I usually start at 7:30 am, setting up the webcam and preparing to take attendance, and don’t usually end my last class until 5:00 or 6:00pm. I likely only have a 1-hour break for lunch but other than that I’m sitting in front of my computer all day. It’s really affecting me physically. I’ve even found I’m not drinking enough water or liquids because there’s usually not enough time to use the toilet between classes. When I’m not teaching classes, I have to plan more coursework and grade papers. Depending on the day, I can’t even get to this work until all my classes are over - meaning I usually work well into the evening.
And, to be honest, I would consider myself to be one of the luckier teachers. I teach computing so everything we do is digital to begin with and all submissions have always been online. It really makes me think about all of the Science, English, or Math teachers that have to completely change how they approach teaching when their subject requires so much more interaction. I also teach JC so my students are a bit more mature - it must be insane teaching primary or lower secondary school during this time. Not to mention that some educators may have their own children to take care of and monitor. If I’m working this much, how much are they working?
Do you think things will get easier with HBL? Are there any positives you can highlight with HBL?
I think so. When more people get into a rhythm and become more comfortable it will get better. I also think there are a lot of opportunities for us to learn, innovate and become more efficient during this period. It has forced us to try new things and build a better functioning pedagogy that works for us and the students. Students also seem to be asking more questions, which is good. They may feel they have more privacy now without being judged for not knowing something.
All in all, I think there will be a lot of positive outcomes from this time. While it has been stressful, it is also a new chance that we’ve never had before and that gives me a very positive feeling about the future of our education.
Written by Isabella Steinhauer
Bella is the Experience Lieutenant at Reactor School.
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