Burdened and stressed by unique commitment needed for working remotely, teachers struggle to maintain balance
“Everyone has now adapted to high-speed multitasking. Teachers, who are mothers and wives, are managing their own children, their kitchen and household duties. The single ones are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. All the while, they are taking classes online, working from home,” said Sadia Zaman Akhi, 31, teacher and section-head at an English medium school.
Schools across Bangladesh have adapted to the platform of online-teaching during the government enforced lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This solution has been initiated to aid the flow of children’s education, as the alternative would have resulted in a six-month or longer period of education gap in a student’s academic career.
Teachers, being at the forefront of this conflict, have been working tirelessly to transform and adjust their teaching methods accordingly. But this journey since March has been “nothing short of a challenge,” and “a total whirlwind,” said English medium teachers.
Online-teaching through trial and error
“This new shift in the system demanded quick changes. Schools, teachers and students were not prepared. Teachers have been accustomed to working in their usual ways, conducting class in-person, grading actual copies and test papers rather than documents submitted via email or Google classroom. There was little to no time for training, even,” said Akhi, who works in a school.
Priya Jahan, 28, English teacher, said teachers and students are not equipped with proper technological support which is the biggest obstacle. “I had to buy new laptops, microphones and webcams as all three of my children are now attending classes online,” shared Fatima Nasrin, a mathematics teacher.
Priya has emphasized on the importance of engaging with the students, “It now requires a huge effort on our part as we cannot read everyone’s paralinguistic features, such as body language and facial expressions, from behind the screen. Thus creating a certain level of decline in our interaction and communication.”
Impact on personal life
The teachers have discussed some personal problems they faced due to long working hours. “We had a smooth-running operation. Now, screen time has increased. This is causing physiological discomforts, migraine and body pain. Also, the pace of the syllabus has been slowed down due to a relatively shorter class duration. It feels like the push is gone,” shared Azmiri Sultana Mridul, an O-level biology teacher.
Fatima Nasrin expressed that she often feels “exhausted” and feels there is “quite a lot of pressure” on herself because of the long hours. As this is a completely new platform, she had to do extensive research watching tutorials online and working with colleagues to figure out how to best utilize Google classroom and other platforms.
She does not feel entirely satisfied with distance-learning and finds herself always thinking of “fun and creative ways” to engage the kids. She feels distracted from work with her daily life duties.
Her youngest daughter, with whom she cannot spend enough quality time, yearns to be with her mother. But Fatima’s work pattern has changed and that means less time for her daughter and more time for lots of checking and paperwork that need to be completed within deadlines. Her eldest daughter is getting ready to go to college and she struggles to find the time to help her as well.
A similar struggle is faced by Sharara Ibrahim, 28, English teacher, mother of a five-year-old. Sharara takes classes online and at the same time, needs to regularly assist her daughter, who is in kindergarten, with her classes and activities.
Her husband is also a working parent, though he has to work at his office. She has to perform all the household chores, take care of her child, herself, and the family. “Before Covid, we would separate work-time and home-time by drawing a line between the two. We would leave our stress at work and come home to relax and find solace within our personal time. That divide has now dissipated as we struggle to find balance,” Sharara said.
Akhi, being in a managerial position, has to oversee the operations in her departments from home. When asked what could be done to ensure success, she said, “If teamwork and effort is not there, the individual member will fail to meet their daily objectives and eventually, all the departments will falter.”
She addressed some prevalent problems that were brought to her attention. “In my department, we provided training for the senior teachers, especially, by those who have become swift and adept.”
She said that training has not been offered in most schools. Teachers were not provided the necessary tools. The senior teachers have received prejudicial treatment as they may not be as tech-savvy as the younger ones.
“When schools made budget cuts, reduced pay and/or terminated their employees, they often targeted the senior teachers for not being technologically sound,” she said.
Some teachers have had to seek out other part-time jobs, such as online tuition, to pay their bills during this pandemic. Personally, Akhi had to guide her mother to take classes in Zoom. Her mother is a senior Bengali teacher at an English medium school. “She has also had to face a lot of criticism rather than actual guidance and support from her workplace.”
Impact on mental health
“I am usually patient and calm when dealing with conflicts. But I have been constantly frustrated as well. There have been many deaths among my closest relatives due to Covid-19. We are exposed to a lot of negative media relaying the rising death toll surrounding us,” Priya said.
She also states that it is imperative that people talk to their family and friends. She encourages counselling with a therapist. “If you are facing traumatic experiences, and you need help, go and get it immediately.”
Fatima Nasrin has also shared the overbearing nature of her work causing her “a lot of anxiety and sleep deprivation.” She described working over the internet and through technology that needs constant adjustments as “extremely stressful and very unpredictable.”
Fatima shared some ways to cope. Her children help her with household chores. She divides responsibilities between herself and her husband, who is also a working parent, working as faculty at North South University. “It really helps to do things ahead, such as prepare lunch early on in the day, and prepare lesson plans a week or two ahead of time.”
She uses online services to buy groceries. “Take as much help as possible from family and others,” as it can be very heavy to do it all alone.
Azmiri has described these new dynamics to have taken a “huge toll” on her mental and physical health. She addressed teachers and shared a few words of wisdom: “You are not weak. You are still adapting.”
She has shared her own ways of coping through intense physical exercise which motivates her to “push herself to be active and productive.” She also stated, “Teachers are some of the most undervalued human resources. We contribute immensely to a child’s upbringing. We are giving our 100% and then some to ensure the best outcome for our students.”
The same sentiment towards teachers being unsung heroes is shared by Sharara who said, “All this is overburdening. Sometimes you need to have mercy on yourself. You have to know you are trying your best. You are not failing. You are still learning.”
Akhi has shared that she felt depressed at the beginning of quarantine because of being deprived of her regular life. Eventually, she engaged in self-therapy and convinced herself that this will last a long time and she has to learn to adjust to the new ways of life.
So, she started doing self-care, meditation, breathing exercises, going on walks with necessary precaution and talking it out with her friends and family who are her support system.
“The worst has already happened and is still happening. But the only thought that brings me comfort is contemplating how I can improve myself after quarantine. So, I’m always thinking of ways to better my life and pursue my ambitions and goals for myself and my family.”
Her advice for all is to embrace the challenges and the difficulties with awareness and strength and to learn the lessons that are taught. “Look at things positively and constructively and think of ways to prepare yourself and how you can change your life after the pandemic.”