Short Story: A Teacher’s Lockdown Lessons

Posted: May 14, 2020 in Short Story, Teacher, WPrightnow
Tags: , ,

Picture from the Internet

I am used to the morning rush. Everyone is, when they have kids going to school and a job to keep. But I find something unsettling about this rush hour now. I am up as usual at 5 am preparing breakfast, finishing the day’s cooking and cleaning up the kitchen before I rush…yes, rush nowhere.

The kids head from the bathroom to the bedroom; I walk from the kitchen to the sitting-room couch and my husband stays put where he is, at the dining table. We have only two laptops at home and we are those middle-class parents who want to give their children the best. My husband and I juggle our jobs on the tab and the smart phone, depending on necessity.

Today there was another necessity, one that was making me edgy. Singing has never been my forte.

I could see from the corner of my eye that bewildered look on my husband’s face. He has never heard me singing, and I had forgotten to warn him that I would be making an exception today.

Seeing his expression I felt laughter threatening to wreck me from within, but I kept singing keeping myself stoic.

It’s Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday today. If schools had been open, functions would have been held; we would have decked up with flowers in our hair and helped the children dress up for the stage.

My voice lacked rhythm, but still I sang with passion as if to hold on to that last bit of my root, my reality that has suddenly become boxed into the gadget that I was holding in my hand.

The mobile has become like my extended body part. It’s constantly pinging with messages and there are at least 10 WhatsApp groups, some of which have students, guardians and teachers in them. There have been a couple of mornings when I switched on the data and no messages came. I was pretty sure that very day I would be asked to put in my papers; I would be told of my inability to cope.

Or maybe they wanted to do to me what they had done to my colleague. Snatched away her classes because she had supposedly been fumbling and asked to log into classes held by younger, tech-savvy teachers and learn from them.

I instantly messaged a colleague.

“Did you get any messages?”

“None today. Very strange,” came her reply.

My stomach had already started tumbling like the insides of a washing machine. It halted.

There isn’t a moment in the day when I am gadget free. When online classes end, the training starts; how to talk, how to make PPTs, how to make online lesson plans, how to deal with the chats and emojis the kids throw up (the kisses and skulls being the favourite and the poop and the bikini occasional aberrations) and then there’s the psychologist as well telling us teachers how to stay calm. I look at the last one as the most important lesson of the day, because I do end up screaming hysterically for my husband or my elder son’s help if I am unable to make those PPTs or unmute the Zoom mic. Power Point was Hebrew to me till lockdown happened. Actually so many things are, still.

For starters I am competitive, but I really have not grasped what’s there to be competitive about PPTs. The slides are worked on, embellished and submitted with an attitude that these works of art will land us a space in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Then there are the relentless comparisons, praises and criticism. Sometimes I feel like laughing but then I have to put in my best. I can’t let my position as one of the best teachers slip. I have worked hard for it for so long. I can’t let a virus kill it.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

In my 20 years of teaching experience the thought had never occurred to me that I would start teaching a new batch of students never seeing them in person for once, but I would know how their bedroom looks, I would marvel at the colour of their walls or make a mental note of the chic dressing table design to be passed on to my carpenter, some day.

Neither did I have a clue that one day I will have to see some of my students’ fathers without a shirt.

Some of the fathers have developed the habit of hovering around the kids in their boxers showing off their rotund paunches in their shirtless avatars. The first time this happened, I can’t even begin to tell you how shocking it was. I complained. My colleagues complained. The management sent out mails that guardians should not be around kids. It stopped for some time. Then someone would suddenly appear in the frame by “mistake” and move away only after ensuring that you are unnerved enough by their uncouthness. Within weeks we learned to mask the unease and carry on as if nothing had happened. There is too much on our plate anyway, a half-naked guardian couldn’t possibly merit our precious time.

And then there are the moms. You would know they are sitting next to the ward listening in intently. Your instincts just tell you they are there, helicoptering. Isn’t this like a dream-come-true for an obsessive mom, the ability to sit next to her child as they take the class? In my online classes I have faced more questions than I have answered in my entire career, needless to say, all prompted by the invisible helicopters.

I have always prided myself to be teaching in one of the elite institutions of Kolkata that comes with the best facilities and best marks. But now I often wish I worked in a lesser-known school that has not been able to put their online act together because they lack the infrastructure, finances or even the will to do so and wish to wait it out till schools re-open.

People talk about spotting rainbows in the sky, click photos of the cottony clouds bathed in the hues of a pink sunset, see the flowers bloom and marvel at the appearance of new species of birds on the window panes, but I have failed to notice any of that. I only know the day has glided into the evening when the fights over the laptops start. My 14-year-old son needs to get the worksheets done, my 10-year-old daughter has to send back her homework and prepare for her impending online exams and I need to make the PPTs, send back the reports of my online classes and sit in at the zoom meetings.

We argue over who gets priority on the laptop like we are fighting for a piece of bread in a concentration camp. But they always win, inevitably.

“You anyway have to help me with my homework, ma,” my daughter says.

Life has done a volte face for her too. I soften instantly thinking who is finding it harder, she or me? The bored, sleepy, yawning faces of my students flash through my mind.

So I am up till late in the night finishing my work when the house has been silenced by slumber. My day never ends. The morning rush goes with me to bed.

*

I had finished my classes yesterday when suddenly my daughter came rushing to me.

“Ma in my Bengali class they are asking for opposites. I don’t know these, please help.”

Without even thinking for a second I jotted down the opposites for my daughter so that she could answer in “class”.

I then realised what I did. I just prompted my daughter in her class. Like the helicopter moms.

Amrita Mukherjee

 

 

 

 

 

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