Teachers’ Day: 'Superheroes' at the heart of education recovery Filed on October 4, 2021
Wam file

Over the past year and half, teachers have been under huge pressure to adapt classroom lesson delivery to a fully online or hybrid model

Teachers are indeed our superheroes.

Ever since the pandemic struck and our world turned upside down, our teachers have splendidly risen to the challenge to ensure that education continued unhindered even as schools went empty and remote learning became the new normal.

It is indeed right that this year on World Teachers’ Day, October 5, these superstars are being celebrated under the theme: Teachers at the heart of education recovery.

Over the past year and half, teachers have been under a huge pressure to adapt classroom lesson delivery to a fully online or hybrid model. They have kept classes going, conducted exams, completed academic sessions and even carried out complex standard operating procedures (SOPs) to keep everyone safe when schools reopened.

Teachers helped students cope with the ‘new normal’, and now they are once again realigning to initiate a post-pandemic recovery as full in-person learning commences again.

Khaleej Times touched base with a few veteran teachers, to bring their stories of struggle and triumph to you.

Pandora of the digital world

Daisy Justus, who is a senior English Teacher at GEMS Our Own High School – Al Warqa’a, has spent 41 years as a teacher. She is GEMS Education’s longest serving teacher. She said she had to adapt to the massive change when the pandemic struck.

“During the lockdown period of the pandemic, our students and staff had to adjust quickly. Our priority was ensuring a smooth continuation of teaching and learning for all our students and caring for their well-being through an unprecedented event. Teaching through a screen daily was challenging. However, our students also helped and supported us – we’re always learning from each other.”

The veteran arrived to the UAE in 1978 and joined what was then Our Own English High School in September 1980. “I had the privilege of being interviewed by the late KS Varkey himself (father of Sunny Varkey, GEMS Education founder and chairman) and was guided through my profession by Madam Mariamma Varkey who passed away earlier this year.” she said.

Justus is driven by a passion for teaching. “What I have always loved about teaching is that I could inspire and be inspired by the young minds that enter my classroom every day.

“One of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years is the delivery of the curriculum. When I started out, it was the ‘talk and chalk’ method; now teaching is multi-dimensional.”

Teachers said that while technology and digital platforms dominated education last year is here to stay, the human element of teaching can never be replaced.

Conor Ralph, Grade 9 and 10 Leader of English language and literature at Jumeira Baccalaureate School, who has been an educationist for the past 10 years, said: “Despite having taught across different continents, and having experienced a wide range of educational contexts, nothing was sufficient to prepare me for the day in early March 2020 when we closed our school and went to work from home.

“The adjustment needed to be quick. Teachers had to adapt to using technology to deliver lessons and communicate with students, colleagues and parents. Our pupils showed resilience and courage in the face of so much uncertainty.

“Innovation was key; we adopted project-based work, allowing students time to work on cross-curricular tasks over several weeks (known as GRASPS). We used online breakout rooms to facilitate group work in lessons and even managed to have guest speakers join virtual assemblies from other time zones!

“The clearest conclusion I have drawn from the experience relates to the importance of the teacher-student relationship. Online learning saw growth in these relationships, but there is nothing like being together – we are delighted to have everybody back safe and sound in the same place.”

Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam, principal, Gulf Indian High School Dubai, who has been associated with the education sector for the past 33 years, said: “The faculty and students were equally thrilled with the beginning of face-to-face learning on Sunday. As teachers are basically comfortable with face-to-face teaching, they didn’t face any big challenge at all. Rather, they all were comfortable and happy to offer face-to-face lessons after the more challenging blended learning.”

Teachers sometimes had to share workspaces and gadgets with the whole family at home, but they managed to sail through. Lorraine Williams, Year 6 teacher at GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa, said: “I see my job as being not just a teacher, but also the person responsible for the children’s needs and care. I also see it as my responsibility to make sure children love learning. I am glad children are back in school now, as we can use the science laboratories.”

Educationists say resumed proximity of students and teachers has once again brought about a more natural, interactive and animated classroom ambience.

“It was a sight to behold, with the classroom filled with young, energetic, and enthusiastic learners. With masks on their faces, their eyes spoke thousands of mixed emotions like happiness, excitement, confusion and anxiety,” said Salon Mary who has been an educationist for more than 15 years and works as a secondary school supervisor, HOD in Gulf Model School, Dubai.

“Moving from online learning to onsite learning is a great relief from a black screen filled with tiny faces with no more requests to switch on the cameras, mute or unmute the mics.

“It is now a challenge for me with the restrictions in place on how to realign my active classroom sessions.”

Nandini Sircar

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