Sharon Philogene
Sharon Philogene

By Sharon Philogene

When school was suddenly dismissed as a result of COVID-19's identification in Dominica, I had been away from the classroom for about a week and was looking forward to going back. It was almost the end of the second term and Easter was just around the corner, but in order to complete the term, it was suggested that we move to the 'online' mode of teaching. As the number of cases in Dominica increased, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday came and went and as a teacher, it became apparent that the face to face mode of teaching would have to be shelved for a while, and all involved in the process of teaching and learning would be required to swim vigorously against the tide or sink.

It was now April 20, the first day of the third term and school as we knew it was no more; like many educator and students around the world," we were now online". Change is often never a welcome visitor, and this visitor was coming with much demand. It was during the first few weeks of "online teaching" that a colleague shared an article entitled "The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning" by Charles Hodges et al. My curiosity was piqued, and I delved into the reading of this article in the hope that it would offer me a life jacket to keep my head above water. The article started with these words ' well planned online learning experiences are meaningfully different from courses offered online in response to a crisis or disaster" and though it went on to speak of colleges and universities, I knew it could be no different at the primary or secondary education level. Most of us at the primary and secondary level had jumped into the deep with no life jackets, so we were not facilitating online learning but engaging in Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT).

I began to visualize my class and I knew that now more than ever; it was an uneven playing field. I knew that a few of my students would be disadvantaged. Everyone did not have access to the resources required (i.e. a computer/smart phone, internet access or ability to purchase enough data, a capable support system and even an environment conducive to learning. I realized that I would have to pace the work, reopen assignments, give more time for work to be completed and if necessary even schedule work around their schedule. I recognized that some of my students would have to babysit or even help their siblings with work, and I knew I would have to be more understanding, more compassionate, more empathetic. Most of all, I knew that I should not give busy work to frustrate my students or even their parents.

Parents are key stakeholders in the educational process and whether we are aware of it or not, they judge us as much as we judge them. We need to engage them, not frustrate them and vice versa. Emergency Remote Teaching has exposed our weakness and our strengths. If we are lazy, don't care, don't plan, lack content, it will now be on display. In the same manner, if we plan, engage students meaningfully, listen, encourage, give feedback, it will be on display. This (ERT) has left us wide open to praise or criticism. Our classrooms can be monitored by parents or other family members, we do not know who listen to our meet sessions, we do not know who do our assignments-and I say that with no apologies because we have gotten some very well written papers with very little student fingerprint; but who doesn't want his or her child to get a top grade? I am certain, however, that many parents have realized that teaching is not a walk in the park. I am certain that there are many who are struggling to get their children to complete work. I am certain that some parents have either given up because they are not able to cope with the workload in cases where busy work is being given, or in cases where they have assumed the responsibility for doing the assignments because they don't have the patience to explain or prod for it to be done, or because they just want to ensure that the child passes the assignment with a high mark. Some may even have given up because survival is more important right now -Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It is almost the end of the term, and the stress of google classroom might be taking its toll on us as well as on our students and parents. When I opened my classroom about three Wednesday morning ago for a meet session to discuss a comprehension extract, 19 students signed in. It was the most I had had in any meet session since we have been engaging remotely. last week, I only had about 13. The Education authorities have done as much as they could to reach as many as they could reach. Let us not be fooled, we have not reached everyone and even those we have reached have not all been reached. Some of our students are merely going through the process. Whenever we are privileged again to be in the same physical space, let us not forget that there will be some who are absent from our classes now because they are not privileged enough to have what is necessary to be part of the classes. Let us ensure that these students are not left behind.