A Teacher’s Dilemma

By Sulastri Aziz

One of the most rewarding and noble careers in the world is being a teacher.
To me, that is because one is tasked with moulding the next generation of thinkers, leaders and so on.
As a person, I have always known that teaching was the profession for me.
I feel very strongly towards the profession and I always try to do my best every day for the well-being of the students.
However, the last year has been pretty challenging for us teachers, to say the very least.
Some parents have called us lazy while some went on accusing us of getting “gaji buta” (receiving a full salary whilst NOT putting in an honest day’s work).
But please allow me to explain how it has actually been for us.
To start with, I would like to say that none of us expected to pivot into online teaching within our lifetime.
It was something that was beyond our imagination and totally unexpected.
But we had to do it, and I must concede that it wasn’t perfect at first.
We tried very hard to learn the ropes fast enough for our students.
Thankfully for me, I have always been technologically savvy so virtual teaching was not a problem.
Even before the government had announced the transition to online medium in March 2020, we teachers had met up on a personal basis to discuss amongst ourselves how best to teach students using Zoom.

The writer (in maroon headscarf) seen here with her kids Sarah, Rayyan, Sofea and Sofaya navigating the world of online teaching and learning together at their dining table. Photo: Supplied.

For me, I was especially worried about my UPSR (see footnote) students, as I did not finish combing through the textbook syllabus when news began to swirl of an impending lockdown.
But the inevitable happened and we had to move to online teaching quickly.
Luckily, the government textbook syllabus was already formatted online making it easy for us to teach.
As long as the learning continued, I was happy but there were some challenges with online teaching.
Firstly, it lacked the personal touch and I wasn’t quite sure if my students could grasp my teaching or if they were daydreaming.
In school, I can spot students who were lagging or someone who wasn’t really paying attention but that isn’t always the case within a virtual setting.
Another glaring problem I had to face was the use of technology because some could not afford to have the tools or devices needed for a virtual classroom.
For those who didn’t, I was fortunate enough to have a school that could provide these students with gadgets but there were some other schools, I believe, that were not so lucky. For me on a personal level, I have had a lot of Internet problems while teaching my classes online.
I don’t know for what reason but during my lessons my wifi connection would drop or start lagging a lot.
We subscribe from a very reputable provider but my students would still complain about the slow connection.
This was totally out of my control but l still persevered and made the best out of each lesson.
To keep things interesting, I  come up with quizzes from time to time as a way to engage with the whole classroom.
Other issues include students who don’t show up or turn off their cameras. We know they are playing truant. We weren’t born yesterday, okay!
But these are things beyond our control and we can only hope it doesn’t affect them in a bad way later on.
The other constraints faced by teachers on a personal level which many people choose to ignore is that we also have our own children.
My kids would have their own issues with online learning and as a parent, I had to deal with the matter one at a time.
So, I can safely say I know how it feels to be on both sides.
All in all, I must say that I do prefer my time teaching virtually because I can save a lot of money on fuel and travel time.
Prior to the pandemic, I have had to get up at 5.30 am and leave by 6 am to beat the traffic in order to get to school, but now with an online classroom I just log in five minutes before class begins.
But of course, I do feel that physical classroom teaching is better than online.
Only some kids are made for online learning because you need to be very disciplined and independent to be able to learn things virtually.
Apart from that, this whole experience has been a valuable learning curve for me.
I can safely say that I am now more versatile as I am able to conduct both online and physical classes with ease, thanks to the pandemic.

About the Author: Sulastri Aziz is an English primary school teacher based in Malaysia. She has been teaching for the past 16 years and returns to physical teaching tomorrow after navigating a virtual classroom for the past seven months from her home in Shah Alam. She can be reached at sulastriabdulaziz@gmail.com

Footnote: UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) or Primary School Achievement Test is a national examination taken by all students in Malaysia at the end of their primary school as a prerequisite for secondary school admission.

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