Published: 20th January 2021
TN Teachers on 'watchman shift' through the day to ensure students stay apart, follow COVID protocols on return to schools
If one teacher finishes class, they are only allowed to leave after the next subject teacher arrives. At no point are the students left alone
After almost a year, Class 10 and 12 students in Tamil Nadu were finally able to return to their classrooms on January 19. This time even the ones who despise first days and school in general, didn’t mind returning to their campuses and sitting through classes, albeit in very different circumstances. Teachers in schools in the state seem to be equally thrilled, even though their responsibilities seem to have doubled.
Sri Bhagavan, a teacher from a Government School in a village near Villupuram had told us a few months ago that not seeing his students for over six months had affected him mentally a great deal. So watching students walk through the gates of his school brought him a lot of joy, “But previously I was teaching 7th and 8th grade students so I still miss them. These students are new to me, so I’m still learning names,” he says smiling. The teachers have not started teaching as yet, they spent yesterday and today, just speaking to students and asking them how they’ve spent the last few months. They are hoping to start the syllabus from Thursday.
“The whole environment has changed and students need to ease into it. We were instructed to just engage with them — a simple orientation. Starting the syllabus right away would have been too overwhelming for students,” the teachers said. The classes start at 9.30 am and the teachers are there at 9 am, “We have to ensure all the protocols are in place, the sanitisers and everything else. So we come early,” Bhagavan said. The strength of Class 10, 12 at Bhagavan’s school is about 50, so the students have been divided into two separate batches. Since schools started on Tuesday and some believe it is not an auspicious day, some students were missing from Bhagavan’s class but almost the entire class turned up on Wednesday, he said.
The parents also visited the school and met the teachers. In the class, two students sit on every bench with proper social distancing and everyone is required to wear masks and sanitisers are placed on the first bench of every class. At lunch time too, the students are required to take their breaks depending on which batch they are in, “We have two different lunch times and students are strictly warned not to share their lunch or anything else.” The teachers say there is one team outside and one team inside the classes.
Teachers have always been known to keep an eye out for mischief but this time around, the teachers are on constant guard, “If one teacher finishes class, they are only allowed to leave after the next subject teacher arrives. At no point are the students left alone. It is the same during lunch, we are constantly checking that everyone is maintaining distance and following all the rules.” From the time the students enter the gate, till they leave it at 4.30 pm, the teachers are constantly monitoring the students.
“There is soap and water outside the bathrooms. We ensure all protocols are in place and students don’t forget to do all that is required,” the teacher said. However, the teachers teaching in rural areas say they don’t have too much to worry about since the virus hasn’t spread in those areas too much. The teachers in the cities might be having a harder time, they said.
PK Ilamaran, a teacher at Chennai High School and the President of the Tamil Nadu Teachers Association says that in the last two days, they didn’t face too much trouble. “We have about 62 students and we’ve divided them into three batches. We’ve held some self-motivation sessions, we’ve also provided masks to all the students,” he explained. At his school, about 75 percent of the students turned up. “We have thermal scanners, sanitisers and we are always monitoring them. The students were thrilled to be back and very enthusiastic about getting back to work,” he added.
The TN Teachers Association has demanded that Class 12 students also be provided with mid-day meals, “Class X students are given food. But at least till COVID-19 leaves our lives entirely it's good to ensure students are getting all the nutrients they need to stay strong.” The Tamil Nadu government has also been providing immunity-boosting tablets to all the students.
The government also announced that 40 per cent of the portions will be reduced for the board exams this year. An official told Express that some parts would be optional, “The syllabus has now been divided into compulsory and optional parts. Students can avoid studying the optional parts while preparing for the public exams. "We have excluded a particular portion out of many chapters instead completely slashing out a third of the chapters in each subject. This way students will at least have a broad understanding of most topics.”
Bhagavan said he was worried that some students might not return to class but was glad to see that most turned up. The only issue for the teachers seems to be that they are still slightly uncomfortable wearing the masks and teaching, “Sometimes we wonder if they can understand everything we are saying but I’m sure we’ll get used to it.”