Written by Jagriti Singh
The school compound is now alive, after a long break of 10 months. It’s alive and lively, and the chatter of students has returned after the pandemic break. The school compound was almost deserted since the middle of March last year. What is a school without students? Just an empty, lifeless building. The corridors missed the movement and noise of excited students.
Although it is different from past years when schools opened after a break, but the eyes still tell a story. Behind masks, all I can see are the shining eyes of my students. The feeling that comes through is of happiness and gratitude. Each of them is excited to be back at school. Their swift movement and brisk walk towards me to say ‘Good Morning!’ make me melt away with joy. We are meeting in-person after 10 months of online interaction. The delight is mutual.
I tried my best to keep the virtual environment as warm as possible by connecting with each of my students personally, and mostly, they too seemed happy. However, from time-to-time, the occasional message on my personal wall made me realise how much they missed school. One day, one of them wrote out of desperation, “Will I ever get to sit with my friends in a classroom and engage in enlightening discussions?” I was moved. I called the student and spoke to him for almost an hour. The incident also prompted me to have one-on-one video calls with my students. It proved to be very helpful in the distressing situation that these young minds were facing at home. Most of them were disturbed by the loss of normalcy in their lives and were waiting eagerly for everything to return to normal.
Now, school building is the same, their friends and teachers are present, but the definition of normal has changed. To create this new normal, a safe and secure environment for our students, it took a lot of brainstorming on our part. All the SOPs were put in place in such a manner that they ensured that every little apprehension of the students was addressed. The teenage students, considered rebellious in general, are now ready to follow rules and set an example for their juniors. They are willing to go to any length to make the most of this new situation.
When I look at them now, each one is a different person with a changed attitude. They have developed a sense of belonging to the school more than before. I was amazed to see the seriousness that they are showing for their coming Board exams. One of them said, “Madam, now I know why teachers are important. They bring the warmth of interaction to class.” Another chipped in, “Madam, the social interactions of the classroom were my most missed moments at home”.
The most shy girl of my class was very interactive during virtual classes and I was happy to see her engaging in activities. I felt she enjoyed the online classes a lot more than being in school. However, she told me, “Madam, these classes away from school made me realise how many chances of interaction I had missed in the classroom, and so I tried to use my time in online classes to the fullest.”
I never thought that this time away from school will make my students learn a lot about life and the social equations that feed the human soul. I missed their laughter, their innocent conversations and the infectious energy of a class full of teenagers. I understood well that it is not just these students who need me for their lessons, I need them too for my fulfilment as a teacher.
Classrooms are not just spaces within four walls with blackboards and benches; they are all about the engagement between a teacher and students, where they can learn and grow. The 10-month break was long and cold, we were not face-to-face with one another. Now that we are together again, the warmth of our interactions brings both gratitude and happiness. I am excited to be back in a classroom with students, even if half-full.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 7, 2021, under the title “Students need teachers, but we need them too”. Jagriti Singh teaches English at School of Excellence in Dwarka, Delhi. Delhi schools recently opened for regular classes for Classes 10 and 12