[OPINION] Thoughts of a chemistry teacher in the middle of a pandemic

“Am I coming in clear?”

“Good morning everyone! How are you today?”

I sipped my coffee, sat down, and checked attendance. A minute of silence passed, as it usually does when I enter class. 

Suddenly, static made its way through my headphones, signaling that someone was about to speak.

“Koko, don’t forget to speak clearly and slowly.” 

They always reminded me of this whenever I was being observed in class.

“Yes, miss!” I candidly replied.

“Am I coming in clear,” I asked again.

I briefly parsed through my video conference app and saw how many of my co-teachers showed up for my demo class that morning. I asked myself: “So, is this how it’s going to be from now on?”

With an internal sigh of disbelief, I struggled to continue.

“Okay! Let’s begin.”

I’m a chemistry teacher. And in chemistry, much like any other science, exploration through inquiry and hands-on activities are some of the best options to teach concepts. I’d like to believe that in any other subject, face-to-face learning certainly makes students and teachers feel a connection beyond the topics covered and the students' responses. This interaction is the vital force in our profession.

It frightens me to think that this pandemic has the capacity to permanently strip away the opportunities to connect with our students as we did in the past. I never liked the idea of holding classes online, being limited in articulating my lessons through a laptop or a mobile device. However, admittedly, it has sometimes become too normal for me to see my students everyday. But you know what they say, “You’ll never realize the importance of something or someone until it is taken away from you.” 

No more classrooms.

No more laboratories.

No more walking through the 2nd floor corridor after lunch to get to class.

No more seeing genuine “aha!” moments from the faces of my students who were once having trouble in class, but in one instance felt like they owned the world once they understood my lesson.

Presently, our school’s policies on distance learning are all set. We were invited to a myriad of seminars on creating self-learning modules, making authentic assessments, and strengthening technology integration. I have a couple of modules done, and we’re all just waiting for things to pan out, hopefully so that our students would benefit from the best that we could give them.

However, no amount of demo classes or webinars could give us a crystal-clear indication of how we’ll perform as teachers, and how our students will react. It’s as if this pandemic took us all on a ride to traverse a new landscape of education. We were flailing as we hit road bumps – the biggest one was ensuring equity in lesson delivery among students who had the privilege of a stable internet connection, and those who were completely offline. Our administrators were not spared from the perils of rough terrain, unlearning old ways and repurposing skills tailor-fit to the new normal, let alone guide their teachers in the process. Our support service personnel are in constant coordination with them, ensuring that our school has provisions for internet, so that we maximize our stay in school if we can come back.

The stress we teachers have nowadays is tenfold in comparison to regular school days. We have to think of how we can adapt our lessons to the present setting; we have to consider all the target competencies that students have to attain with less time on our hands in our subject matter budget; we have to consider how we can fairly evaluate students through a new grading system; the list goes on.

But really, there’s nothing we can do about the current situation when health is the number one priority. However, if there’s something that we can hold on to in this pandemic, it is the trust that exists between the school, the teachers, and the students. It is the understanding that we are part of an ecosystem that supports each other, and that no one will be left behind. It is the truth that although we are physically separated, our goal as teachers remains the same – to educate with the utmost determination to form students to become better versions of themselves, and to become the vision of who they want to be.

I hope and pray that the next time I parse through my video conference app, I will see faces of students who are still hopeful as well, and know that learning can take place in our current situation, and that this coronavirus fiasco will not hinder us from fulfilling our duties as teachers and learners.

I hope that this will all just be temporary. But until then, I must keep my head held high. I must be strong for my students and for myself. I must maintain the conviction for teaching that I progressively enfleshed over the years. 

And though this pandemic has muffled our once sonorous voice as educators, the message of unconditional love for our students will still be sent. 

We have to come in clear. – Rappler.com

Conrad Capule is a high school science teacher, currently taking up a master's degree in teaching, majoring in chemistry.