UAE's teachers struggle to juggle virtual classrooms and their own home lives

A lack of preparation on how to give online lessons has been the biggest bane of every teacher

Emay van der Walt, a teacher at Gems Metropole School in Motor City, with her children at home. Courtesy - Emay van der Walt
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Teachers have turned their homes into virtual classrooms, but are struggling to juggle online lessons for their pupils and helping their own.

Mothers who work as teachers said their challenges included finding a quiet corner to conduct classes, engaging pupils in online sessions, planning lessons, and making sure their own children did not fall behind at school.

Teachers in the emirates said they were working until midnight to prepare interactive lessons.

Eman Halawa, an English teacher at Al Bashair School in Abu Dhabi attends virtual faculty meetings, grades the online work of pupils, holds classes and tries to keep the children fully engaged.

She then quickly posts videos and quizzes on genres of novels.

As Ms Halawa whizzes through her work schedule, her own three sons aged 10, five, and three wait nearby to get help with their schoolwork.

As schools across the country transitioned to remote instruction because of the coronavirus outbreak, Ms Halawa’s new duties have become routine.

Jodie Drew, Acting Vice Principal of Al Muna Academy. Courtesy: Jodie Drew
Jodie Drew, acting vice principal of Al Muna Academy with her husband and her twins Oliver and Bella. Courtesy - Jodie Drew

She believes a lack of preparation on how to give online lessons has been the biggest bane of every teacher.

The schools in the country had to make the switch in just two weeks.

“Online learning is exciting but overwhelming. I feel I have to work 24/7 to prepare interactive sessions. I try to flip the classroom and start discussions so pupils can share ideas and feel involved,” said Ms Halawa, who teaches grade 9 pupils.

“This doubles the work we usually do as I have to give feedback for every little detail.

“I have lots of challenges like finding a quiet place to teach my lessons. Sometimes I end up sitting in the kitchen doing my sessions.”

Ms Halawa’s children try to help each other as the mother gives live lessons to her class.

My work day has extended but I try not to work past midnight and ensure I get some sleep

After finishing lessons at 2pm, she then checks homework, provides feedback to pupils, and prepares for the next day’s classes.

Emay Van Der Walt, an inclusion teacher from South Africa at Gems Metropole School in Motor City, said her own children's work suffered as she remained glued to the screen helping out her pupils.

“My main priority is providing the best quality teaching. But, I also have the responsibility of my own children. Because I am teaching, I cannot be with my nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter to support their learning," she said.

There is no play for her children after school hours as they sit with their mother trying to catch up on the classwork.

Ms Van Der Walt has created time tables for her children and a preset alarm goes off to mark the end of their lessons.

“After my classes, I help them answer their questions so they can submit their work," she said.

“My work day has extended but I try not to work past midnight and ensure I get some sleep."

Ms Van Der Walt, who teaches year 5 and 6 pupils, said she was motivated to help her pupils.

“Planning lessons takes a very long time. It could take a toll on me but I really enjoy my job and when a pupil learns something new you celebrate the small victories,” she said.

"In class you can immediately see if a pupil is losing interest, but when you are delivering lessons online, the pupils can see you but you can’t see them.”

Jodie Drew, the acting vice principal of Al Muna Academy in Abu Dhabi, spends her day switching between teaching online and taking care of her six-year-old twins Oliver and Bella.

“I am pressed for time. It has been a really hectic busy few weeks and we have had a massive learning curve," said Ms Drew.

Teachers at Al Muna Academy are using Microsoft Teams to conduct classes.

Ms Drew works for 45 minutes then helps her children, trying to find a balance between work and home.

Sawsan Tarabishy, principal at Al Bashair School in Abu Dhabi, said teachers had to hit the ground running and did not have time to plan for online learning.

"Now, teachers need to find time for themselves, wake up early, reflect and exercise," she said.

Alya Al Ramsi, an Emirati grade three science teacher at Al Taqaddom School, a government school in Abu Dhabi, admitted that online learning has been difficult for her as she ends up working till 10pm on most days.

Science experiments have been replaced with games, quizzes and activities now.

Ms Al Ramsi has three daughters aged five, seven and 11, who have online classes while she teaches lessons.

“I wake up early to make sure my children start lessons at 9am, while preparing my lessons simultaneously," she said.

"When my 11-year-old daughter finishes school, my younger daughter starts. I am training my children to study independently."