#FEATURE | To break the academic break

by Fran Fabricante, Kaleena So, and Juliana Gayapa

Eat, teach, check, sleep, repeat — this seems to be the never-ending routine of teachers in the online learning set-up.

“In reality, as teachers, we don’t have a break,” said Ma’am Lerma Espina when asked about how she spent the academic break.

As Pisay students took their academic break after expressing their concerns on Twitter through #PisayGiveUsABreak, the teachers from PSHS-MC didn’t exactly take the week-long academic break to actually “take a break.”

“It’s challenging because it’s something new, it’s like double work for teachers,” said Ma’am Tina Aytin.

“But we survive.”

Longing for human interaction

Humans are social beings; being social is what makes us human. One key social process in the lives of students and teachers is teaching, with face-to-face interaction at its heart. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused classrooms to close, and these interactions between students and teachers aren’t as tangible in virtual classrooms.

“We are so used to interacting with each other when it comes to the classroom, but this time it’s very limited,” said Ma’am Aytin.

As the online school set-up is very different from the usual face-to-face classes, the teachers have noticed some differences between the two, especially in terms of the difficulties in each set-up.

“There’s a big difference, the main difference in the human factor. We know that face-to-face is more personal and intimate while online feels superficial,” Ma’am Aytin said.

The desire for social interaction isn’t limited to teachers and students alone. It extends to colleagues, guards, and other members of the Pisay community as well.

Meron kang [You have an] increased feeling of isolation,” said Ma’am Donna Rebong as she reminisced about the moments of checking papers alongside her colleagues.

The longing for human interaction is no doubt the first thing that comes to mind as the pandemic caused us social beings to be isolated in the safety of our homes, away from the virus.

Aside from this, Ma’am Rebong expressed other difficulties of teaching online, such as limited sharing of insights from students, eye fatigue, difficulty in monitoring of advisees, and difficulty in adjusting to a new learning management system.

Life goes on

Eleven months of isolation have pushed us to find ways to interact despite being limited to seeing faces through a screen and listening to voices through a speaker. Likewise, some teachers have expressed difficulties in utilizing such limited time with their students.

“I maximize the 15 minutes na synchronous session to clarify talaga kung kamusta sila, ganun, tas to clarify kung ano yung malabo sa lessons,” said Ma’am Rebong.

(I maximize the 15-minute synchronous session to clarify how they’re doing, if they’re finding difficulty with the lessons.)

Teachers are highly encouraged to meet the 15-minute weekly check-in to accommodate those who have difficulty with internet connection. Some teachers, like Ma’am Rebong, post pre-recorded lectures and forums on KHub in order to encourage discussions that facilitate learning during the check-ins.

However, the lives of our teachers don’t revolve around solely on 15-minute check-ins. Our teachers are human too. As life continues amidst this chaos, sometimes taking a break and taking things one step at a time is the key to keeping one’s sanity during these times.

“It’s very difficult but the time will come and we’ll get through all this,” said Ma’am Espina.

On a lighter note, our teachers reassure us that slowly but surely, we’ll get the hang of things and adjust to the online learning set-up. They share some of the ways they cope with the challenges that come with this set-up.

“You are not a superwoman, you cannot do everything. So [first], have a routine, [second], you also have to be kind to yourself,” said Ma’am Aytin.

Even though we want to be as productive as we can, our teachers remind us that it’s perfectly fine to wind down and focus on self-care, since we are living through extraordinary times.

“[Give yourself] those little things for your own sanity.”.

The breakthroughs of online teaching

Online classes are something new for both students and teachers, so it’s quite easy to find its downsides. However, our teachers have found some aspects of teaching more enjoyable in the new set-up.

“What I enjoy in this set-up is the amount of free time you have and we get to be more compassionate sa isa’t isa [towards each other],” said Ma’am Aytin.

With all the free time the pandemic has given us, it also became an opportunity for teachers who are more used to the normal classroom set-up to break out of their comfort zone and learn.

“Lahat talaga ginagawa ko sa klase natin nung face-to-face. Pero ngayon natutuwa na ako na alam ko na kung paano gamitin yung Google Classroom, ngayon yung KHub, may Moodle training,” Ma’am Rebong expressed with excitement.

(I used to do everything myself during face-to-face classes. But now, I’m happy that I’ve learned how to use Google Classroom, and now, KHub, through Moodle training.)

Ma’am Espina expressed her enjoyment when students take the courage to share their experiences and participate despite the remote set-up. “I really appreciate students who participate in discussions without any hesitation.”

However, teachers sometimes find the downsides as well.

“But those who often turn off their camera and microphones, I don’t know what to feel,” she added.

For most teachers, they still end up reminiscing about the times of face-to-face classes, where real life interactions between students and teachers is something that can’t be replaced.

“I really miss it, the connection with my students. It’s a big difference now in only (online) synchronous meetings,” said Ma’am Espina.

A different perspective

October 19, 2020, emerged the hashtag #PisayGiveUsABreak on Twitter by Vyan Abella of Batch 2023. With the buildup of the students’ workload, scholars expressed their thoughts on getting the hashtag trending that night.

“I believe that we all needed this break, not only the students but also the teachers,” she continues expressing her reaction to the hashtag,” agreed Ma’am Espina.

Surprisingly, the Main Campus-initiated hashtag reached other Pisay students from various campuses. It eventually became a trending hashtag on Twitter, gathering sentiments from thousands of students systemwide.

“It’s a collective statement of the students, it’s not only about Vyan who led the campaign, hindi lang [not only] MC, but it is systemwide, a shared experience,” said Ma’am Rebong, who only found out about the hashtag through a friend.

Just like Ma’am Rebong, several teachers also found out about the trending hashtag from their students, friends, and even colleagues. As news sites started reporting on the story, the #PisayGiveUsABreak audience reached not only the entire Pisay community, but also nationwide.

“[I got shocked when I heard about it;] … I’m also not surprised,” Ma’am Aytin expressed.

The online learning experience is a new experience which students and teachers alike are adjusting to. With the trending hashtag, it became a light for teachers to realize how heavy the workload really is.

“Nasense ko talaga na mabigat yung workload nung mga estudyante,” Ma’am Rebong shared as she came to know that the students’ workload has nearly doubled in the distanced learning set-up.

(I really sensed that the students’ workload was really heavy.)

Iba yung level ng stress eh. Iba yung level na kahit kunwari isang module lang yan, dahil nga sa taas ng isolation natin wala kang nafefeel na katuwang, nadodoble siya,” Ma’am Rebong added.

(The level of stress is really different. Even if it’s just one module, because at the height of isolation we feel from not having someone to share our difficulties with, it doubles the stress that we actually feel.)

With the publicity of the hashtag, each PSHS campus started announcing their academic breaks for their students. The reluctance of starting the hashtag ended up with a systemwide academic break.

Getting the break

On October 20, Main Campus Director Lawrence Madriaga announced that PSHS-MC would have its academic break from October 29 to November 6. The week-long break served as a time for students to rest or to learn at their own pace without worrying about any deadlines to meet. For those with backlogs, this was also a time for them to catch up.

Although the break is labelled as an academic one, teachers aren’t exempted from taking a short break as well.

“I believe that we all need this break. Not only the students, but also the teachers,” said Ma’am Espina.

Despite the break, Sir Madriaga advised teachers to revisit the given requirements and to reassess the workload actually given to students.

“We didn’t really have a break, it was a catch-up break. We’re also streamlining our assessments and evaluating it because this is the first time we are in this set-up, the number of checkables for the teachers are a lot,” said Ma’am Aytin.

In the end, teachers spent the break for some rest, but mostly work. After the week-long break, everyone returned to online school again in hopes of a better learning experience.

A long term solution

Taking a break is always okay, our teachers explained. However, they believe that having multiple academic breaks is the most ideal solution addressing the students’ problem: burnout due to their academic workload.

“Siguro ako, yung academic break, ayoko siyang tawagang band-aid solution, pero hindi siya yung sagot sa pinakamalaking concern ng student body about workload,” said Ma’am Rebong.

(For me, the academic break, I don’t want to call it a band-aid solution, but it isn’t the solution to the biggest concern of the student body which is the workload.)

“Malaking tulong siya, pero hindi siya yung mismong sagot,” Ma’am Rebong added.

(It’s a big help, but it isn’t the actual solution.)

The students have the same sentiments. In a time when the youth is experiencing significant changes in their education, it’s definitely hard to convince those who are older, who aren’t attending online classes, to see the system from a student’s perspective.

“Malaki talagang advocacy sa ‘kin na sana non-numeric grading system nalang yung ipatupad sa assessment.”

(One of my biggest advocacies is to apply a non-numeric grading system for assessments.)

In August, the PSHS System enforced a bridging program for all students to make up for the missed lessons for the last quarter of Academic Year 2019–2020. Students were required to pass requirements, but these were not graded.

“Merong lumabas na result na study na cinonduct ng TC (Transitional Council) na kahit walang grades, lumabas naman sa mga survey na natuto naman yung mga estudyante.”

(There were results released from the study that the TC conducted that even without grades, the results showed that the students did learn.)

“Dagdag sa gawing regular yung break, more on decrease talaga yung workload, at tsaka kailangan natin i-review yung grading system natin,” Ma’am Rebong ended.

(In addition to having regular breaks, there should be more of a decreased workload, and we need to review our grading system.)

Amidst the difficulties of online education, our teachers still believe that there will be a better system. Although they had varying opinions on the academic break, they agreed that there is still a need for a long-term solution to ease their students’ workload.

Their voices go out to the Pisay community, carrying messages of reassurance and constantly guiding the student body as they did in person.

“It’s hard to see how everyone feels, but this is a new normal we have to accept,” said Ma’am Rebong.

Kaya natin ‘to.”



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The Science Scholar

The Science Scholar

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