Online teaching during a pandemic: The Lebanese perspective

On the last Friday of February 2020, we left school at 3 pm wishing each other a relaxing weekend ahead. Little did we know that we had all gathered in the teachers’ lounge for the last time before schools across Lebanon indefinitely closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Teaching ranks high among the many professions that significantly changed due to the pandemic, not only in Lebanon, but rather worldwide. Schools  closed overnight, and teachers were left with minimal to no resources to help them adjust to a complicated and unanticipated new scenario: online teaching. 

Miraculously, my fellow teachers and I managed to survive the academic year, breathing a great sigh of relief at having conquered one of the toughest challenges of our career yet.

In a country of complete uncertainty, teachers entered the summer of 2020 anxious and uncertain about the future of education. At the very end of it, we discovered that going back to teaching in schools was not going to happen –leaving us with yet another year of online classes and the difficulties that come with them.

Shifting classrooms: Online teaching comes with its unique set of obstacles 

Adjusting to social distancing measures was not the only challenge we faced, the switch to virtual classrooms posed newfound forms of stress and worry. I remember how anxious I was just thinking about sitting behind a laptop for five full days a week. 

As a social studies (geography and history) teacher, my lessons heavily rely on interactions with students in classrooms. How was I going to do that from behind a screen?

Contrary to popular belief, teaching from home is not fun, nor is it easy. This was especially difficult to navigate in the beginning of the swap to online classes.

There were so many obstacles teachers needed to take into consideration, and so many hurdles that stood in the way of a smooth teaching experience. In a utopian society, the internet would be at full speed at all times and the electricity would never cut off. But unfortunately, we live in Lebanon.

It’s also really much more than “teaching in your pajamas” and “giving classes from bed on a rainy day” –although truthfully, I did teach a lesson or two from bed on some cold days back in February. 

Oddly enough, the amount of work I did in this past academic year was double or triple of that I did in the previous two years combined. In a real-life classroom, I could easily explain a lesson, ask students to finish class work, correct it, do a quick summary, and that was it. 

In an online classroom, that was inapplicable for various reasons. I needed to engage students as much as possible to deliver my lesson. I counted on them, as much as they counted on me to understand. 

Additionally, teachers only deal with students in a regular school setting. If they misbehave, we know how to deal with them. But in an online scenario, that was also inapplicable. Removing the student from the session would not be considered a punishment, rather a reward.

Online teaching in Lebanon provided insight about the need for a huge change to our curricula. Some materials are very outdated and do not interest students. Coupled with an attempt to teach this material online is practically a recipe for disaster, because the disinterest runs high and our motivation starts to run low.

Besides the students we were dealing with, we now had third parties become an active part of the online teaching experience: parents and caretakers. We needed their support at home during this time, because we simply could not do it alone. Online teaching became a joint effort between teachers, students and parents.

What’s worse than teaching in a pandemic? Teaching in a pandemic and an economic crisis  

As the semesters progressed, we came to recognize more and more difficulties arising. Not only were we teaching during a pandemic, but Lebanon’s economic and financial situation had slowly begun to spiral out of control.

To say that teachers are underpaid is an understatement, they aren’t rewarded enough for the huge effort they have been putting in since the start of this pandemic. 

With the current exchange rate of the Lebanese lira on parallel markets, our salaries mean virtually nothing –a fact even our employers know of. When we meet with colleagues now, our discussions are centered around quitting teaching for good and finding another job.

Regardless, we survived another academic year online –accompanied by back pain, headaches and sore throats because of the non-stop effort put into teaching. I lost count how many COVID-19 scares I have experienced because of that.

It was an unusual year, a chaotic one to say the least: students were expected to adapt to this change, maintain a good average and stay sane along the way. Parents were expected to assist their children at home, while making sure that the internet is always at top speed and despite many of them having day jobs.

Teachers –more like superheroes– were expected to do a whole lot of things, while also staying sane and surviving an economic collapse where their salaries lost 90 percent of their market value. The final session I taught on Microsoft Teams was the biggest relief, because it felt like we had finally done it. 

Teachers are now waiting to see what the next academic year is going to be. Is it online? Are we going to go back to school? Is it going to be a hybrid schedule? Nobody knows anything, as our futures are shrouded with uncertainty in this country. And decisions made are rarely ever final. What we do know is this: We are tired. 

Teachers deserve more respect and appreciation. At some point, our careers came at the expense of our mental health. If you’re a teacher who’s reading this, be proud of yourself. If you’re a student who’s reading this, you’re a hero too.

Go thank a teacher, hug them, appreciate them more. If not this year, then the coming one.