Government work, and then homework

Hundreds of teachers have been pressed into service by the government for work related to the pandemic, but a majority have not been relieved from their teaching duties

Arun (name changed), a 38-year-old primary school teacher, wakes up around 6.30 a.m. every day so he can start preparing study material for his class by 8 p.m..

He even manages to get some household chores done before he leaves for work at 11 a.m. But he does not head for school.

In fact, Arun has not been to school for the last one year. He was roped in for COVID-19 duty by the District Magistrate (DM) office in September last year and he has not been relieved since then.

“Officially, we are relieved from school duty when we join COVID-19 duty at the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) office. But since no one replaced me at school, I have to manage teaching students too,” said Arun, who teaches at a municipal corporation school.

“For the last one year, in addition to COVID-19 duties, I have been teaching and I am still the in-charge of a section in Class V, which has 38 students. We had asked the principal to tell the civic body about the situation, but the authorities do not care,” he added.

Hundreds of teachers have been pressed into service by the government for work related to the pandemic, including conducting surveys and issuing challans, and many have been juggling both COVID-19 duties as well as teaching.

“About 90% of teachers who are on COVID-19 duty are still teaching, either online or offline. Officially, they don’t have to do it. But there is pressure from the school,” said Ajay Veer Yadav, general secretary of the Government School Teachers’ Association (Delhi).

A Delhi government spokesperson did not offer a comment. “Once teachers are attached to COVID-19 duty, it is not mandatory for them to do school-related work as they will be automatically relieved from the school as per the rules,” a Delhi government official said.

Teachers said they never had to do two duties at one time, even when they were put on election or census-related duties.

Arun started reporting for duty at the SDM office after getting an SMS from the DM office. “I had to do duty at the airport in March and then again in July, just after the second wave hit. We had to check whether passengers had a RT-PCR negative report. If they didn’t, then we had to take them for checking. We were not given face shields or PPE kits and we were coming in contact with a lot of international flyers. Every day, we would find out that five-six passengers from the previous day had tested positive for the virus,” he recalled, adding that all the people on duty used to worry about their families.

“It used to be midnight by the time I reached home after airport duty. My daughters would be sound asleep. I would go to the washroom and take a shower straight away before meeting my family,” he said.

At one point, around 25 of the 28 teachers in Arun’s school were attached to COVID-19 duty. “The principal asked me to handle my class. Unofficially, everyone is doing it. It has increased work pressure, but not to the level that we can’t handle it,” he said, adding, “We prepare worksheets for students and send them to parents over WhatsApp. The students send us the completed work, which we then evaluate. We also send videos and audio via WhatsApp, but I don’t take live classes.”

Thirty-three-year-old Priya (name changed), who teaches primary students at a Delhi government school, said she was first attached to the DM office for COVID-19 duty in November last year and currently, she has been associated since July 1. “I am teaching my students now, and also last year when I was doing COVID-19 duty,” she said.

While being on COVID-19 duty for the last 80 days, she has also been in-charge of 40 Class IV students.

“Every day, after coming back from COVID-19 duty, I cook dinner and then prepare for the next day’s school work. I prepare the worksheet and make videos or audio to explain the material. I do this generally before dinner. Around 10 p.m., I sit down to correct the worksheets sent by students. If it is only a day’s worksheet then it takes around 40 minutes, but sometimes it goes on till midnight,” said Priya, who has a son.

She said that five out of nine teachers in the primary section of her school are currently on COVID-19 duty. “Last year, when we were doing a door-to-door survey, we had to work on Sundays and public holidays. Throughout COVID-19 duty, I have been managing school work too.”

Priya said that earlier, when they were put on election or any other duty, it was understood that they did not have to do school work, but the situation has changed. “Now, there is an environment where everything is online, so we have to manage both. If I say no, then the pressure on colleagues will increase,” she added.

Most of the teachers are managing both duties but it is strongly affecting students’ studies. She also said that work pressure has increased. “But my husband has been really supportive and I have been able to manage both duties. The other teachers also complain about workload, but we have to do it; we can’t do anything about it. Also, I can’t just leave my students, right?” she said.

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