As someone who identifies as an educator – how has the lock-down affected the way you impart education, be it arts, crafts, or whatever else?
Education facilitates the physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development of children. The lockdown has highly affected the educational system which plays a key role in the acquisition of knowledge in children. As a result, the role of an educator has become highly challenging with virtual learning — the ‘new normal’ at schools and educational institutes — not only in the United States but also all around the world. Usually during in-person classes, I would be able to have eye-eye contact with each student to make sure that they are attentive, engaged with their work, and understand whatever I have instructed in class. If they have any questions, I would provide solutions right away. In case, they need extra help, I would work one-on-one with them to help them understand. With the lockdown, I miss all of the teachable moments and social interactions with the children. I had to brainstorm on adapting creative teaching techniques that would create a personalized learning experience for the students without any technical difficulties. There was a lot of preparation to be done before I hosted a virtual class. I would provide the class details to my students a few days before hosting a virtual class. This would help them get an idea on what is being taught, what materials are required, and what steps to follow. This extra time and effort that I added to my virtual class, however, enhanced each student’s curiosity, enthusiasm, and interest in learning. At the end of each class, I spend some time asking the students about their virtual learning experience, as I always like to receive their honest feedback to improve my teaching strategies.

You have trained as a teacher to work with children with learning differences — how was that experience?
Every child is a priceless gift of God. I truly believe that there shouldn’t be any comparison between children as they learn at their own pace based on their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. With the wealth of knowledge that I have gained through my Master’s Degree in Education at Dallas Baptist University, and teacher training program for children with learning differences at June Shelton School in Dallas, Texas, I was able to work at a private school with students who had learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia). I would say that my love for teaching and compassionate qualities towards others helped me to educate these children without getting impatient. I believe that teaching and helping a child with learning difficulties to become a successful person would be the greatest achievement for me as a teacher. Initially, it took me a while to understand the development level of each child, but I was able to find out the areas where they needed one-on-one attention. Conferences with parents gave me opportunities to discuss students’ difficulties in understanding concepts and the ways in which parents could support their children at home. The best part of being a teacher has been witnessing students’ growth in cognitive skills and sharing their successes with their parents.

Keeping children occupied in a lock-down such as this is key — how do you use your skills as a crafts instructor or a baking instructor with children in this situation?
One of the biggest challenges for children during this lockdown is finding ways to stay occupied at home. It can be a difficult time for children to maintain social distancing and to stay away from the negative influences of social media. But this is definitely the chance for children to explore things they wouldn’t normally have time for. This lockdown has completely changed the way children look at the world around them. They may go through anxiety, and could become frustrated with staying indoors and not having social interactions with others. As a craft educator, I have been hosting online workshops on Asian arts and crafts to students in different parts of the US. I have tried to make these workshops fun and interactive through visual clips, making it easy to learn about arts and crafts. These teaching strategies have helped to strike children’s imagination with curiosity and interest. Additionally, they became very enthusiastic in answering my interactive session, which indirectly brought out their hidden knowledge. Recently, I hosted a virtual baking workshop (fundraiser for COVID-19) to raise money for Balavihar, a school for mentally challenged children in Chennai, India. This school has been very close to my heart since my childhood. Children from different parts of the USA took part in this baking workshop. I taught the students not only about a baking recipe but about the importance of community service. Through my workshop, they learned that the purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion, and that among all gifts of charity — providing food to the hungry is the greatest of all gifts.

You must be often expected to be an expert of South Asian culture within your community — how does one as an educator ensure children far away from their homeland pick up culture and traditions, willingly?
I think it is the responsibility of parents to play a key role in educating their children about their culture and traditions. Getting children involved with their own cultural activities such as art, music, dance, language, food, and festivals can have a great influence on them, which helps them to stay connected with their own culture and traditions. As an educator, I have been hosting presentations on South Asian culture and traditions at various schools to educate students and widen their knowledge.

What does it mean to be an educator in a post COVID-19?
We need to accept the ‘new normal’ as we have no control over the current crisis. Virtual learning is going to be the method of education until the environment is ready and safe for normal classes to happen as before. It is such a difficult time for educators as they need to prepare a lot before each class and spend extra time to make sure the students understand the instructions provided. Collaborative learning and laboratory lessons will be highly impacted in order to maintain social distance, and we must find new ways to make these activities engaging even if they are virtual. As hybrid classes may also be seen, it will be important to maintain strong communication with all students and their parents.