I don’t know about you but being plunged into the world of online teaching felt like learning a whole new job and set of skills overnight. I felt like a complete novice teacher again, and in fact I was. I had to learn from scratch what worked and what didn’t, I watched webinars, read articles, and as always – learnt from experience. It was a challenge, but after two months I’d finally developed a new skill set and was enjoying my zoom lessons as much as my students.
Then something even more challenging happened – we went back to school.
In Geneva schools opened again on 11th May, under strict sanitary guidelines and I found myself teaching half the class at a time (which was often the case because our school has always split at least two thirds of the language class hours anyway), so far so good you may say.
Yes, it was lovely to see everyone again, to have face-to-face (or mask to mask!) contact, to see my colleagues, for students who had weak internet connection to finally join in, to no longer have to spend my evenings scanning chapters for those who’d left their books at school.
However, the new rules mean the teachers must wear a mask when moving around the school. When the students have entered a classroom, we have all disinfected our hands and they have sat in their new socially distanced places then I can remove my mask if I stay standing at the front of the class, at least two metres away from the students. Some classrooms even have plastic screens I can sit behind.
I cannot give worksheets, cards, games, anything in fact to my students. I cannot take in their work, I cannot move around the classroom checking their work, or making suggestions. Students cannot work in pairs, share documents or materials, they cannot work in groups. I cannot move from in front of the whiteboard. A student who has forgotten his/her book cannot share with a neighbour, students no longer have neighbours! The French education ministry has officially declared that results from this period (how was I supposed to mark their work anyway??) are not to be taken into account, and certain students have quickly realised what this entails. However new rules mean we cannot remove a student from the classroom if their behaviour disturbs the lesson, there are no longer detentions or written sanctions in case of misbehaviour, students who would whisper to their classmates before now need to call out in order to be heard…
My first thoughts when trying to prepare my post-confinement classes were about all the things we cannot do, and I’ll admit that a few of my lessons felt like I’d gone back in time a hundred years or so, me writing on the board and the students copying it ( with me having no idea whether what they were copying was correct or not!).
This is NOT the kind of “teaching” I want in my classroom, it’s soul destroying and boring, I’m continually trying to make my lessons more inclusive; avoiding my students having to copy from the board, giving time for everyone to discretely ask for help if they need it, leaving a box of fast-finisher activities at the front of the class or students to delve into and find a fun activity to be getting on with while the others finish, plenty of “think-share-pair”…
Now we’re down to just “think-“.
So think is what I’ve been doing and I’ll be sharing any ideas I come up with over the next week or so. In the meantime, please share yours below.
I understand your dilemma. Modern teachers have been given such a huge array of resources that we have come to rely heavily on them all. Perhaps too much. I’m not for a moment saying I would wish to be in your situation – as here in the U.K., I suspect the main reason for wanting to re-open schools is not to do with education so much as child-minding so that parents can go back to work. As with so many things, the pandemic is laying bare fundamental attitudes…
But on the other hand, many of the so-called difficulties that the majority people have encountered are more to do with their expectations being transgressed than any really existential hardship. They learn to cope – and it may even be doing them some good. I find that the need for lots of support materials and the expectation that they create in pupils can be counter-productive. They mask the fundamental task that is involved in learning, and make it all too easy to avoid. There is something you can still do, and it may even make you a better teacher. You mentioned it in your post, and I am curious to know what the long-term effect will be on your pupils: “Just think”.
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