Covid-19 was no doubt a stressful time for teachers. I myself suffered my first ever migraine; a result, I believe, of so-called Zoom-fatigue. However, it was also the trigger for much ‘forced experimentation’: the idea that an unwelcome imposition can push us to change our habits and, in the process, develop new skills. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I look back on the period as one in which I made more self-improvements than at any other time in my career (matched only by the DELTA). In this article, I’m going to reflect on four of these improvements.
Text by: Matt Prior
- I’ll start with the obvious: technology. I wouldn’t say I was resistant before, but I certainly didn’t embrace it. I’d never considered the possibility of giving online lessons, for instance. I wouldn’t think twice now; it seems as natural to be on a laptop as it is to be in the classroom. I learnt how to use platforms that I didn’t even know existed before the pandemic hit, and I learnt how to use tools that assisted me not only in doing new things (e.g., creating interactives) but also in combing old methods with new ones (e.g., using Google Docs for collaborative writing). I’ve now integrated such tools into my ‘normal’ teaching, which I may not have done otherwise.
- I’ve flipped the classroom. It very quickly became apparent to me in online lessons that maximising time was all-important: learners, deprived of physical interaction, simply wouldn’t tolerate individual, passive learning (not that this has ever been my approach). I found the flipped classroom to be the perfect antidote: I set most exercises to be done ‘at home’ (with support), leaving plenty of opportunity for active learning in class (e.g., pair work and group work in breakout rooms). It helped my learners build autonomy and boost their communication skills. It went so well that I’ve continued the approach on my return to the physical classroom.
- I now have available to me an open channel of dialogue with my learners, in the form of the chat box on Skype, my platform of choice. If anyone has a question about anything, they are easily able to contact me without having to contact the school first. I know many teachers who already had a similar system in place (using WhatsApp, for instance), but I always avoided this, not wanting to be disturbed in my own time. What’s good about the chat box is that I only access it on my laptop, when I’m ‘at work’: I can dip in and dip out, and my learners never feel left on their own. Indeed, they also chat with each other, and they invariably do this in English.
- I’ve learnt that sharing really is caring. I’d always enjoyed after-class chats, and the sudden lack of them highlighted just how vital they are in fostering a healthy teacher community: it’s a lonely profession, as the saying goes, but it’s even lonelier online. In order to combat this, I started a ‘Lockdown Meetup’ with colleagues. Once a week, we would come together to share ideas that had worked and ideas that hadn’t worked, and to vent our frustrations (never in short supply). I know we all benefited greatly from it, both in terms of improving lessons and sustaining mental health. I will never take the staffroom for granted again now we have it back!