'Clouds and sunshine: surviving a challenging year' by Grace Alchini

26th January 2021

The pandemic has undoubtedly been the protagonist of this strange year for most (if not all) of us. It has shaken our lives in many different ways. It has been a period of difficulties, challenges and losses, but there have also been opportunities for learning, growth and appreciation of the great simple things that make part of our lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread all over the world bringing about tremendous consequences at different levels. Education has been no exception, teachers have had to shift to online classes overnight when many of them were not ready to do it as they were not exactly tech-savvy and they lacked training in digital pedagogy. At the same time, not every student has had the means to follow the new model, and there has been a worrying increase in the dropout rate.

However, not everything has been negative and it is possible to find the proverbial silver lining in every cloud even in these circumstances. Many teachers have had the chance to save commuting time (and money and stress as well) and spend it doing what was more necessary at the given moment: relishing moments with the family, exercising, eating more healthily, or simply enjoying the comfort of their homes just to give a few examples. We have not been able to meet people living geographically close to us, but most of the courses, seminars, conferences, shows and even prospective clients were suddenly just a click away. That enabled access to people and events we had never imagined before. Also, regarding the attitude of many of us, there has been a deeper appreciation of nature and gratitude for the simple things of life which are now felt so important.

This does not mean to be an exhaustive description of the situation in 2020. It is mainly an enumeration of some of the things that most of us have lived through in this period, after I had several conversations with people from different corners of the world. Everybody has surely found their own pros and cons in their experience of this challenging year. Personally, I have lived a rollercoaster of emotions, the result of things that worked and did not work, and situations that made me feel either hopeful or discouraged. There was the disappointment of in-company projects that did not materialize, but also the discovery of a market of young professionals interested in improving their English skills independently. No trips nor coffees with friends, but instead the warmth of my home and the support of my family, and above all, the time to get to know myself better. On the other hand, a significantly reduced income, which nevertheless gave me the possibility of learning to make do with just what I truly need. No chance to go to conferences abroad, but I could present at many more events than in previous years, reaching places I never thought I would ever give a talk in. I could also run workshops with participants from other countries, and take a course usually delivered in another continent, both experiences made available to me thanks to online learning. In spite of uncertainty and fear, I discovered my ability to go through these turbulent times with flexibility and resilience.

And what about being an IATEFL member and volunteer in this period? Let me just say that it has been the most heartening experience. I have been a member for 4 years and part of BESIG’s online team for more than 3, but I never felt as supported as I have this year. I had time to reflect and realise how much I have learnt from colleagues from all over the world since I joined, and I have particularly valued the efforts made by the SIGs I follow in this period to help teachers face the challenges that the shift to virtual learning has posed, especially the webinars offered by the LTSIG. The greatest gift, however, has been the feeling of belonging to a community (and a family). Being a freelancer, these times of isolation would have been unbearable to me had I not been part of my BESIG team. Apart from the pleasure of working with like-minded colleagues in a virtual environment where, in spite of the distance, we feel close to each other and truly connected, I have felt energized by the proactive, creative and thoughtful participation of my teammates, a group of committed and caring people. The big revelation was the preparation of the annual BESIG conference, online for the first time as a huge event lasting 3 days and featuring more than 80 sessions and breakout rooms to network. As extra help was needed to host and moderate so many sessions, there was a call for volunteers which had an amazing response. More than 20 colleagues generously offered not only their time and commitment but also their friendship and good humour. Without them, the conference would not have been as successful as it was. How couldn’t I feel grateful for belonging to such a fantastic community?

Crisis, hope, lockdown, gratitude, fear, home… the list goes on, a mix of words to descrite 2020. Each of us has their own set of words, some are the same and some are different, because we are not in the same boat, though we are facing the same storm. Let’s hope in the new year we can sail in calmer waters and that we do not forget the lessons learnt in unforgettable 2020.

About Grace Alchini 







Grace Alchini is a freelance teacher of English, business communication and ESP trainer based in Puebla, Mexico. She has over 35 years’ experience teaching at universities and providing in-company services. She has been a frequent speaker at conferences over the last 8 years. She is a member of IATEFL BESIG’s online team. She can be reached at  [email protected]

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