This is a personal diary of a week in the time of self-isolation due to COVID -19. I am starting my third lockdown week during which I have kept some notes that I want to share with you.
Day One (8 March)
My world has suddenly become restricted. Usually, four days a week I get around Milan by bike or tube to reach the places where I teach. This routine will not be possible for some time to come.
I call one of my friends who teaches in a school where children already use iPads instead of books. She is ready to face this new situation, as are all her pupils, without any major adjustments.
However, another friend is panicking because his PC is very old and even his smartphone is not the latest model. He feels miserable because he thinks that he won’t be able to teach (properly) online. He thinks he may lose some of his classes and worries about paying the bills. To reduce his paranoia, I agree to help him. It is important to remember that with all shops closed, it is still possible to do online shopping and to buy up-to-date technology.
Despite the negative situation, I wake up with a smile. Normally, I hate to wake up early in the morning to be at my workplace at 9 am. However, since all my lessons are online now, I can wake up later and teach wearing just a blouse and the bottom of my pyjamas. I can’t help smiling at this thought :-)
I am tech savvy and am the proud owner of a tablet, a laptop and a smartphone. I have always assumed that online teaching could be normal practice for every teacher. I mean, we all have a smartphone and use Skype, Webex or Zoom; so, no big deal! Not true! While some teachers are enthusiastic about online teaching, others are real technophobes; and many don’t have the proper equipment. I am helping some in the latter group and I have learnt that it is important to project calmness while supporting these colleagues. I feel that this virus is going to give a boost to those teachers who have been reluctant to adopt online teaching.
First online lesson today. If you have two students online everything is smooth and easy. However, when you have a class of 46 students, everything is different. Even in a physical classroom, it can be difficult to follow each of the students but you rely on your eyes and there is a sort of chemistry in the room. Online, however, you are in a different situation, so your perceptions change and time passes differently.
In my virtual class, I ask some students to switch on their cameras; otherwise, I have the impression that I am there on my own. We communicate with the chat function and after a while they also start talking by using their mics. Fortunately, university curriculum is very strict and we have to follow the course book. Normally, in a classroom, I tend to add personalization, and to create new contexts, to teach what is in the book. For this first online lesson, however, I am happy to follow the book because it is a sort of map that my students can follow. This particular unit is about products but even here I feel I can be spontaneous. So, I ask them to share a picture of their latest purchase, and suddenly the lesson becomes lively and there is a sort of personal connection even though I can’t see them all.
Online teaching has one disadvantage - you can’t have the same level of empathy, mainly because you can’t look into the students’ eyes. However, there are the emoticons! We have started using them in order to give some sort of colour to our chats. I have established a new relationship with my students because we start the lesson by sharing our ‘feelings’ with emoticons. This new Covid situation is much harder than we all admit, so, it is important to share our emotions to reduce stress levels. So, before we start, we talk about our day and share some emoticons:)
I am beginning to feel that I can cope with this lockdown, and there may even be some positive outcomes. First, the ‘clock’ is not important! What is more important is the relationship with people. I have a clearer understanding that we are all human beings, and that our work as teachers can make a big difference. Second, lifelong learning is the key to success because otherwise you are unprepared when facing an emergency like the present one.
I wonder what we’ll do when life gets back to normal again. The crisis has made us test new ways of teaching and of communicating. In a way, we are collecting feedback/forward which will be useful when readjusting our practices in the future. Maybe in the future (soon!), we can give more support to teachers by training them to use new technologies as part of pre-service training. Maybe we can create a fund for freelance teachers to help them to buy up-to-date devices. Maybe I am just dreaming :)
Thinking about the future - about the next IATEFL Conference 2021. We will all be changed a bit after this, and I’d like to imagine that we can celebrate with a big party where we can hug each other, and talk about how we can improve our way of being teachers by listening to each other and by sharing our newly-acquired experiences.
Erica Napoli Rottstock is a DELTA qualified teacher who works as a freelance teacher in Milan, teaching Professional English at a university in Milan. In addition, she does some online teaching for children who live Gaza on behalf of the Hands Up project. She has also taught teens and toddlers in the past.
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