While online teaching has its perks, it is a poor substitute for regular classes. The interaction between students with their classmates, as well as with their teachers, is severely limited by the online classroom. As an ESL teacher, these limitations are even more constrictive because, as any language teacher will know, body language, gestures, and eye contact are vital when teaching languages. On top of this, teaching ESL to Japanese students is a whole other experience because they are less accustomed to raising hands or spontaneously interacting with peers or the teacher in a classroom setting. What’s already a challenging teaching environment has been made even more so by the present coronavirus situation.
The Japanese academic year ends in March and begins in April. This means I’d spent the prior 3-4 months preparing a completely new syllabus for our English Conversation program, as well as ordering new textbooks and reviewing them so I could readily explain their usage to our Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). Spring break started mid-March, so I figured I’d push all the me-time activities like eating out, going to the movies, meeting friends, to when the break started. That, of course, never happened.
The cinemas closed down on my last day of school, and soon the lockdown followed. Even then, I thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad. The school can’t possibly be closed for too long. Maybe just a month or so till we find some way to handle the situation. But no, spring break lasted three weeks longer than it should have, and school is now made up of multiple videos on a computer screen.
It’s been three months since this new way of learning began. We’ve learnt to deal with suddenly going offline while teaching since the network in India isn’t always great, having to repeat ourselves often since some students hear us, but others don’t. We teach while random noises like the doorbell, the garbage truck tune, a sibling practicing the flute, a parent talking on the phone, pets playing around in the background. Some students have been able to adjust to this new normal, while others are struggling.
I’ve never really sat and thought of the importance of school because it’s always been a given. But the pandemic and the sudden migration of physical classrooms to online ones have really highlighted the significant role school plays in all our lives. School is where we learn the nuances of communicating with each other. Body language, eye contact, voice inflection, physical touch – we begin to understand social cues and gain skills that prepare us for adulthood. Some of our best friends and memories were made in school. World over, many children are missing out on months, and possibly a whole year of socializing with peers, mentors and teachers. All of us need human connection, but it’s even more crucial for students since this is their most vulnerable and impressionable stage. We, as teachers, parents or older siblings, need to do our part in being more vigilant, attentive and available to and for them.
There are many resources and articles that are coming out on how best to spend this extended period of time, at home, for children and teenagers and how to maintain human connections. At our school, students have partnered with another school in creating videos and interviewing each other on the website Flipgrid. This has allowed them not to miss out on relationship building skills which they would have normally been developing during school activities or recess!
We’ve learnt to deal with suddenly going offline while teaching since the network in India isn’t always great, having to repeat ourselves often since some students hear us, but others don’t. We teach while random noises like the doorbell, the garbage truck tune, a sibling practicing the flute, a parent talking on the phone, pets playing around in the background. Some students have been able to adjust to this new normal, while others are struggling.
I’m confident that teachers and parents have discovered other interactive and entertaining ways to keep their students and children engaged during this extended time of social isolation. Although it may require more time and effort on our part to come up with creative and educational activities for them, they need it now more than ever.
To my fellow teachers, I applaud you. I know you have 75% more work now than ever before. I know you stay up late more now than before the pandemic, to help your students learn better. Hang in there!
To students, online classes can be difficult, but please bear with us as we navigate teaching during these unusual times. See you soon!