Fancy taking a sabbatical?

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This time it feels like I’m taking a really long break. Apart from enjoying my summer holidays, I’m taking a mental break from anything related to my job. You might have guessed that anyway since I haven’t written a single blog post for quite a while, which is not typical of me – I’ve normally been the most prolific in July and August in the past. I’m not very active on social media either, especially Twitter is being neglected at the minute.

This, by no means, was some conscious decision of mine. As cliché as it sounds, I need to say it just happened. I suspect it’s partly because back in June, an important era in my professional life had ended and I suddenly felt like there was a new beginning on the horizon. And so on a subconscious level I probably felt it might be good to just ‘sit down and chill out’ a bit before diving in my duties again. Also, the pandemic obviously mixed things up a bit so this summer can never feel the same summers normally feel.

Anyways, I’ve recently been doing the most trivial things you can imagine – reading fiction (obviously non-elt related), listening to YouTube videos about simple life and slow living, watching HBO (nothing to do with teaching), cleaning my house, decluttering, organizing, looking for my style (oops, that’s a bit too trivial, even to my taste), you name it. You may think I will probably have a hard time catching up when I get back in the teaching saddle again. Still, I feel I’ll be perfectly ready when the school starts because ironically, my brain is currently taking in much more than it can normally afford during the busy school year.

The only thing directly related to my job I’ve done recently was when I had a session with one of my students to help her to prepare for her final exams. And that was when I felt the flutters in my chest again – I realized how much I love my job. I suddenly felt I couldn’t wait to be back in the classroom. I couldn’t wait to share with my students everything I’d learned over the past few weeks (months, in fact, because I haven’t seen many of them since the COVID-19 started). I’m sure many of them will have changed a lot and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve grown and what they’ ve learned.

The other day I read a post on Facebook where someone asked this question in a teachers forum: What are you doing during the holidays to prepare for the upcoming school year? Lots of teachers replied enthusiastically, saying that they are doing lots of stuff: cutting out pictures, looking for new teaching materials, organizing their digital files, etc. There were a few, though, who got a bit angry and accused the person that by asking such a question they are implying that teachers should be working on holidays and as a result, those who are just chilling out and recharging their batteries feel a bit guilty for not being busy getting ready for work.

Well, I remember the days when I ‘worked hard’ during the holidays too because I had loads of energy and ideas and I simply wanted to take advantage of that. This year, on the other hand, I barely think of school and it feels right too. So, I guess the trick is to do what you enjoy doing, whether it is job-related or not. In the end, either will be beneficial for your well-being as well as your professional development.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that being able to take my mind off the stress of my job for a longer period of time (while still getting paid!) and having the opportunity to focus on what I love outside of my work is highly beneficial both for my psyche and subsequently for the psyche of others – my students included. I believe that we, ordinary teachers, should be entitled to a longer sabbatical. This way we could pursue our personal interests, develop new skills – both professional and personal – as well as gain new energy and motivation. Also, it would definitely be an efficient way of avoiding burnout.

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Like seeing an old friend

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Today, after three months of teaching online – asynchronously – I saw my younger students face to face again. I was obviously eager to see how they were doing and to learn all about their learning experience over the past few months. So, in order to get the picture, I asked them personal questions as well as questions about their learning progress. In other words, I wanted to know how they had learned and how they felt about the learning strategies they had had to apply.

Apart from small talk, I also tried to include some revision of the things we had covered during the COVID-19 period to unofficially gauge my students’ progress. I took it easy and slowly in the beginning because I assumed that they might need some time to adjust, especially in terms of their speaking performance (after all, they hadn’t practised speaking for nearly three months!). But I was pleasantly surprised – they caught up quickly. Well, I’m not saying they were as fluent as they had been before the lockdown, but I can’t say they were less fluent either. So, I thought to myself that after all, speaking fluency is not that easy to lose once you’ve mastered it to a certain degree, and I felt truly relieved that no damage had been done despite what many sceptics assumed. All in all, we simply picked up where we had last left off. It felt like seeing an old friend at a school union – although you haven’t seen each other for ages, you immediately find topics to talk about.

What surprised me even more though was the fact that in the face-to-face lesson, they were producing language which we had specifically covered during the lockdown. When I asked them if they needed me to re-explain some things, they refused politely. What’s more, they later proved that they truly didn’t need my additional help. Honestly, I should have felt rejected and useless, but instead, I felt excited. To put it bluntly, I was pleased that my online teaching had had some positive effect on my students, which was particularly true for their grammar knowledge. It seemed to me that the fact that they had had plenty of opportunities and time to process the new language items on their own and at their own pace contributed to their progress in the grammar area.

The above-mentioned discoveries shook my beliefs concerning how grammar should be taught. I am not a big fan of explicit presentation of grammar points and I have always believed that grammar should be taught implicitly, inconspicuously, i.e. through meaningful context and plenty of practice – written as well as oral. However, it seems that if you give students the time and space they need to truly grasp a problem, even in an online, asynchronous environment, they may later need less practice than you think they do. Also, it occurred to me that if *I* am given the time and space I need to plan activities and think things through in the online environment, I can probably do much better as a teacher than I do in a physical classroom. Scary, right?

Well, I’ve always known it – it takes each and every one of my students a different amount of time to really master the content I throw at them – but now the truth has revealed itself to the fullest and I can’t ignore it any more now that I’ve seen it. 🙂

 

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My little experiments

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The realm of online teaching is perfect territory for all sorts of experiments – social, pedagogical and educational – especially now when the parties involved are not under too much pressure from the education system. What I mean here is that nobody forces the teacher to produce a certain amount of grades, nobody strictly tells them how much work they need to complete and assign (more is definitely not better) and so they are less stressed by the need to come up with concrete results and tangible outcomes.

So, I wake up every morning and promise myself that from this day on, I will assign tasks which will be totally optional. I will finally set my students free from the constraints of the system. And I will see what happens. Will the participation drop dramatically? Or will I be pleasantly surprised? I keep telling myself that, after all, assigning work exclusively to students who really want to do it will actually save me a lot of time and energy. There will be less feedback to write. There will be less to worry about in general. But, for some reason, I haven’t had the courage to go this ‘unconventional’ yet. I believe it is because for some people (me being one of them) it’s terribly difficult to change their mindset overnight – the mindset telling you that many students won’t do anything if you don’t make them and that people must appreciate your work by responding to it in some way.

But I’m not a monster. I do give my students some leeway in terms of completing their homework. For example, I recently assigned an exercise for students to practise comparatives and superlatives through L1-L2 translation. I asked them to do the task, but I also included the key with the correct answers and asked them to afterwards look at the key and correct the mistakes. The idea that they can look at the key prior to actually doing the task is nagging at the back of my mind but, well, that’s the risk. That’s part of the social/pedagogical/educational experiment. I have nothing to lose and my students have nothing to lose either. They can only gain.

Some say that it is vitally important to stick to a daily routine when you end up confined like this. But I’ve heard others argue that flexibility is the key and that rigidity of any kind is detrimental to your mental health in such a difficult situation; it will kill your spirit and finally drive you even crazier than you already are. I strongly believe in the former and thus I try to work around a regular timetable. I wouldn’t have to be so persistent if I didn’t want to – I could skip a ‘lesson’ here and there or add one on a day I don’t teach a particular class but that’s my experiment. I decided I wanted to be a predictable type of teacher, even though I can’t really say whether it is beneficial for my students or if it actually drives them crazy. It probably depends on what kind of people they are and what situation they find themselves in right now. One way or the other, they can always count on me – I will always be there on certain days and at certain times. Will they eventually appreciate it? We shall see.

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Making up for the cons of asynchronous online classes

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In my previous posts on online teaching, I mentioned that I only teach asynchronously. I guess I could start teaching synchronously instantly if I decided to because I know how to handle Zoom, Duo, Skype, Messenger or Instagram, but for some reason, I haven’t reached that point yet (one of the reasons may simply be that nobody encourages forces me to). So, instead of entering this unknown territory of my own free will, I would like to look at the pros and cons of synchronous vs. asynchronous online classes and I would like to discuss the ways in which I can make up for the cons (and potentially exploit the pros) of the method I am currently using.

Let’s start with a short overview:

SL = Synchronous e-learning involves online studies through chat and videoconferencing. The pros (+) and cons (-) are the following:

  • + Learners can easily interact with instructors and other learners.
  • + SL enables students to avoid feelings of isolation.
  • + Students can get immediate feedback.
  • + They can ask questions and get instantaneous answers.
  • – SL is not as flexible in terms of time. >>>
  • – Learners have to be online at a certain time.
  • – Some learners may feel threatened in this type of online environment.
  • – SL teaching is also challenging for the teacher so they may need to receive relevant training so they’re fully prepared for their role.

AL = Asynchronous learning can be carried out even while the student is offline. It involves coursework delivered via web, email and message boards that are then posted on online forums. The pros (+) and cons (-) are as follows:

  • + AL offers lots of flexibility, especially time-wise.
  • + Learners can go at their own pace and access their course at any time (almost).
  • + Learners have significantly more time to reflect on the content material they are learning.
  • + AL is learner-centred.
  • – Contact with the instructor and fellow learners may be limited.
  • – The lack of interaction with instructors and peers may result in a sense of isolation.
  • – AL requires self-discipline, intrinsic motivation and focus on learners’ part (but sometimes on the teacher’s part too).

Based on the above, it is obvious that ideally, effective e-learning courses should include both asynchronous and synchronous learning activities. But if you (need to) choose one type of e-learning, you should at least do your best to make up for the cons.

In my case, the main 4 cons would be:

  1. limited contact with the instructor and fellow learners
  2. feelings of isolation
  3. lack of self-discipline, intrinsic motivation and focus on the student’s part
  4. delayed feedback

I believe that as a teacher, I can have a huge impact on number 1 and 4. In other words, it is in my power to make the contact and feedback as immediate as possible. I practically work non-stop these days and so whenever I get a message from a student or any time an assignment is submitted, I react straight away, i.e. I respond to such a message immediately. Also, although I normally won’t send out the results and collected feedback until everybody in the group has finished, I correct and comment on the assignments right on their arrivals (even though these will also be visible to students later on). This continuous approach helps me to detect and foresee any potential problems students may come up against and it also helps me manage my time effectively. If I postponed the corrections and commenting until all the assignments have arrived, it would get totally overwhelming. It would also be counter-productive because my collected feedback would be unnecessarily delayed. What I mean is that instead of being able to send it right after the submission deadline, it would take me a few more hours to get back to my students. And since I teach many different groups of students, I would probably soon get totally lost in the heaps of assignments if I didn’t work continuously.

As far as number 2 above is concerned, unfortunately, we can’t prevent our students from feeling mentally isolated these days because, in fact, they are physically isolated. In other words, we have a very limited set of tools to influence this, especially when teaching asynchronously. But we can try. As I already mentioned, apart from sending individual comments, I often give collected feedback – I write a message to the whole group, addressing all the students as a class, and I attach the correct answers in a document in which I summarize how the students did as a group. Also, I sometimes mention that, for example, 3 students out of 50 reached the maximum number of points, but I do not give specific names (the students in question know). I may also say that participation in this assignment was almost 100 %, or, on the other hand, I express my sadness at the fact that the participation was very low this time. This, I believe, creates some sort of collective spirit and I secretly hope that those who skipped the task will feel a bit guilty and will hopefully join in next time (and they often do) whereas the ones who did well will feel flattered and even more motivated. One way or another, it reassures everybody that they are in the same boat and most importantly, that I am there and ‘listen’ all the time. One specific attempt at getting a bit closer to my students was recording an audio file in which I gave them feedback on the activity they had done that day.

Regarding the lack of self-discipline and focus on the students’ part, I don’t have many tips and tricks here. Since grading students’ work is not recommended under the given circumstances and I am not right THERE with the students to really monitor their work, there aren’t many tools to enforce discipline, let alone self-discipline. Those who struggled in regular classes will probably struggle in the online environment too, although I wouldn’t like to generalize because some students keep surprising me pleasantly.

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When it’s all over and gone

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We are struggling. We are grappling with all sorts of obstacles at the moment. But these obstacles are temporary and soon, with a wave of a magic wand (when the governments decide it is time to open the schools again), they will be removed. We will be able to return to our classrooms and things will get back to normal. Or will they?

I often catch myself picturing the moment when I stand in front of my classes for the very first time after this is all over. What will I say, what will I do and what will I ask my students to do first? Asking them ‘How have you been? would seem proper but somewhat awkward too. Diving right in into the course matter without further ado would seem a bit insensitive. Telling them to open their book on page XYZ would seem rather strange. I feel like we will all need some time to adjust and settle in. But how shall we go about it? How to make our reunion feel smooth and genuine but not overwhelming?

Let’s be honest, it’s not like seeing each other again after the summer holidays. Things won’t be the same given the fact that by the time we meet face to face again, our students will have changed and so will we, the teachers. It’s a bit like the lost generation kind of feeling. Despite the happiness that the ‘war’ is over, feelings of confusion and aimlessness will probably be around for a bit. Luckily and ironically, everybody will feel a bit lost, at least for a while. It’s not just a handful of survivors reuniting with those who have no idea what life on the front is like. We will all be survivors, in some way. But we will also be losers because regardless of the victory, we will have lost some of our beliefs – beliefs in the current situation in politics, economy and most importantly, education.

At the moment, the ministers and administrators advise us to be compassionate. The students are facing all sorts of problems so we should not add more stress to that. We should take into consideration the inequality – not all students have the same conditions for learning and working in the online environment. We should offer a plethora of engaging tasks for students to choose from. Students should take responsibility for their own learning and they should be able to work at their own pace. We should not grade their work because grading is terribly unfair these days. Most importantly, we should not give bad marks to enforce students’ participation. We should merely motivate, encourage and provide formative feedback in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.

But aren’t the above some of the fundamental principles of any successful education system – not just the one during a pandemic? So, will we go back to ‘normal’ again after the virus is gone? Will we resume grading, adding stress and assigning compulsory tasks? Will only the fast finishers, the brightest, the most resilient and the ones with the best resources and equipment lead the classroom again? Or will we keep some of the wisdom we have acquired during the lockdown and actually try to apply it at last?

 

 

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Filling the void

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So, this is the fourth post in the series I’m producing during the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter how much I hate the introductory sentence and particularly the last word, which has been used so much over the past few weeks, for my future reference, I feel I need to put it like this.

Last time I wrote about the types of tasks I assign when teaching online – asynchronously. It’s good to hear that many teachers here in the Czech Republic as well as abroad teach synchronously, via various platforms such as Zoom or Skype. I myself haven’t come to that point yet although we’ve had two unofficial staff meetings via Zoom and so I did get a vague grasp of how things work there.

Nevertheless, the bravest thing I’ve done so far was sending my students some oral feedback in an MP3 file. It took me less than an hour to record and I was quite happy with the somewhat imperfect result. It felt quite authentic and natural, and I imagine this is how I would speak in the real offline classroom. Still, it didn’t feel perfectly comfortable, mainly because it was the very first time I did something that ‘personal’. What will the students think of this crazy move of mine? Will they laugh at the way I speak? Will they be critical of my occasional faltering?

This insecurity on my part has made me consider some of the following questions. One of them is this: everybody is concerned about the students and their well-being, their technical support or the lack thereof, but what about we teachers? What if we also feel terribly uncomfortable in this online world? What if we don’t want to be recorded or seen on camera? What if we hate listening to our voice giving students instructions? I know, we are professionals; we should find a way to overcome these fears. We should be able to step out of our comfort zones. But since most of us never got official training in teaching online, I feel our concerns are perfectly legitimate.

Also, during this somewhat dreary period of time, and especially if you are teaching asynchronously, it is very rare to get some feedback from your students. They usually do their work and they don’t hesitate to complain if something stops working or if they feel something was not quite fair, but they rarely feel the need to tell you that something works just fine. This creates some sort of void in the teacher; you go out of your way to keep your students engaged but you miss the kick that would encourage you to carry on enthusiastically.

Well, don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame my students for not writing comments full of excitement – they are probably not overly excited after all. What I mean is that when your students are finished doing their work, they think to themselves: Well, it wasn’t that bad; it was actually quite interesting and fun. But then they just go about their own business. And even If they are excited, for a fleeting moment, it’s not too common in our system of education to praise the teacher whose job is to teach, grade and provide feedback. And that’s what they probably think we are doing right now. So why should they suddenly start commenting on our work when nobody asked them to do so before?

This brings me to a conclusion that feedback, in any form, is not only crucially important for everybody’s progress but for their well-being too. Even if it is negative or critical, it has the power to fill the void that the teacher inevitably feels deep down at the moment. We,  teachers, are human beings too, and we also crave some kind of interaction, even with our students, who are so far away these days. That’s why any type of feedback on the work we do, going both ways, can be the only type of ‘bonding’ we have with our students right now.

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Thinking online

IMG_20200405_092538The internet is so full of amazing ready-to-use resources that one may think that there’s no space left for creativity in the realm of online teaching. But I believe that if you are the creative type of English teacher like I think I am myself, the online environment will probably be your thing. Before the quarantine, I’d actually never had an opportunity to fully explore all the endless possibilities out there. I hadn’t needed to after all; I’d had my coursebook, my CD player and my bank of activities that proved useful over the years. Now that these tools are pretty much useless, I need to go out hunting, so to speak.

Anyway, this is the third post in my series on online teaching. Today, I would like to look at what types of online tasks I create for my students. However, this is not a collection of activities – it’s rather an attempt at categorizing the things I assign based on how reliable and valid the outcomes are.

In the online world, you simply need to have a lot of faith in your students and/or you need to accept the possibility that what they submit may not be their own work. There’s no other option. Also, you have to believe that there are some students out there who do want to learn. Genuinely. So, if you give them an opportunity to practise English, they will immediately seize it. Some will even do voluntary and extra tasks you didn’t even ask for. Unbelievable!

What about the rest, though? It is plain to see that many students, on the other hand, have no intention to spend time completing your online tasks if they know they can somehow avoid it. Now, what can you do to ensure that they actually do the work, preferably without the help of their peers or some tools which are unacceptable, at least under normal circumstances? Is it in your power at all?

Well, if you assign an activity, let’s say a multiple-choice reading comprehension task, the lazy ones will probably immediately text the diligent ones who did their homework first thing in the morning. This type of cheating literally takes seconds. You can make things a bit tougher and ask them to justify their answers by adding the keywords, but that doesn’t solve much, does it? Another option would be to give everybody a different text, for example, but that would obviously be too time-consuming. What now? Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to a conclusion that it’s simply best to ask open-ended questions and ideally, the students should provide some sort of personal statement or opinion.

I also think it helps if you offer your students some choice. For instance, give them a list of stories to choose from. Get them to read a few of them (you don’t even need to specify the number) and then just ask them to tell you in English (or not) which ones they liked and why. This definitely gets a bit more challenging in terms of plagiarism but it also becomes way more interesting.

As the trust between you and your students builds up over time (because let’s be honest, trust doesn’t come easy), you can give them tasks in which you know they might easily cheat if they wanted to. For example, on YouTube, there is a ton of ELT-related videos through which the students can practise their listening skills or grammar. And sometimes, at the end of the video, the correct answers are provided. So, if a student wants to skip to that part straight away, they surely can and some probably will. But you know what? Let them do it. Let them cheat. Let them live with that feeling if they do. Ask them to only tell you what their score was. That’s all. This is something they can make up too. But you know what? Let them do it too!

Obviously, you can’t grade such tasks. But should we grade our students’ online work at all these days? If yes, what specifically and how? Should we provide some type of feedback at least or should we avoid it completely? Once a student submitted a task and I gave her an F because she didn’t meet any of the criteria specified in the instructions. She was very sad afterwards and a bit angry too and said: It’s not fair that I got an F even though I had submitted the task. Look at the others – they didn’t even bother. I have to admit she had a point there but since she is a senior student and will soon take her final exam, I found it useful for her to learn from this minor incident that she can easily fail her exam if she fails to meet the basic requirements.

Anyway, for all the reasons above, online teaching can be extremely frustrating. But it can be enormously satisfying too. It is such a pleasure to read your students’ views on certain topics. In the classroom, it’s often just a handful of students who are not afraid to speak, but here, everybody has a chance to come up with something (without being judged by those whose English is much better). And it is so gratifying to learn that your students actually liked a task and that they learned something new.

 

 

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Teaching online (changing perspective)

Message from a student (12-year-old!): Dear teacher, I don’t think I can do the homework you recently assigned. It’s a listening task and I don’t have the recording. John.

My reply: Dear John, in your workbook, there is a CD with all the recordings.  I told you already back in September and I have told you a million times since. Do you not read my messages?

Student: Thank you Ms Teacher. I actually remembered the CD right after I sent the message. I truly apologize for disturbing you.

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I would feel really ashamed if I had sent the message as it is, i.e. without the crossed-out part (luckily, those were words I only thought to myself). You know, I get such rather annoying messages from my students all the time these days and it’s getting more and more tiring. So, quite understandably, I occasionally catch myself feeling somewhat impatient. And at such a moment I do want to add something a little bit sarcastic. Normally, in the classroom, I would probably say it all out loud. And then I would smile and add something to defuse my sarcastic remark. But I try to avoid this type of rhetoric in written correspondence completely, especially now that all we have is online communication.

So, I guess the point of this post is that online teaching during the pandemic has taught me to see things from a slightly different perspective. Actually, the way I see things has shifted a great deal since my first post on this topic. I’ve come to realize, for example, that being a control freak (especially regarding deadlines) is not the best idea. The students’ lives have virtually turned upside-down recently; some of them get up at noon and go to bed at three at night – I can tell from the times they submit their assignments (not to mention all the stress they are exposed to at so many different levels).

Also, the ‘screen’ looks different from the student’s perspective. What I mean is that since I go through the process of creating an online task, I obviously find it fully comprehensible and manageable. The student, however, may not feel the same way. The instructions may seem unclear, even confusing. Also, it sometimes happens that things don’t work the way they should. A link is broken. They have trouble uploading the files. You name it. In the classroom, you would get immediate feedback, now it takes hours, sometimes even days, for you to find out something went wrong. And by the time you discover it, the odds are you will have punished a few students for failing to complete the task.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware of the fact that there are students who will never stick to deadlines, no matter what environment they are working in. But if the most diligent student occasionally gets lost, it tells me to take things easy. I mean, this is not some regular online course my students voluntarily and knowingly signed up for. Such a course would probably be well-planned and well-thought-out. This is not the case. Sorry. It’s more like cooking Stone Soup.

There’s one more thing I’d like to mention before I sign off. We, teachers, put a lot of time and energy into preparation and teaching. There’s no doubt that these days, it’s even more time-consuming. So maybe, deep down some of us may feel a bit offended when students don’t give a damn. I mean, we expect our students to appreciate all the work we do for them, right? So when some of them happen to ignore it, we won’t hesitate to force them to see how good our intentions are. Just a thought. 🙂

 

 

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The perks and challenges of online teaching

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I’ve never planned to dabble in online teaching but here I am – teaching online full-time. There’s no need for me to explain why. Or maybe, in case you are reading this in ten years’ time and you are lucky enough to have forgotten, we are in the middle of a pandemic and most schools all around the world are closed.

Before this all started I knew next to nothing about the principles of online teaching. In fact, I don’t know very much now that I’m fully immersed in it. I think I have made a lot of mistakes and I will probably make many more along the way.

One of the reasons for the above is that I have no idea what the online world looks like from a student’s perspective. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see it and test it out before I was thrown in at the deep end.

One of the obvious problems regarding online teaching I’m trying to tackle at the moment is assessment. As a teacher in the state sector of education, I normally grade students’ work and that’s what they are used to. Grading, or any type of summative assessment for that matter, is simply the norm. Obviously, it has a lot of drawbacks. However, under normal circumstances, i.e. during regular, offline teaching, it is possible to make up for some of the pitfalls. Now, unfortunately, it is even more problematic. What is more, any kind of alternative assessment, which is typically deemed suitable and highly beneficial, such as verbal feedback, has turned into a double-edged sword too.

Another problem closely connected with the above is plagiarism. In fact, you never know who has sent the work; is it the student, her friend, his mother or Mr Google? So far, I have detected two cases of a mild form of plagiarism but I am sure they are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you uncover cheating and openly criticize it, the students will either feel ashamed and never do it again, or they will be cleverer next time. There’s not much we can do about it.

Also, the actual way of assigning online tasks is quite problematic too. Should they be compulsory or voluntary? What about the deadlines? How strict should the teacher be? Normally, when a student forgets to do their homework, you ask them to bring it next time. How feasible is this in the online environment? It can get overwhelming for the teacher to constantly deal with all sorts of excuses.

Having said this, the online environment offers some advantages too. The fact that it is possible to set definite deadlines is one of them. This may sound a bit cowardly, but I feel that some of the responsibility is suddenly shifted from the teacher to the students themselves and, in a way, the online platform you are sharing. In other words, it is some automatic device which actually gave you a FAIL grade, not me. Next time, be more careful and watch the deadlines. Still, we are only human after all, so if a student comes up with an acceptable excuse, such as the internet suddenly stopped working just as I was uploading my homework, what can you do?

Another perk of online teaching is that you can get as creative as you wish. Plus, there are endless opportunities to finally get round to doing things which would otherwise be hard or impossible in the actual classroom. Finally, I have noticed that some students apparently prefer this type of instruction, especially the shier ones.

Luckily, I am now communicating with students who I have known face-to-face for quite some time. This makes things easier as it helps me to attach a file to a face, voice, smile…

Anyway, I am a rookie and there is a lot for me to learn. My students will probably suffer from my lack of experience but that’s just the way it is.

 

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Moving on …

Time flies and we grow professionally without really noticing the progress. But if you stop for a while and take a deep breath, you realize that you are not the person you used to be a few months ago …

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Two of my recent high-stakes professional endeavours have convinced me that as a teacher, I have made a leap in what I am able to do and, most importantly, how I feel about what I do. I have come to realize, for example, that being able to manage a group of young people, which, in fact, many people not involved in education believe is a piece of cake, is one of my most invaluable skills. But my real victory lies in the fact that these days, I feel perfectly comfortable in class.

This, however, hasn’t come without a price. Obviously, hard work and planning is always a must, especially when dealing with a complex subject and/or a group of people I don’t know well. The good news is that everything gets easier with time and experience. But I’ve also learned to acknowledge that things almost never pan out exactly the way I want them to, no matter how detailed my plan is.

This brings me to another strength of mine which I have recently discovered and that is that I have acknowledged and accepted the fact that many things happening in class are totally under my control but there still may be some which are not. I have consciously and willingly embraced the danger that there may always be a tipping point beyond which I may become totally powerless as a teacher and then my back-up system, my contingency, automatically takes over. This contingency is probably in my DNA and it is part of some deep, human intuition. But it’s also an imaginary box filled with my life/teaching experience.

I have learned that in critical situations when there is no time for panicking or surrender, I can make remarkably quick decisions, which eventually turn out to work out just fine. I sometimes feel a tad guilty for giving orders and commands to people who are by no means my subordinates, but that’s how I act in emergencies. Most importantly, to keep everybody else relatively calm, I can act as if nothing is really the issue. I collapse afterwards when nobody is looking.

Also, I lose less and less sleep over what might potentially have gone better. Things went wrong even though I had done my best to prevent failure. Period. It does hurt for a while but when the emotional pain subsides, I’ll try to learn from my mistake and move on. What a cliché!

Finally, I’d say that I no longer have a reassurance deficit. Don’t get me wrong; even the most secure people need reassurance sometimes and that’s what close friends, colleagues and relatives are for, but in most situations, I feel I’m doing just fine. Perhaps I have dusted off my inner compass which tells me whether I’m making the right move. Ironically, the more OK you feel with yourself, the less criticism from others comes your way.

PF 2020 🙂

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