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.