Embracing uncertainty

OK. It’s been a week since I wrote my last post and I must say things have changed a lot. Well, actually, things haven’t changed at all, at least not to the better. Still, I feel my perspective has shifted a great deal.

It’s unbelievable how flexible a human being can be, especially in times of despair. People can bear a lot of load. And the more of it they carry, the lighter the burden from previous days seems in comparison to what they are struggling with at the minute.

The teaching and learning conditions at schools here in the Czech Republic (and I dare say in the rest of the world) are nothing like they used to be, say, a year ago. Apart from the physical changes (masks, disinfectants, social distancing), there are some mental obstacles we need to tackle on a daily basis. At the back of our minds, there is this omnipresent fear of something we don’t quite understand. And that’s a hell of a load.

Yet, we are getting used to the invisible enemy. At least I am.

Last week, the weather was splendid. It was as if Mother Nature wanted to make up for the mess people find themselves in right now. So it was possible to have some lessons outdoors (where no masks are needed). For example, a group of my senior students did a project about their hometown – Šternberk. I split the group into pairs and each pair worked on a different topic. Their task was to find information about some of the places of interests found in the vicinity of our school. Then we wandered around and pretended to be tour guides, meaning each pair presented their findings to the rest of the group in English. Whenever possible, they presented the information on the spot, e.g. when talking about the castle, we were literally standing in front of the sight, Later, they wrote their parts up and sent me the electronic versions so that everybody had the the whole compilation at their disposal for their final exams.

Other group did some ‘outdoor’ collaborative writing. The students were working in pairs, lying on the grass or sitting around in the sun. One group wrote a story starting When I was seven years old … The story was supposed to be written in the past tense (which was the focus of the lesson) and it had to include a moral or an interesting twist. Another group wrote collaborative essays on the topic My future is in my hands? (the question mark is important here). Again, the lesson was based around the topic of future, which we had talked about in the previous lessons. All the stories were finally written up in an electronic version for me to see before the students will present their work in class next week.

Learning outdoors is fun and honestly, it’s great to have a change of scene. However, there are some pitfalls to it too. Firstly, it can get a bit noisy from the traffic. Also, not all students are disciplined enough to be able to concentrate on the given task – there are way too many distractions. Finally, outdoor teaching is not suitable for all types of activities. In fact, unless you have a fully equipped outdoor classroom, it’s something that definitely spices up the time spent at school but it’s just a temporary measure. Not to mention the most important thing – the weather must be nice.

Today is Friday and we are not at school. In an attempt to improve the epidemic situation, The Ministry of Health advised us to stay at home till Tuesday, which is a bank holiday in the Czech Republic. Well, we’ll see what the future holds for us. Hopefully, we’ll be back at school on Tuesday, teaching face to face. Otherwise, hello, online teaching!

I enjoy every day (at work) like it was the last …

I resumed teaching ‘full time’ on September 2. It was after the long, infamous break starting back in March. I was so happy to see the students face to face again and I was eager to see the new ones. I dare say many of them were happy to see me too. I had had plenty of time to get ready for my job during the lockdown and the holidays – emotionally and professionally – so I jumped back on the bandwagon enthusiastically.

The first days were great and on the face of it, everything seemed back to normal – no masks anywhere. Then COVID-19 ‘attacked’ again so masks were introduced again – inside the building, in the shared spaces. This was still OK although many of us questioned the decision. If the virus was not dangerous in the classrooms, why was it dangerous in the school corridors? Anyway, it was always a major relief to enter the classroom and take off the mask.

Then things got a bit mixed up again and since Friday, masks have been compulsory in the classrooms too. This means that so far I have ‘only’ done one full day of teaching English in a mask (to be precise, I used a shield but I’m not sure if this will be possible in the upcoming days since for some reason, it is not officially deemed to be a proper protective tool). My students had to have their masks on all day long. And they all suffered.

You might be based in a place where this has been the standard for a long time – for example, in Slovakia, the have been wearing masks in the classrooms since the beginning of the school year. So, you might be thinking: why the heck is she complaining? Yet, I am. I simply believe facial masks don’t belong to school – at least at the primary and lower secondary level. Although I know the Czech Republic is not doing well in terms of the COVID-19 situation and I partially understand the reasoning behind the new measure – it is better to wear masks than have the schools closed completely – I am very sad and feel terribly sorry for the students. A school should be a safe space and learning should be enjoyable. Apparently, it is by no longer safe to go to school. Plus being at school is probably a nuisance rather than a joyful experience.

First of all, it is hard to breath in the masks, let alone speak and concentrate. What is more, I fear it may be detrimental to the students’ health in the long term. It may be easier at universities, where the lecturer speaks, and everybody just listens and takes their notes. But in an English lesson, for example, where the students are supposed to listen and speak (preferably in pairs and groups), wearing masks is absolutely inconvenient.

I really don’t like the arguments stating that “in other wakes of life people have to wear masks all day long and they don’t complain”. The people doing these jobs, such as surgeons and nurses, who I have always truly appreciated for what they do, have chosen to do what they do. They knew long ago what the challenging jobs entail. But our kids did not choose this; school education is compulsory up to a certain age, so they have no choice and neither do their parents.

So, apart from wanting to rant a bit here on my blog, I guess I just wanted to say this: I love my job even more than I did before even though it may not be as enjoyable as it used to be. I sometimes feel terribly emotional. I feel enormously compassionate with the students, which can sometimes be hard to bear (and lead to such rants). Also, it seems inevitable that schools will be closed again soon so I enjoy every day of teaching like it was the last, regardless of all the obstacles we are dealing with at the minute. In the meantime, I hope for better days. Also, I will try to plan my lessons so that we can be outdoors as much as possible, at least as long as the weather is warm and dry.