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.

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. 🙂