Let it be(e)!

One of the things I’ve always liked to have in my life is control. It sounds a bit authoritarian but I believe it’s one of the basic human desires no matter what anybody says. This has also long been one of my deep-seated convictions about teaching and classroom management. So, as a teacher, I like to have the upper hand in class, too. Not that I crave power because I like the feel of it, it just feels safer to hold the reins and be in charge. To be more precise, deep down I believe things go more smoothly and effectively, i.e. students learn more when there is an order as opposed to chaos.

When I was younger, I often lost ground when things slipped out of control in class, especially with younger kids. Consequently, I would feel really bad about myself. In my book, it was always my fault. Luckily, it’s much better now because a) I’m more experienced so I don’t often let things go out of control – simply by taking precautions, b) if it does happen, though, I have some strategies and coping mechanisms to handle the situation, and c) I’ve come to realize that after all, losing control may not always be a bad thing. I’ve learned it the hard way, though…

I’ve learned there are many situations when things can’t be controlled. And you have to accept it. When a bee flies into the classroom, there’s not much you can do to stop the disorder and confusion immediately. People feel threatened in such situations. It’s their basic instinct to start screaming and jumping around like crazy. Well, you, the one in charge, can kill the bee (which I’d rather not do) or let it out (which I always opt for), but this intervention takes time. Needless to say, by the time you handle the situation, the class has already fallen apart and you’ll need a lot of energy to restore some kind of ‘law and order’. When your student gets so sick that you need to call an ambulance in the middle of your class, you can bet your bottom dollar that you will never be able to resume the lesson. It’s so strange, you know … when the sick student is safe and in good hands of the paramedics, your teacher-self automatically wants to pick up where they left off because you feel you owe the other students. But it’s not possible and it’s actually insane to think you can simply rewind and start over. And let’s face it, it’s you who desperately needs the restoration, not the students.

It may sound too harsh but apart from being a control freak, I also like to mentally abuse myself. When I feel things have slipped out of control, I always ask myself: What would people think if they suddenly entered the classroom? What would they see? Chaos. Mayhem. Havoc. They’d simply see the opposite of what a normal lesson should look like and I’d probably have to explain myself, which automatically adds to my dissatisfaction with myself as a teacher.

But sometimes I’m kind to myself, which is happening more and more these days, so when things slip out of control (because kids are having too much fun during an activity or something has just upset them), I force myself to stop and quietly observe. In other words, I do not jump up and interfere right away as my true nature dictates to me, but I take a step back, metaphorically and literally speaking. And sometimes things settle down after a while without the slightest intervention of mine. The chaos in front of me gradually reshapes and remoulds itself into something perfectly harmonious. It’s just a bit noisier. Sometimes I realize that things are actually perfectly fine even though at first sight, they may look a bit disorganized. And oftentimes it is not chaos at all; I just see it that way because I’m such a despot.

This is not to say that I believe that all of a sudden, things can go all liberal. What I’m saying is that it’s often the teacher’s (read: me) focus and perspective that need to change. And although there has been a lot of self-flagellation in this post, I still believe I’m a good teacher and particularly my classroom management skills are my strongest suit. I just think that I could be happier and more content if I just let it be. 🙂

Some of the less visible forms of pressure

It all started on 13 March 2020, when full-time education in elementary, secondary and tertiary educational facilities was cancelled here in the Czech Republic. Everything turned upside down and life became surreal. And that was when our egos started suffering …

From that day on, we teachers had to look at our own faces, listen to our own voices and endure being constantly observed by others in a totally new environment – online.

You are probably aware that there’s a psychological reason behind why we hate looking at photographs of ourselves. I think we’ve all been there; when we see a photo of ourselves, for some reason, we start focusing on the bits of the image we don’t like and overall, we look older, uglier and fatter than we normally feel. On the other hand, our friends always look amazing in photos, so we don’t understand why they cringe too when it’s just us who looks terrible.

Similarly, we don’t particularly enjoy listening to our own voices. They sound so different, almost alien. It can’t be us speaking.

And I doubt there are many people out there who like being observed doing stuff in a situation that is new to them, let alone formally.

Yet, these are some of the things we‘ve had to get used to doing. In other words, we‘ve had to become desensitised to constantly seeing our faces on the screens, hearing our voices and being observed by our students (most of them invisible), or even by our bosses sometimes. 

How did we get used to it all then? Well, we had no choice. We had to do the things regardless of how we felt about them. At first, it was tough. I think it’s similar to publishing your first blog post. You put yourself out there and wait. If the feedback is positive, you obviously want to do it again. If the feedback you receive is negative, you always have the option to stand down. The worst thing, I believe, is no response. And this is how I often felt when teaching online – in a void. Like I didn’t know where I had come from and where I was headed. Like a lonely child staring at the ceiling of her bedroom.

However, unlike an unsuccessful blogger, who can always quit, we couldn’t just stop teaching online. We had to keep going no matter what. So, at first, we cringed every time we saw that strange face on the screen or heard that uncanny voice. But after some time, we somehow stopped fussing about our self-images. We started focusing on other things – the more important things. After all, we needed to make our lessons work, and that required a lot of energy and cognitive capacity. So in the end, we didn’t give a damn about what we looked like that particular morning or how awkward our voice sounded in a video we had created.

We’ve learned an important lesson: that undue awareness of oneself often stands in the way of success. There’s no point in worrying about the things you can’t change (the sound of our voice) but there’s a lot we can do to improve the things we’re not happy about (our classroom management skills in a remote lesson).

Postface:

The way I use the we pronoun may feel a bit patronizing in the sense that I believe we all felt the same way. But I know not everybody is so self-conscious. By we I actually mostly mean I but I’m inviting everybody who finds this topic relatable to include themselves in the we. Also, I’m aware that there were other professions in which people had to endure much more stress (nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, shop assistants, etc.). My point is that there are many forms of psychological pressure which may be less visible but equally annoying and damaging to a fragile soul.

The genie is out again

As you might have noticed, I’ve lately been fairly productive here on my blog and I do apologize for the influx of posts to those who consider daily blogging a bit too much for their taste (there’s even a new word for such a ‘diagnosis’, according to David Crystal). Well, there’s always the option of unfollowing, muting or ignoring (or whatever the possibilities are). But if you’ve chosen to bear with me nevertheless, thank you. 🙂

Although blogging feels so good these days, even therapeutic, I find my current spurt of energy rather ironic because it was not so long ago that I shared my feelings regarding a lack of zeal. In that older post, I complained said that I had lost enthusiasm for social media and particularly blogging. Was it blogger burnout? Either way, life is a rollercoaster.

Since then, things have improved massively. It’s no surprise, though, because it’s the summer holidays, right? However, I still remember how I felt back then – as if there was nothing more to share with the world. I felt like things were happening but for some reason, there was no space for reflection (and so nothing to write about). Maybe it was because my working memory was overloaded with all the weird stuff going on around me. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t tap into my reflective capacity. In hindsight, I would say that I was running on autopilot, at least most of the time – as though I wasn’t even fully conscious of what I was doing and why. So perhaps, I needed to save all the creative powers for the actual job that had to be done, i.e. teaching online, and there was no inspiration left for reflecting on my teaching and blogging.

After all, asynchronous lessons had to be created and although I found the process quite enjoyable, it took a lot of my time and energy. In addition to that, obviously, synchronous lessons had to be delivered as well, but not many of us had actually received much proper training on how to go about it successfully. There were so many new skills to acquire on the fly. What is more, you can be a teacher genius but your experience is mainly derived from being in the actual classroom. So let’s face it, even though some of that experience can come in handy in online teaching, most of the time, you are in the dark (myself at any rate).

Also, I remember that back then, I knew there were people out there who were more knowledgeable and had more experience with the virtual environment and I suspected that what teachers needed most was useful tips and advice on how to handle the new situation rather than somebody whining about how uncomfortable they felt with this or that. But maybe I’m wrong and people would have related. It’s just water under the bridge anyway …

So, most of the time I kept myself busy exploring ELT websites and online materials that fellow teachers were busily sharing and recommending, which, in the end, was what helped me most at that time. It was a period of consumption of practical ideas which had to be put into practice immediately – with little time to gauge and/or reflect on their efficacy. Life happened, as they say, and we simply complied without questioning too much, I guess.

But now, at last, it’s time to stop and contemplate for a bit. I feel that at the moment, emotions, as well as newly formed beliefs, need to be scrutinized before new input can be taken in. Luckily, it seems that all the previously suppressed reflective powers are back, ready to serve me again. The bottle was opened and the genie can get out.

Shopping Spree – an outdoor project

Another activity I’d like to record here on my blog for future reference is what I have labelled as Shopping Spree. Let me explain the context first: I created this little project of mine soon after some of the lockdown measures had been lifted here in The Czech Republic late in May. It was the time when we were allowed to return to the classrooms but still had to wear masks inside. As the weather had gotten pretty warm and staying indoors thus became uncomfortable with the masks on, we teachers looked for ways to make things more tolerable for us and the students.

Anyway, the topic we were covering at that time was shopping. The school building is located near the town centre full of small corner shops, which is ideal for what I was up to. I created a handout (see image below). As you can see, in the left-hand column, there’s a list of various items you might hypothetically want to shop for. I divided my students into 4 groups of 3 or 4. Each group got a copy of the handout. First, they had to make sure they knew the meaning of all the items on the list. The next task was to go out and find the shops where they would normally buy the items. They had to write the name of the shop, such as toyshop and the name or the address of the shop (or otherwise identify which toyshop it actually was). But most importantly, they had to document that they had actually found the shop. They did so by taking a selfie of the whole group outside that specific shop. I strongly advised against actually entering the shops because it would create a bit of havoc and they would have had to put on the masks, which would have been a tad counter-productive and not exactly safe in the given situation.

I need to stress that all the students are locals and/or are quite familiar with the town centre. It’s also worth mentioning that they are all 16 years old. Also, the shops are not too far away from each other (we’re talking about a radius of 500 meters at the most). So it was not too difficult or dangerous for the students to physically complete this part of the task.

However, to spice things up, I included a tweak, which eventually proved to be the most exciting part of the whole activity. While on the mission, the students had to be as inconspicuous as possible to avoid being spotted by the other teams. If a team noticed another group, they took a photo of them. I walked around the town centre monitoring the teams as much as I could under the given circumstances and it was fun to watch them trying to lay low. And yes, the paparazzi part was amusing too.

Unfortunately, we only had 45 minutes to complete the whole quest so obviously, the feedback phase needed to be postponed to a later date, which, I admit, is not ideal. So a 90-minute lesson would definitely be more suitable for such a type of project.

Having said that, I believe that my objectives were fully met via this activity: the students got some fresh air, they had fun, but most importantly, they learned and/or revised some target vocabulary. Also, they got to know the shopping area better, which I believe is good for the economy. What I mean is that while all the big supermarkets stayed open all along during the lockdown period, it was the small shops that had suffered the most due to the strict anti-epidemic measures. So I thought that a little bit of fair promotion wouldn’t do harm. 😉

How to survive six lessons in a row?

Without exaggeration, having to teach six consecutive lessons with 5 or 10-minute breaks in between may sometimes be a real ordeal. In my context, it is the maximum you can reach because then you REALLY need a lunch break. If you wanted to sound overly optimistic, you could say that there is a lot of variety. Indeed. We’re talking about a lot of variables here, such as six different groups, ages, mixes of genders, coursebooks, sets of additional materials, classrooms, numbers of students, seating arrangements, vibes, levels of motivation, etc.

Now, if you are good at maths, you know that these variables provide an awful lot of combinations. Let’s say you start with a group of fifteen 12-year-olds (odd number is never ideal) which consists of three boys and twelve girls (not perfect either), you need to grab a specific coursebook (which you may or may not know like the back of your hand), you teach in a small classroom on the top floor (while your office is on the ground floor), the seats are arranged in a horseshoe (good… if it’s your preferred arrangement), the students are eager to learn (excellent!) but are a bit too noisy sometimes (you need to take this into consideration when planning the lesson). Then you go on to teach a group of fourteen 16-year-olds (6 students are missing, 7 haven’t done their homework), the classroom is in the adjacent building, you are using a brand new coursebook you are not quite familiar with yet, etc. If this marathon happens on a Monday (which will be my case from September on), you have the whole weekend to prepare for it. But even with thorough lesson plans, you have to be perfectly fit on that day (no mild colds, headaches, hangovers or other types of sores). And if you are like me, you may even need a lot of coffee all along.

Most of all, be prepared to cut corners in order to survive. In no particular order, these are some of the tips that have worked for me.

  1. Don’t feel guilty if you come to the classroom a few minutes later. You don’t have a jetpack after all. Explain, apologize and start the lesson as if nothing happened.
  2. Do not overrun a lesson. If possible, finish a minute earlier rather than a minute later.  
  3. If you are preparing some additional fun materials (warmers, games), do not hesitate to use the same activity in two or more lessons (with all the necessary adjustments).
  4. In the morning, put your coursebooks in a pile in the order you are going to need them – with the first one on the top of the pile. The same applies to the additional materials and the equipment you’ll need, such as your CD player. Have everything at hand.
  5. In advance, ask a student from each group to meet you at your office to help you carry all the stuff. Your transfer to the classroom will happen much faster.
  6. To save your vocal cords, include a lot of group/pair work and/or writing/reading practice (or tests). Speak as little as possible. Let the students do the work.
  7. ‘Lay low’, i.e. do not experiment or take too many risks in the form of brand new, untested activities. You don’t really need to spike up your cortison levels.
  8. You may feel tired towards the end of the day. This is when caffeine stops working and your energy levels drop. Thus conflicts may arise (at least in my case). Be careful. Do not be harsh on you or your students.
  9. Do not rely on technology too much. The internet may not be working properly on that day so if you have planned the whole lesson around a YouTube video, you may feel bitter. Also, it may take some time to connect all the cables laying around before you are able to turn on the damn smart TV. In fact, I try to avoid technology completely on such a busy day.
  10. Finally, remember that your students have had six lessons in a row too, so it’s not just you who feels tired (and possibly bored to death). Be patient, especially towards the end of the day.

Most importantly, and this is where you can’t cut corners, you really need some sort of a plan, no matter how experienced and good at improvisation you are. I always look forward to my upcoming lessons, even when there are six consecutive classes ahead of me, but I do have to know that I am well-prepared for each and every one to a certain extent.

If I ever have to teach via Zoom again, what will I do differently?

The first thing that comes to mind here is the workspace. It may seem superficial and quite unimportant given the seriousness of the circumstances we found ourselves in, but to me, it was one of the crucial aspects. At the beginning of the whole lockdown situation, I delivered my classes from my office at school. Later on, we were obviously advised to stay at home. The latter scenario felt more comfortable at first (and definitely safer at that time), but it had a few drawbacks too – there was a fine line between work and my personal life (not that there was much of it). In other words, this situation invaded my and my family’s privacy and eventually ended up feeling incredibly confining. So, next time, if possible, I’d definitely like to stick to going to my office and delivering the lessons from there.

One of the most controversial and generally highly debated topics would probably be the use of web cameras (or rather the lack thereof). There were groups where it was not an issue at all. However, some students were hesitant or absolutely reluctant to turn on their cameras, which caused a bit of friction between us, especially in the beginning. But I finally surrendered (especially after some personal experience of reluctance on my part) and even though sometimes I was the only one visible on the screen, I didn’t mind. What would I do differently next time? Well, I’d probably try to set some clear rules regarding cameras right from the start.  

Now, I should say that there were some things that worked quite well, so I’d like to keep them up next time around. First and foremost, I’d definitely like to keep the flipped learning format. Let me explain what I mean here. Flipped learning was born out of general education long before Covid-19. The key principle is that the learners do the input part of the lesson at home, on their own. Flipped learning takes advantage of technology and lets learners use their own time and technology for lesson input. Class time is then used to do further exercises or controlled practice, to revise main ideas and key points and to work on a project in groups or as a whole class. In practice, this means that I wouldn’t teach 4 out of 4 lessons a week synchronously but 2 asynchronously and 1 or 2 synchronously, for example. In other words, my students would study the content on their own, through materials such as videos and texts I would create for them, and then we would go over the content together in a Zoom lesson. In some schools, the teachers had to deliver all the lessons synchronously. This must have been exhausting for all parties involved (the teachers, the students and the parents) as well as ineffective, in my opinion. The Ministry of Education advised against this layout anyway.

As far as asynchronous lessons are concerned, I think I went out of my way to create interesting and engaging materials. This was the part I enjoyed most. I learned a lot in the course of time and I believe my students truly appreciated my zeal. Still, I realize one needs to be really careful and not overdo it. Too much of a good thing may sometimes be overwhelming. Balance is important here. For instance, escape games may be fun if you include them occasionally but a bit of drill has its place in an online lesson too. Anyway, another tip I’d like to share with my future self is to prepare all the materials in advance (which I basically did) so that I can publish them right in the morning. This brings me to the next point…

The Zoom (synchronous) lessons always had to overlap with the actual timetable, which, in my opinion, was a sensible requirement from the administrators. However, the asynchronous lessons could literally span over the course of the whole day (or longer). It means that I published homework at 8:00 am and the submission deadline was 8:00 am the following day before the next English lesson. If the next lesson was two days later, the students actually had 48 hours to complete the task. This is how I liked to do it. Some students did the assignment as soon as they could while others did it at the last minute. This was not a big deal once they did submit the homework on time. Nevertheless, it made things complicated for me; in the attempt to make sure that each and every student received immediate feedback, I ended up peeking at the submission table all day long. My bad. You get what you ask for. Anyway, next time, I guess it would be wiser to set a strict time limit and get students to do the assignments within the frame of the actual lesson, e.g. from 8:45-9:30. I’m aware that it would be quite restrictive for some (the night owls would not be over the moon) but it may prevent procrastination and make things easier for the teacher. However, all teachers would have to make sure that their assignments don’t take longer than 45 minutes (the length of a typical lesson in the Czech Republic). This might actually prove quite tricky.

Well, if this generally dreaded scenario is ever to materialize again, I would like to be well prepared – mentally as well as physically. That’s why I’ve drafted this post anyway. 🙂

Lost zeal?

This blog has been around for quite some time now. It’s an inseparable part of me; it’s an extension of my teacher self. But over the past few months, it’s become a bit more external, so to speak. It’s something out there, something I’m aware of but something I think of less and less. The thing is that I’ve always been considered a prolific blogger. When I was given that label some years ago, I happily accepted it. And most of the time, I lived up to it without having to try too hard. However, this year, there were long stretches of silence from me. It’s even occurred to me a few times this year that since I have not enough content to write about, I’ll quit ‚officially’. Some bloggers disappeared into thin air quite inconspicuously while others did say their goodbye out loud and wound up their endeavour for good. But I think comebacks are ridiculous. And I knew that at some point I would feel the need to come back. So what’s the point?

The question that really bothers me though is why I’ve lost my zeal? This year (as of today) I have only produced 15 posts, which is the fewest of all times (just for the sake of comparison, in 2014 I wrote 96!). Well, we could blame it on the pandemic. Wait! Last year, I published 22 posts and there was no such thing as COVID-19. So apparently, my motivation to write started decreasing before 2020, regardless of the external factors. On the face of it, it seems I’ve figured things out as a teacher and tried everything out so I have nothing new to share. But, as we all know, 2020 has tested us, teachers, more than enough so saying that there was nothing new would sound absolutely implausible.

One way or the other, the good news is that I don’t feel I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the teaching profession itself. Well, maybe I’m not as passionate as I used to be a few years back but this may well be to the good. Having passion is useful but it may also be rather overwhelming – for the teacher as well as the students. So I think that in a way, I have settled and calmed down as a teacher over the past couple of years, which I consider to be a positive sign. This may (or may not) be reflected in the amount of content I publish on my blog.

Anyway, I hope I’ll be able to be in the physical classroom more than I was in 2020 because it’s the place where the most amazing things worth sharing happen.

Too much colour

So, between my last post and this one, some time has passed – almost two months, to be precise. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be back at school again. I’ve seen all of my classes, although some of them for just a fleeting moment. The students have had all sorts of learning ‘settings’; apart from the default face-to-face classes at school, they also had online lessons (synchronous as well as asynchronous ones) and recently a novelty has been introduced – rotation learning. This means that a class attends face-to-face lessons for one week and the next week, they have online classes. This is undoubtedly quite helpful from the epidemiological perspective since it ensures that there are fewer students in the school building at every given moment. However, it does have some drawbacks too.

This is an example of my timetable from one of the weeks (I deliberately chose the most colourful one to illustrate my state of mind at that point).

Wednesday

I’m not complaining; I love to have some colour in my life but to be honest, although I was happy to teach face-to-face again and I didn’t mind online teaching per se, this vibrant mixture was not my cup of tea. Given the fact that some breaks last for only 5-10 minutes, it was plain hectic. After all, you need some time to log in and log out of your Zoom lessons (physically and mentally), plus sometimes you just need a cup of coffee or a bathroom break. Some of my colleagues confessed that it was not uncommon for them to almost forget about their asynchronous online classes (they realized later in the day that they had not hit the publish button) or were late for a Zoom session. All in all, we were all a bit confused as to what day it was and what lesson we were actually supposed to be teaching at that particular moment.

Having said that, one should always be happy for what they have. Now, it’s Christmas holiday and we already know that there will be no face-to-face lessons whatsoever at the beginning of January because the pandemic situation has gotten worse over the past few weeks.

I mean, I don’t think our patience and flexibility has ever been tested more. But one thing is certain – most of us are grateful for every day at school. So because I know face-to-face lessons may continue to be scarce, I do my best to utilise every moment. For example, and this may seem a bit controversial, I almost completely ditched tests. I know that some teachers felt the need to catch up with grades as soon as they met their students in the physical classroom. After all, ‘virtual’ grades are not deemed as valid as the ones acquired during regular lessons. However, I felt that the time in the actual classroom was so precious that I didn’t feel the need to waste it on tests. There are other ways to verify that my students have learned all the necessary stuff.

What about you? How colourful has it been for you? 🙂

Too personal?

Back in spring, before one of my first Zoom sessions with my senior students, I had sent out a list of questions for them to look at. The questions were supposed to serve as a backbone for the upcoming speaking lesson. Most of them were directly related to the current state of affairs – I asked my students how they were feeling, what they were doing, what they thought of the situation, how their families were copying, etc. In the actual Zoom session, the students could then choose the questions they wanted to answer. Since many of the questions were very personal, I didn’t want to push them into answering all of them.

Half a year later, here I am, figuring out another set of questions, for another Zoom conversation lesson, with another group of senior students. Since I forgot where I had stored the original file from spring, I decided to write up a brand new set and I did. The other day, nevertheless, I bumped into the original set. Now I can remind myself of what I was actually asking my students back then. I can compare my train of thought from spring with what I’m thinking now. It surprises me that the questions from spring are very similar to what I’m asking now (some of them are literally identical). However, I can tell that I felt very different when the pandemic started. Between the lines, I can read what my state of mind was but most importantly, how I supposed the students might be feeling.

I remember back then it was a bit painful to talk about feelings. It felt painful for me to ask how the students were copying and how they processed the fears and uncertainties. I can sense that now it might be a bit easier. Although the situation in hospitals is truly dramatic, more dramatic than during the first wave of the pandemic, there is less fear in society (especially less fear of the unknown). So I believe I won’t have to tread so carefully this time. Still, I’m not sure whether my students will be overly excited to talk about their emotions at this stage. They will obediently answer my questions, that’s a sure thing, but if it’s just because they are being polite or because they really feel the need to discuss such stuff, that’s a million-dollar question. The media is full of news babbling about the virus, over and over again. Do we need more of it in the lessons? Well, I could obviously dive right into the school matter I want to cover and completely ignore what is happening. But it would feel a bit inappropriate, especially since I’ll see them for the first time since the schools closed down.

Anyway, it’s interesting to see how a set of questions you want to ask in class tells so much about what’s going on – internally as well as externally, so to speak.

What about you? How personal do you get in class these days?

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.