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COVID-19: New Challenges for Teacher Trainers
COVID-19: New Challenges for Teacher Trainers.
Since March this year, like most of my colleagues and most of the planet, I have been living in virtuality. Webinars, online teaching and learning are only part of the new modus vivendi. Seeing one’s nearest and dearest on screen only, not knowing when one can resume traveling, which for me is mostly the possibility of seeing my own family, are taking a great toll. Simply put, Skype, zoom and all the other platforms are great, but one cannot hug one’s children through them. The non-stop avalanche of scary news, alarming statistics add up to the constant feeling of anxiety. And of course all of us experience the worry of somebody close to us contracting the disease, of the looming complications and even lethal ending. Last but not least, all the other diseases, accidents, and the natural order of life were not eliminated. We lost a very close friend, 37, to cancer. It’s been two months, and we are still reeling. I have to communicate with my two godchildren, aged 10 and 14, to present a brave front and somehow help them get through the bereavement.
This has been one of the questions which my colleagues began asking me since March. How do we help those students who went through a traumatic experience? We adults have some coping mechanisms; children don’t. What I suggest: before you start the new school year, talk to the homeroom teachers; listen to the parents at PTA meetings. Use some auto-training exercises. If your students know you from a previous year and trust you, or even if you are new but happen to be the first teacher they encounter whenever regular classes start, they may blurt out any news. No Teachers’ College prepares us for that. In my country, there is a staff psychologist in every large school, and the local education authorities may arrange consultations if needed. Use their help, prepare for the unexpected.
Yes, online learning is still a big problem for many. 100% of teachers say the sudden transition to distance teaching for their classes, not just for those who were sick or disabled, presented huge difficulties. The computers, the reliable internet connection, the necessity to very quickly access the new unfamiliar resources are only part of the problem. In the beginning teachers would spend virtually day and night by the computer trying to do everything the ministries required. Some had to conduct lessons in real time; others needed to download the materials, plan their lessons, send out daily tasks, and then receive their students work, grade it, send it back. As a teacher from my home town put it, “After the first two days of online teaching from home, my husband, my children and my cat are ready to divorce me!” Meaning, this is an enormous disruption of any family’s life. My husband and I skirted around each other’s schedules to accommodate our various webinars and the time zones involved. Twelve hour difference is good; five or six, not so much. But we managed. All the webinars I attended have been really useful, plus I stayed in touch and was able to contribute a lot. I perfectly understand my colleagues from various countries who shared their problems, especially those who had young children at home. An American teacher who had two primary school kids at home and two final year classes at school said the choice became clear to her at once. She had to prepare her seniors for their final exams; she could later teach her own younger children at home during the summer.
Communication is key. Following my colleagues’ requests, I began to work out a series of lesson plans for the upcoming school year. Or maybe they are not exactly lesson plans in the traditional sense of the words but rather a help-plan for the first F2F meeting after the half-year’s break in regular classes. My experience shows that primary schoolers may have forgotten everything, including the letters of the alphabet and their teachers’ names. They may even feel very shy among their peers whose names they may not remember correctly. Plan 1 is for them. The next age group is probably eleven-twelve-year-olds. They should retain more, if not all the knowledge than at least the routines. Once we start in-class teaching we’ll be able to help them bounce back.
Younger teens also need some adjustment time; for them, I compiled several versions of back-to-school Lesson 1, depending on the level they demonstrate. I intend to compose two more scripts, one for pre-final year, and one for the seniors. They are easy to use and ready to be shared. I thought that maybe we could pool our resources somehow using TE. Again, they are not typical plans but more like guides for that very first day at school.
None of us know what to expect, regardless of the country we live in. The news tells us that restrictions fluctuate, they are lifted, and they are back in place. The webinars I attended so far, the ones organized by TE or the Pearson Education and Cambridge University Press representatives in my region, all agree on several key points. Number one among them is the fact that a lot is lost during the long-term online teaching and learning. Children suffer due to lack or even absence of socializing, or real-life contacts. Parents are worried about the possibility of infection, yet they know that their children need to return back to normal processes. All adults involved in the teaching and learning, teachers and parents alike, need to work, to get paid.
We have never faced such global challenges in education before. Now we have to cope.