EL Teaching during the Pandemic

Face-to-face, remote or hybrid teaching are a widely discussed topic at present. The operative word for me is TEACHING.

This is probably the first time in known history that the whole planet finds itself under the same conditions, with every day bringing in unpredictable changes. None of us know which restrictions may descend on our heads tomorrow, what dire news we may hear, when and how this unnatural situation may end. We all miss the usual order of things; lots of us are cut off indefinitely from our nearest and dearest. Many adults lose their jobs. Families suffer. Children of all ages wander around confused.

One thing that does not change regardless of the country, the ubiquitous cry “Teachers must!” is heard all over the world. What is it that we “must”? A few simple things. One of them is the readiness, the ability to switch from face-to-face teaching to remote and back without notice. Supposedly ALL teachers not only have the necessary IT skills, they also have laptops, notebooks, reliable internet connection, and the means to pay for it from their own pocket. In spite of all the discussions and the never-ending flood of new demands, we still don’t see any offers to double the salaries. The education authorities of all levels do indeed try to push forward the idea of hybrid teaching, which is quite sensible but for a few drawbacks. I read an interview with an American colleague, in which she describes her day. Six in-class lessons at school; same six for those who are learning remotely; grading homework, preparing for next day… It is at least 14 hours a day. She is exhausted and ready to resign.

A school headmaster told me how they try to cope with all the new demands. Classes 1-5 come to school. Teachers have to meet them outside, check their temperature, watch it that they don’t get too close to each other, take them to class, have them regularly wash their hands, keep them inside their homeroom all day, give them warm snacks, sanitize everything, air the room – and conduct lessons. Did you ever try to make 25 seven-year-olds patiently stand in line observing the social distancing rule, wash their hands for 20 seconds in turn at the two school wash-basins, and NOT splash water all over, break the lines, laugh, run? .. How long will it take? The same headmaster told me with a straight face about the reasoning for having some classes come to school while the others, grades 6-11, have remote learning at home: “We are told to separate each primary school class into groups and use the empty rooms to better observe the distancing. I am just waiting for the new directive, to clone teachers!”

Hybrid learning indeed seems like a good solution, provided there are enough teachers and enough adults to help out their children at home. There should be at least double pay for double work. I know from my own experience that remote and hybrid learning need new term plans. We cannot simply transfer the usual in-class lesson to the remote one. We do not have the customary interaction which is an essential part of our work. Students do not have any real interaction with each other and barely any with us. Probably we should look at each unit and try to cull the most important parts, tell our classes about all the exercises but stick to only the ones we consider necessary for this or that class. We can tally all the arising problems and allot more time to solving them, like listening and writing tasks which traditionally present more difficulties than speaking and reading. Or choose one aspect, like speaking, and devote a whole lesson to that, rather than try to cram our entire plan into one period. Grading system is no good at present. In September, practically 100% students showed almost zero knowledge, little memory of the previous half year. Younger children even forgot their teachers’ and classmates’ names. I would go easy on them in regards to the traditional marks, and take care to praise absolutely every little achievement. If we manage to preserve their interest to the subject by giving them links to fascinating sites, human interest stories, cure animals, fast cars in English, it may be enough to ensure that they read something, listen to some stories or songs, and tell us about their own impressions. I tell students and teachers about this simple exercise: write about your impressions, then read it aloud. The exercise goes this way: first grade, one sentence; second grade, two sentences; and so on till we come to 11th grade. If say a first-grader composes not one but two sentences, they get an extra point. This creates the familiar atmosphere of competition, challenge – and achievement.

It is very important to remember that we are all in the same very fluid, constantly changing process. If we do not try, we do not succeed.

Nina Koptyug

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