Working Online: Adapting to Life

2020 has changed our lives. Clients and students are in home office. I am in home office. I sit before the computer screen, my flat in the background, and my cats stroll around and jump on my lap. Of course, to a certain extent all this can now be integrated into the online English lesson.  

Some people find the cats cute: which prompts names: "the Rag Doll, is a Californian cat with a Russian name – Byjeli". Then there is grammar: "We’ve had him for 5 years." Present Perfect – "And the Siamese, Timmy?" – "We’ve had him for 10". Some are intrigued by this, others less so. Others are curious that the teacher, the coach, has a real, living breathing wife, to be seen in the background, getting ready for work. Cue, again, Present Perfect: – "How long have you been married?" – "da da!" 

After my initial technical stresses, I have become pleasantly surprised with online English teaching. The whole learning experience can have significant advantages, personally and professionally. The ‘share’ screen option on most platforms enables the word document to be used as a great record of notes made during and after the lesson. It can also be used to show videos and quickly link to internet articles and grammar exercises. Personally, I can set students reading and writing tasks, switch the microphone and video to mute, turn the video off, and still see my students working hard.

Why not set a task and have a cup of tea, start cooking lunch, meditate, or play with the cats? I do. I tell them: "Okay, you have until 12.40 to research and answer these five questions." And as if to head off the potential query here (which I put to myself) yes, I believe this is, professional. Teaching is hard enough as it is. And I am finally able, in comparison to the physical classroom and driving around the country, to conserve my energy levels. If you’re teaching 20 hours face-to-face a week, in different geographical locations, getting drained (frazzled) is your greatest challenge.  

Delight at this new found surprise freedom may not persist. Let us consider the downsides too. There is inevitably an extra cost: new fees for faster internet; emotional stresses of negotiating work time in the home-office with other family members; new regulatory paperwork and government guidelines to be aware of. Then the infrastructure, the furniture: good up to now, but no longer so. For example, my chair. It was never a problem before, for a few hours surfing the internet. Now I feel I need something bulkier, with padding. Will my company pay for it; will my wife allow it; will I allow myself to get one in spite of them? – At the moment, not a chance, but with time maybe I’ll have to. And what about the nagging strain in my neck from the screen and chair being slightly off? An excuse to get down to the wellness center that will, more than likely, be shut?

All being said: I guess the greatest danger, is technological (blue-screen) overload. It prompts you to restructure the day. Learning to switch off, de-connect and get out in nature, for a walk, to use the senses to look at things other than a screen; All this becomes vital. 

Resilience is the ability to cope with or indeed thrive in relation to stress. When faced with stressful times of change in work or otherwise, it is important to have long-term plans and goals. Why? Because with an orientation point, we know better why we are doing what we are doing. It gives us perspective and purpose. So, can I be resilient in the present new work situation that has arisen due to the pandemic, home office and lockdowns? I hesitate to answer wholeheartedly yes, because it’s an ongoing process, and it's early days, so to speak; but it certainly does urge one to reflect about the possibility of this kind of future. 

One heads up for online teachers – who haven’t already found it – is the virtual background option, available on some online platforms. This solves some of the privacy issues of online work. For example, I can then decide if and when the cats make an appearance, or if they see a virtual screen image. This is also something to remind students and clients of. It has to be remembered students and clients are often, – consolingly – just as new to all this as we are.

RJC Fraser

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