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June 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Prioritizing When Education is in Crisis: The Language Teacher

Christina Nicole Giannikas holds a PhD in the field of Applied Linguistics. She is an academic, an education and research consultant, and a teacher trainer. She is interested in early language learning, distance education, teacher education and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). She has written a number of articles on online learning, teaching young language learners and teacher education in academic journals, such as the International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Applied Linguistics Review and ELTED. Email: christinagian@hotmail.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great disruption in education systems across the globe. From one day to the next, educational authorities called for school closures and, in many cases, an immediate shift to online teaching. This decision has been supported by international organisations, which have paid particular attention to the issue of Education Response in Crises and Emergencies. More specifically, UNESCO urges countries to provide alternative modes of learning for students who are not in school due to the circumstances, and ensure flexible learning in formal and informal settings, including emergency situations, such as the one caused by the pandemic (Huang et al., 2020). Although disrupted classes does not necessarily mean disrupted learning, the shift has shocked the majority of the language education community who have had to change their entire curriculum, become familiar with a number of e-learning platforms that would suit them and their students, all the while keeping a balance at home while making a professional transition. Staying grounded has definitely become a challenge, but not one that the language education community cannot overcome.

 

Adaptability

Teachers are problem solvers by nature, and if there is a professional community that is more likely to adjust and overcome such a crisis, it is teachers. Teachers have been trained for the unknown in the classroom, the unexpected behavior of a student, and the adjustment of teaching plans and materials.

The education emergency of COVID-19 calls for adjusting and adapting. Teachers will need to see things from a different scope if they have been obliged to teach online. This may involve:

●    adjusting their perception about how their students learn online and how technology can be harnessed in their particular teaching context;

●    adjusting behaviours by seeking information on e-learning by others with more experience; and,

●    adjusting emotions by possible anxiety or frustration of their new digital reality and learning the ropes of e-learning;

●    bearing in mind that their students may be going through the same frustration and anxiety.

It is important to bear in mind here that adapting to a new teaching approach can enrich your practice and help you see the silver lining in all of this. Surely, we all learned something new, we all challenged ourselves, we all have material that we can use online and onsite now, and we all came closer to our students. Even though we are not in the same room with them, we are definitely in the same boat.

 

Physical distancing, Social closeness

One could argue that language teachers are social beings. Not only do they work with a number of people, but they teach a means of communication and encourage the development of various communication skills. Therefore, being asked to stay away from others and isolate themselves at home may be another serious challenge.

Lesson planning, researching online resources, and attending virtual professional meetings, can be overwhelming given the circumstances. Teachers may neglect themselves and forget to stay connected with friends and family. For this reason, there needs to be a balance of time spent online for work and staying connected with loved ones. It is vital to take advantage of the internet and what it has to offer during these difficult times. The fact that we cannot be in the same room and enjoy the company of friends and family does not mean that we cannot see them and communicate with them in a different way. Any kind of human contact during COVID-19 is important in order to maintain our mental health and come out of this ordeal stronger than ever. The following can help teachers maintain a much needed balance during their time teaching from home:

●       Plan your day and adjust to the circumstances. Many teachers work from home while also caring for their own family. In order to balance family and work start the day with a routine for everyone and set activities for the children so as to stay occupied and stimulated.

●       Set a comfortable and practical space for you to work from home. Make sure it is a quiet space with plenty of light. A work area you find pleasant will motivate you to make the most of the situation.

●       Separate work and play. It might be easier said than done, but it is important to set limits, and work as much as you need to complete your set tasks for the day. It would be wrong to overwhelm yourself or be on stand-by for students, parents or colleagues. You need to take a breather and pick up where you left off the following day. Working from home does not mean working 24/7.

●       When you have completed your daily tasks, Skype a friend or member of your family, or spend time with people at home. Our mental health during these troubled times can be compromised and efforts to develop and maintain social support is crucial. It is important to remember that physical distancing does not mean social isolation.

 

Supporting students during COVID-19

Many of our students may have been greatly affected by the pandemic and may need our support now more than ever. Although each situation is different and every student is experiencing the health crisis differently, there are a few things we can do to show we care and also keep the students stimulated while at home:

●       Create a central communication hub for students and parents, where you can update information and use as an outreach. If your school is equipped with an existing Learning Management System (LMS) like Blackboard, or Moodle, utilize your class site(s) to provide information there. If not, there other free outlets you can use such as, ClassTag (https://home.classtag.com), Padlet (https://padlet.com) or Google Classroom (https://classroom.google.com). Use what works best for you and your students. You can also use group text messaging tools, such as Viber, What’sApp or ClassParrot (https://classparrot.com).

●       Plan your time and offer your students office hours. Offering an hour or so of your time and becoming available to students brings you closer to understanding their needs, and offers students a sense of security. They feel they can have their questions answered and that they are not working in isolation.

●       Take this opportunity to suggest some fun learning. One suggestion that your language learners may find interesting is to do a bit of ‘ear reading’, i.e. a read aloud with the help of an Audiobook. Language learners can be encouraged to select audiobooks from any genre they are interested in and explore. Selections appropriate for language learners can be found via Librivox (https://librivox.org).

 

Final thoughts

It is true that we always learn from difficult situations. We reflect on what was done and what could be done differently. What can we learn from all this? What were our teachable moments? What are we keeping from our new-found knowledge of online teaching? What can we take with us to the classroom when the time comes? Do I feel more confident using technology now? Have I benefited from webinars and professional development seminars teacher trainers have offered? These are only some of the questions language educators can consider and keep the positive when their teaching life goes back to normal. Perhaps, we can find the positive out of this very negative situation and return to our personal and professional lives stronger and wiser.

 

References

Huang, R.H., Liu, D.J., Tlili, A., Yang, J.F., Wang, H.H. (2020). Handbook on Facilitating Flexible Learning During Educational Disruption: The Chinese Experience in Maintaining Undisrupted Learning in COVID-19 Outbreak. Beijing: Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University.

 

  • Prioritizing When Education is in Crisis: The Language Teacher
    Christina Nicole Giannikas, Cyprus

  • Make It Human: In Between Screens and Faces. Reflections on Nine Weeks of Lessons During Lockdown
    Csilla Jaray-Benn, France