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October 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

To Plan or to Netflix?

As surely anyone involved in teaching knows all too well by this point, we live in strange and uncertain times.  Seismic shifts have happened, not only in our own profession but a larger business context, with the upper echelons of the business world forced to confront the heretofore unmentionable and inconceivable truth that the people they pay to do a job are not strictly required to sit in an open-plan office, smelling each other's lunches (and worse), blood flow to the brain being restricted by a necktie, in order to perform said job.  Ordinary workers can now point to empirical evidence that they are perfectly capable of coding, accounting, whatever, whilst in their PJ's in the comfort of their own home.

This would never be the case of everyone, of course, and when the pandemic really hit and I was working exclusively from home, I found that the newly available distractions (Netflix, Xbox etc) meant I wasn't spending the same amount of time I used to preparing.  As a result for a time there I feel the quality of my teaching went down somewhat as I was now 'winging it' a bit for many lessons.  No student ever said so (to my knowledge) or expressed any dissatisfaction, but as a pretty harsh critic of myself I felt I had to do more.

What has COVID-19 taught me?  It reinforced the importance of being prepared.  I used to have a set routine where I would work early hours then have time to go to the school/office, prep, copy etc, then sit down and go over all my files for the rest of the day and the start of the next, making any extra little notes and finalising lesson plans.  It was a comfortable routine that worked for me.  Student feedback was positive, it freed up some more time in the evenings (inevitably filled with lesson reports, regrettably), and largely left me with my weekends free.  As a guy who does work long days Monday-Friday, I always enjoy just spending time at home on the weekends.  Like pretty much anyone (I'm sure) I try to compartmentalise work and home (lesson reports aside), so now combining the two was causing some internal strife in my own brain, where it couldn't handle the requirement to perform complex tasks on the sofa or at the desk that used to belong to a different location.

It's hardly a hot take to talk up the importance of preparation for effective teaching, but for me personally, managing myself presented a bigger challenge than classroom management and the like over a digital medium.  As a teacher I've always felt pretty good about my presence in the classroom (in adult teaching), my verbal and non-verbal communication skills, etc etc.  If you're in a classroom or repurposed meeting room and the inspiration suddenly strikes you that this particular task would be better performed in pairs it's pretty simple to just point and direct your students.  Organising 'breakout rooms' or the like via Zoom (for example) takes planning, explanation, and of course time.  Not much time, of course, but time nonetheless.  I could have planned for it though, if I'd just taken the time.  All this makes me question how much of 'professionalism' is tied up in being in a physical place like a school or office - extrinsic or intrinsic, oddly linking teacher motivation with student motivation.

I was also forced to wonder whether my own attitude towards online teaching had a part to play in all of this.  People have long made a living teaching online exclusively.  In fact I've known people who got their start in teaching by doing so online (in a long distance capacity) as a side job before finding that they enjoyed it more than their regular job, or through some other circumstance migrating into teaching full time, in one case even moving to China to pursue a full time opportunity following the cultivation of relationships via online mediums.  Anyway all this to say that I have to confess I'd always been skeptical of the efficacy of online teaching - perhaps fine for a pure conversation course, but a number of factors or potential factors - internet lag, limited awareness of body language and in some cases facial expressions.... quite a few of my female students working from home are reticent to show their makeup-less faces, for some reason... the reduced effectiveness of games, inability to play board games for example, and the general ease of distraction - other teachers out there must get annoyed with students blatantly going to Google Translate on a different tab rather than trying to remember the word or work out the answer - all factors that caused me to be somewhat sceptical about online teaching.

So I had to confront the possibility that my own attitude towards online lessons was an element in my more blasé approach towards preparation, and if that's the case what does it say about my dedication to my job?

Anyway, although I still don't exactly spend the same amount of time on preparation that I used to, I managed to adapt (as we all had to) to the 'new normal' and learned to treat my home as my office.  What this looks like for teachers with my kind of position will of course vary from person to person; at the time of writing online and offline teaching is becoming more demarcated, but who knows what will happen for the rest of 2020 and beyond.  I am lucky in that I work for a great school who reacted very quickly to the situation back in March (which feels like years ago now), so my now quite considerable experience with the requirements for and responsibilities involved in online teaching will set me up better for whatever the short, medium or long term future may hold.  Or something even better than Netflix, maybe Grand Theft Auto 6, may come along and throw a spanner in there, who knows....?

Tagged Voices 
  • "Lend Me Your Ears!" - The Challenge of Developing Listening Skills
    Ben Gwillim, United Kingdom

  • Language is Not Only What We Know, It’s What We Do
    Daniel Kral, Slovakia

  • Teaching in a Time of Corona
    Emma Wyatt, UK

  • Learning – For Better and For Worse
    Juraj Stredansky, Slovakia

  • What I learned in the Face of Covid-19
    John Liebeskind, USA

  • To Plan or to Netflix?
    Anthony Forsyth, Scotland