In the midst of the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic, my sister, a teacher in Russia, emailed me after her first official day teaching online. She had taught eight synchronous lessons and summed up her day as, “My voice is almost gone, and my bottom is fused with the chair.” Her email made me wonder how other teachers around the world were faring, so I interviewed other educators from Russia, as well as France, Italy and Honduras. Here are a few of the thoughts they shared:
Change Came Without Warning.
One day, teachers were at school or on spring break and the next, they were in charge of ensuring academic continuity through remote instruction. Elena, who teaches in Italy, said educators were given “from one week to 10 days to rethink [their] way of teaching.” During that time, teachers remained in touch with students and families via email, “giving and correcting the assignments personally to each student… It was overwhelming, because many teachers have a lot of students,” Elena said. “I have 207, for example.”
Leadership Matters. So Does Its Absence.
It’s no secret that many educators across the world felt somewhat abandoned. “Teachers were sent home and told to follow the same curriculum but from home,” said Clare, who works in Honduras. “There were no regulations for what needed to get done… There was no organization.”
But there were positives, too. Julia, a computer science teacher in Russia, initiated conference calls with her colleagues to plan for the future. Together, they tested different platforms and agreed on what applications to use to avoid confusing students and parents. Meanwhile, Elena found herself feeling proud of her Italian government, which funded schools to ensure one-to-one technology and G Suite access.
Technology Can Be Daunting.
In Honduras, technology access is scarce. Clare explained that students often go to local stores and buy prepaid data for phones to use for school. They do their work by hand, then take photos to turn in their assignments.
Maxime, who teaches pre-K in France, shared, “My pupils are too young to follow an online school program. It’s also hard to explain to parents how to teach.”
Elena had a similar experience in Italy. “Many of the families in my school are immigrants. They don’t understand completely what we [post] on the school website.”
The remote teaching learning curve was steep for teachers as well. “Not many teachers were ready for this digital way of teaching,” Elena said. “I was ready, but I never planned to open a YouTube channel before the pandemic.” Now Elena has created more than a dozen videos, mini-sites, interactive activities and more.
Teaching Takes Heart.
Especially in times of crisis, most teachers’ foremost thoughts are with their students. Julia worries about children who share one device with several family members. Elena is concerned about “the sense of loneliness the children/youth with special needs are experiencing now,” while Maxime’s thoughts are with those for whom “school is a refuge.”
Clare remotely teaches English to learners in China, and shared that as the epidemic grew there, many doubled their school load but were too distracted in class. She begins each day by giving students space to talk about what is on their minds.
Most of all, teachers miss their students. “I did not get into teaching to sit in front of a computer,” Elena said. “I love to look into my students’ eyes, to understand from their body language what they feel and what they need. I miss laughing with them. I miss their hugs.”