As Teacher’s Day draws nearer, I have been receiving greetings from my students on Messenger. In previous years, I would always look forward to Teacher’s Day because there are no classes, and my advisory class would prepare a touching tribute and some nice gifts. This year is different, however, because I have not met my current students in person.
I have become friends with most of these students on Facebook. Normally I wouldn’t approve friend requests from students, but since this year I don’t get to see them in person, I have to use alternative ways of keeping in touch with them. I’ve seen many of their posts of class pictures and group pictures celebrating Teacher’s Day. I can’t help but feel sad seeing these because I’m a new teacher in my school and I would not have an opportunity to see my classes in real life.
I had to take a break from teaching the previous school year because of depression. During those months of unemployment, I was really looking forward to going back to the classroom. When I got a new teaching job, I saw it as a new lease on life. I was so eager to meet my new students, get to know them, and figure out ways to make my lessons fun and engaging. After several months of hiatus, I was ready to get back in the field and revisit the reason why I got into this profession.
But then the pandemic struck, and teachers around the globe were unable to hold face-to-face classes because of COVID-19 restrictions and had to resort to other modes of delivery. In my school’s case, we are holding fully online classes. I am not new to online classes because I’ve been taking my graduate degree online for 4 years now. But even if I have some degree of familiarity with this mode, teaching online is still a huge struggle, which is probably a universal experience.
I had a bit of anxiety during the first weeks of meeting my new students through Google Meet. Interacting with others in a video conference call can be awkward and strange in the beginning. As a standard practice, all the students are on mute while the teacher talks, so many times I feel as if I’m just talking to myself. Eliciting responses from the students can be difficult, and normally only a handful of students participate. As I teach, I also try to look at video feeds of my students to see if they are paying attention, but I happen to have 47 in my advisory class, so it is a bit unsettling to look at 47 different faces on the screen peering at me. Overall, I did not like the experience, because it lacked the warmth and spontaneity of a face-to-face class.
But I remind myself that this is how things are now, and I just must deal with it and make the most of it. I remind myself to be thankful that I even have a job. I also try to think about the positive side of teaching online. Because of the internet, my students and I have access to a variety of assessments and activities. In this mode, students learn to be independent, self-regulated learners. I could easily assign different resources for my students to study in our learning management system. Checking tests are facilitated with answer keys and automated scoring.
I also try to think about how my students are faring with their online classes. If I was already having a hard time being a part-time online graduate student, even more so for my students who have up to 9 subjects. I feel so bad for them, being cooped up in the house for extended periods of time, just looking at the computer for several hours. I am especially concerned for the athletes who are unable to play this year.
I try to be attuned to the well-being of my students, asking them how they are and what adjustments could be made for them. I pay attention to social media posts and trends about students’ experiences with online classes and learn from them, so I can modify my teaching. I also read articles about best practices of online teaching in educational websites and get advice from my colleagues. I think all teachers can agree that there is so much to learn about teaching online.
I also try to think of ways to get to know my students, despite the physical distance. During every homeroom, I ask a few students to share a little something about themselves. I teach a philosophy class, so there are many opportunities for essays and journal entries. I look forward to reading these, because I get to know who my students are and their personalities, especially if they do not like speaking during a synchronous session. On some days, I break them into smaller group calls, and have some informal chit-chat and exchange “how are you’s.” I enjoy these, because I get to hear what’s on their mind and how they are.
I have a lovely set of students; it’s such a pity I cannot meet them in real life. They’re so diligent, eager to learn, and concerned for their classmates and teachers. Some would check in and ask how I am. Over the past few months, I have had to be quarantined twice because I was in close contact with people who had COVID-19, and therefore, I could not teach my classes. I was so touched by the students sending me messages of support and concern, saying that they would pray for me. There was even one, a boy who never talks in class, who offered to send me medicine and vitamins. It was a moving gesture. I’m glad I’m able to form relationships with my students, even if it is constrained.
Being an online student myself, I’ll be the first to say that online classes are not ideal and can be very difficult. Being a teacher is challenging during these times. However, there are many opportunities to learn and improve in this “new normal” (although it is no longer new, since virtual learning has been the trend for 7 months now). This year’s Teacher’s Day gives me an opportunity to reflect on why I teach and how I can be a better teacher for my students. – Rappler.com
Lex Adizon is a high school teacher from Bacolod City. She occasionally writes and tweets at @LexAdizon
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