Staying connected

Being a teacher means you have to expect the unexpected but I don’t think any of us could have imagined what 2020 would entail. Coronavirus has pulled the rug from all of our feet; the devastating loss of lives, the fear and uncertainty, the financial repercussions, it’s changed our lives forever. Living in Italy, the government-imposed lockdown and school closures have meant we have had to move from the classroom to the digital classroom. Enough has been written recently about how to make that move to teaching online so I thought I would share what the past few weeks have taught me.

When the Italian government announced the school closures, it was quickly decided that lessons would be transferred online. Cue mass panic.  Despite having a blog I am certainly in no way au fait with technology, I pride myself on being able to turn on a computer and I regularly get sympathetic noises from my students as I wrestle with interactive classware or blindly press all the buttons on the projector remote control.  Needless to say, when it comes to tech issues, I’m very much a fully-enrolled member of  the school of “switch it off and turn it back on again”.  So, the announcement of going online catapulted me (and most of my co-workers) into the unknown.

Zoom tutorials, thanks to the very kind people at NILE,  allayed my fears and there has been an onslaught of webinars, and links to the latest websites which will enhance my teaching.  While all of these have been very kindly offered with the intention of helping online teaching newbies like myself, what it has left me in is a state of confusion.  I fervently planned my first weeks’ lessons using interactive quizzes, all singing and dancing powerpoints, you name it! I spent hours slaving over tutorials to apps and websites that have never entered my consciousness before.  What this resulted in was beautiful looking lessons and one very stressed teacher.  How can I possibly continue making so much content I lamented? And then I actually delivered the lessons.

I don’t quite know what I expected as I proudly shared the links to my spangly quizzes or my beautifully chosen powerpoint backgrounds, however, as I did I realised that I’d been looking at this all wrong.  The students couldn’t care less about technology.  The switch to going online had left me feeling that I needed a focal point, a technological crutch as it were, to aid my teaching and mirror the way I was delivering my lessons.  This of course, is total rubbish.  I had become so involved in the process of going online that I had forgotten the basic principle of teaching – my connection with my students.  These were students who I had gained a rapport with over the past six months; I had eased them through their difficulties, supported them in their weaknesses, we’d laughed together (mostly at me), and developed that community which meant we could reveal our flaws and abandon our inhibitions. What this meant was that they forgave me for my lack of technological no-how, they didn’t need me to do anything more than teach them. The trust we had established was more powerful than any available app.

And yes, there are lots of areas that I am still grappling with, I can’t say that I feel I monitor as well as I would in a physical classroom, I miss being able to glance around a room and instantly gain feedback and I still feel my TTT is too high, but I am slowly beginning to understand that the skills I have acquired over the last decade or so of teaching have not suddenly disappeared just because I’m in a new space.  In fact, now those ‘basics’ are more important than ever.

What this rather rambling outpour is trying to say is that we should never underestimate the power of relationships in our teaching.  While we are ‘connecting’ online from a technical point of view, we are also building and relying on those inter-personal connections which ultimately are at the heart of good teaching.


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