Your experience as a teacher using distance teaching / learning tools and platforms?
Before Covid 19, I used Skype in the classroom as a tool for long distance teaching. I had involved teachers around the world in my classes and had contributed to international classes as well. When our school was preparing to close due to Covid 19, we were already using Microsoft TEAMS and Google Classroom at school. When school closed, we were asked to use these for online teaching, and setting and grading of assignments.
How you are working with students and colleagues to continue providing education despite the crisis?
The two platforms, Microsoft TEAMS and Google Classroom, have proved excellent for online teaching. I give (and record) lessons with up to 30 pupils in a class at a time, and take questions so the class is interactive. I also set up WhatsApp groups for each of my classes, for quick messages and to receive questions. I also send short voice messages, either reminding pupils of something that is due or send short messages of support. I have uploaded Kahn academy clips, YouTube clips, or links to lessons that I put on Google classroom, and have assigned work with deadlines here too.
Pupils that are from under-resourced backgrounds were provided with a dongle and data by the school, and an iPad, to ensure they can keep up with lessons.
How you are dealing with these new working conditions?
The pupils have responded differently, and I have therefore had to adjust my teaching for those who go at a slower pace, due to lack of self-discipline or depression due to isolation. I start each lesson with emotional encouragement, get feedback on how people are feeling, and generally have slowed my pace or expectations. Some pupils work fast, but some have slowed down, due to family members being diagnosed positive with the virus, or other personal reasons. I find the parents are also challenged with everyone being at home and are asking the school to have a day each week when pupils can catch up and no new work is assigned. In some of the lessons, when I say goodbye, the pupils get quite tearful. They are really trying hard to keep up with the work. I have been very proud of them but realise how much explanation and support they rely on, day to day. I have tried to keep it simple as pupils are having a lot of online lessons. They are logging off and on to different teachers’ lessons for 5 hours, with few breaks. This is a senior school, but some teachers have not stuck to the timetable, and thus their tests have gone over-time etc.
Some of the important activities that I run, such as social responsibility, where we work with inner city kids who have AIDS, and “Model UN” that I run, and the work I do with other organisations on SDGs, has slowed down and much has been put on hold for the 21 days of complete shut-down.
What guidelines and support have you been given (if any)?
We have support from our IT staff, online. Staff members share information on what apps and programmes have worked for them. Staff are asked to stick to the normal timetable for lessons and we are preparing online reports as well at the moment. We share glitches with IT who then try and solve them.
In early April, I was asked to be part of a Jakes Gerwel Fellowship Webinar in South Africa, called Educating in Interesting Times, which addressed the use of different tools for online education.
I am also on the Varkey Foundation’s Varkey Teacher Ambassador (VTA) network and share and receive ideas there.
This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.