Regional Virtual Meeting for Asia-Pacific Region-COVID-19 education crisis - Supporting teachers in distance learning and on school reopening
ERI-Net Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Series Preparing and Supporting Teachers in the Asia-Pacific to Meet the Challenges of Twenty-first Century Learning Regional Synthesis Report 2015 ERI-Net Regional Study on Transversal Competencies in Education Policy
I'm Hannah Grieves and I’ve been teaching spoken and written English to first- and second-year University students at the Shandong University of Business and Technology in Yantai, China for the past 8 years.
Cut-off from the World We Knew
We’d heard about the virus in Wuhan, but it wasn’t until shortly before Spring Festival that we realised the enormity of the situation. Initially people in Yantai were cautious, but not especially concerned. We’re pretty far from Wuhan, we reasoned, so we’ll probably be okay. Let’s buy a few more jars of peanut butter just in case. Then we heard the news about lockdowns across the country, and soon we saw guards at the entrance to our community. Our temperatures were taken when we entered the supermarket and, before long, we were told we would have to register to even leave our community. It was so unlike anything we’d ever experienced before. China is usually busy, full of life, and above all noisy. Suddenly the streets were empty, there were no children playing out and it was quiet. Eerily quiet. We started to feel anxious and uncertain about what to do next.
Zooming around the Country
Our school didn’t have much time to make plans. A week before we were due to start classes, we got a message telling us that we would have to teach our students online for the next couple of weeks. A friend at a bigger university in Shanghai told us that they had been instructed to prepare for four weeks. We thought there was no chance it would be that long, but we got ready just in case.
It’s now week 5 and our students don’t think they’ll be back until the end of April at the earliest, and that’s assuming China isn’t hit by a second wave of the virus. Most of the Chinese staff are using platforms such as Tencent and QQ to run their courses, but most of the foreigners offering speaking classes opted to use Zoom. A huge part of my course focuses on pronunciation of individual sounds and it’s crucial that I not only hear my students but can see them too, so that I can see where in their mouths they’re making the sound and help them make any adjustments.
Just like many other teachers, I hadn’t taught online before and had never tried to chat with a whole class on video call, but to my great surprise it works pretty well. In many ways, it’s been exciting getting to know my students in their home environments – it’s opened up many conversations that might not have happened under normal circumstances. Students can show me their homes, tell me about the foods they’re eating, and discuss how their communities are dealing with the virus. We’re getting to know each other in new ways.
Reaching Out Online
As teachers, I think we often feel like we should know exactly what we’re doing, but when faced with something so new I felt completely out of my depth – how would I cope with any technical issues? How would I make sure my students still feel like they’re learning? How could I make my classes engaging without really being able to read the room? Like many others, I reached out online and thankfully stumbled across the Facebook group “Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning” set up by Kirsten Durward. I had found help! So did countless others. It grew and grew and is still growing. There are breakout groups for just about every subject, location, age group, and interest, as well as units to teach people how to use different platforms like Zoom, Seesaw, Google Classroom and Flipgrid. Despite having spent the last nine weeks at home with just my husband and two small children, I feel like I have more support than ever before.
Ask for Help and it Will Come
In some countries the problems caused by the pandemic are only just beginning and I know that the effects will be wide reaching and hard to overcome, but educators should know this: ask for help and it will come.
Your colleagues across the world are ready to support you – to offer you help and hope. You are not alone. In the midst of the unknown one thing is certain: teaching will never be the same again. It will be better. How can it not be when there is a whole community of teachers, educators, counsellors, administrators, and experts in just about every field who are reaching out and offering their help to anyone who needs it?
It’s been a real privilege getting to know my new colleagues across the globe and to see the wonderful things that are happening in their online classrooms. I am proud to be part of such an incredible movement of teachers who care, not only for their students, but for their students’ families, their wider communities and colleagues worldwide.
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.