Anka Zapart, BKC IH, Moscow
My name is Anka, I am a teacher of English as a foreign language. I come from Poland but I have wandered around a bit and for the past twelve years I have been working in Russia, at BKC IH Moscow. This is where the pandemic and Zoom found me.
The biggest problem with teaching online that I came across was the one in my head. Although over the years I have worked with all the age groups and levels, my main area of expertise (and my passion) is teaching early years students, primary and pre-primary which is all about being physically present and involved, playing with flashcards, doing craft, using realia…Doing all that online sounded like the most ridiculous idea ever. EVER.
If we had had a chance to meet anytime before March 2020, you would have definitely heard me talk a lot about the disadvantages and the impossibility of teaching very young learners online. You’d have heard me say, too that I would never do that. Never say never…
Because March 2020 happened and we really had no choice, it was either ‘sink or swim’ and, like many of my colleagues all around the world, I decided to at least try to stay on the surface, despite having very (very )little of previous experience of teaching online.
I relocated to zoom, practically overnight, learning fast and learning on the go but also realizing that this is how we do it, as teachers. We become better in the classroom, in front, and with our students, finding out what we like and don’t like doing, what works and what doesn’t. In a way, it was like any other group/ coursebook /level / area from the ‘never done that before’ category, only on a large scale.
In general, the older the students, the smoother the transition was. My teens probably didn’t even notice that the set-up was different (giggles) whereas with my primary, seven- and eight-year-olds, we needed more time for adaptation and more support and involvement from the parents. However, after the first three weeks, we had our new routine and, most importantly, the break-out rooms were under control and that allowed for pair-work and group work and more production.
My pre-primary kids were the biggest challenge but, also, probably, the biggest achievement of all. Initially, the parents refused to move online, despite a few trial lessons and demonstrations. They simply could not see how it could work with kids so young and, although it was a blow, I had to accept that. Accepting, however, didn’t mean giving in completely.
I talked about it with my administration and since we were all stuck at home anyway, with nowhere to go and not much to do, I offered my parents and my kids ‘online activities in English’. I did not dare to call them lessons and they were not obligatory. We would meet only for fifteen minutes, three times a week, to sing, to play, to do some storytelling. For my students, it was an opportunity to use English. For me, it was a fantastic chance to see how things can be done online and to experiment and to learn, guilt-free and stress-free because these were offered free of charge.
This is how we finished the academic year and when it was time to start a new level, all of my educational parents decided to continue, this time as a proper course. Some of them liked studying online so much that, much to my amazement, they were considering never going back to the offline school.
But they did, they all did and since September 2020, we returned, to our lovely classroom, to our carpet, to our flashcards and toys.
The most beautiful memories of the online time are all related to just kids being kids and to the joy of teaching them (which simply reached new levels or different levels on zoom).
Kids showing us their rooms and their treasures. Kids bringing younger brothers or sisters or pets to say to ‘Hi’ to. Parents staying near but not intervening unless we really had a problem and a hand would miraculously appear to fix the mic or the page in the book. Kids rushing to class straight from the beach, with their hair still wet or moving the camera a bit to show us the ships moving slowly on the water behind their back or to prove that there really IS a cow grazing near. Teaching a lesson on fruit, waving bananas, apples, and lemons at each other, on both sides of the screen, or running to the other room to check with mum if she really likes riding a bike…
Overall, I have to say I am proud of what we did when we were online. It was not always easy but we learned, we made progress and we had fun. Personally, I liked it more than I would have ever imagined. Impossible is nothing? Perhaps.
Note: Anka has written more on this topic on her amazing blog “Funky Socks and Dragons”: