For teachers in the UK, such sudden and possibly long-lasting school closures are not something we have physically or mentally prepared ourselves for. Many of us will have experienced short-term closures due to things like power cuts, floods, heavy snow or other common phenomena. Such a force majeure as Covid-19 is quite unprecedented for nearly all teachers today.
After the initial shock of closure comes the more lasting fear and concern. What comes next? How do I keep my students on track? What are we going to do about exams? How can we be a proper bulwark of support if we can’t be physically there for our students each day?
All of these are valid concerns and are especially pressing for teachers who have next experienced this kind of significant disruption to their working lives. The first piece of advice for teachers is to remain calm and don’t despair. Your job needn’t descend to the role of a mere functionary. Your job won’t be reduced to merely sending students worksheets via email and then eagerly awaiting their return.
The key is staying positive and embracing all the tools available to you. What many teachers will find is that this can be a very positive learning experience as you employ new technology and create new approaches to learning that you’d never previously had a chance to use.
What can you do as a teacher?
The teacher’s role in the current crisis is essential. As symbols of steadfastness and level-headedness, our educators should be leading by example. The “keep calm and carry on” spirit has to be kept alive by those our young people look to for instruction and guidance.
Here are some ideas of how to make your time away from school both supportive to your students and productive for yourself and your career.
1. Make use of live online communication
You may not be able to see students in person, but you can still talk with them in real-time thanks to the marvels of the Internet age. Create dedicated pathways for direct talk — Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom and any other software that can connect you with your students face to face. Make separate accounts to keep personal/professional matters well separated.
Set up sessions to speak with your students about their work, the materials they’re covering, and as a chance for dialogue and feedback. You’ll quickly realise that the online platforms, while not recreating the in-classroom experience fully, are a viable alternative in hard times.
2. Create dynamic content
Your computer, when combined with your creative mind, is a veritable factory of instructive innovation. Use your downtime to make instructional videos, “how-to” guides, knowledge organisers, quizzes and more. You can upload everything you make onto a single platform for easy download.
You might discover that you love the challenge to create new things, and the opportunity to move away from the prescribed methods at your particular schools. This new age of isolation is forcing us to come up with new approaches to do all sorts of things. Set your mind to the task, and you can create great things.
3. Advise students on using their time productively
Besides preparing academic materials, share your insights on how to become an “isolated learner.” Help students stay positive by giving them ideas on how to use their time productively, and how to organise their time to suit the new environment. It doesn’t matter that these measures are temporary, we still have to adapt until we know for sure when things will return to normal.
Besides their schoolwork, give them ideas on things to do in their downtime. You could create reading lists, optional essay practice, ideas for easy hobbies that can be taken up with minimal materials and equipment — the list of possibilities is near endless.
Keeping students busy and productive is the best way to get them through a tough time. Students idling while looking up scary news online will only descend into a worse state. Teachers should be strongly advising students and parents about keeping active and positive.
4. Share, share, share
Create a dedicated email address and sharing platform (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) to create a kind of “library” for them to peruse and make us of. The email can be a place for students to submit their work, as well as a channel for communication. The sharing platform is a convenient way to put all your materials in one place where all students can access and download them as they need.
Besides creating content, you can also trawl the web for useful sites and fun, productive activities to keep students mentally active during their isolation period—the more variety you can find for them, the better.
5. Keep calm and carry on
Don’t think of these new circumstances as a crisis or even an obstacle to your teaching work. Try to see this situation as a unique opportunity to try new approaches. We predict that you will find it easier than you think to keep your students well supplied with useful work and materials.
At the end of it all, perhaps a positive thing to emerge from the experience will be the education establishment finally being able to acknowledge the role of outside media, online learning platforms and learning in ways that break the traditional education mould.