Having taught five online classes a day for one year now, I have been constantly deciding whether I enjoy it, hate it or both.

Source: Pixabay

One year on… the strange growth of a Baby Zoomer teaching online.

(Disclaimer: I’m not that sick to death of this livelihood lifeline… but I have been perilously close)

Having taught five online classes a day for one year it’s almost difficult to fathom that teaching online was ever a new thing at all, and I have been constantly deciding whether I enjoy it? Hate it? Or perhaps both.

The board marker, once such an inseparable part of my working day anatomy, no longer feels such a phantom limb, but is now locked in that same time vault as the inkwell and the slate. And I have not used a photocopier in over a year!

When I reflect on the last year, working online has made me seriously empathise with office workers in a way I didn’t before. How did anyone ever manage with being sat down all day in the first place? I’m a teacher because it suits my mild ADHD beautifully…I hover round tables, perch on desks, and flutter like the pedagogical pigeon that I am.

And now with my eyes glued to the screen, the days can feel like pure Clockwork Orange. I am long overdue a trip to the opticians and often have a pain in the gulliver.

Of all the things to wonder, I often ask myself what would D.H. Lawrence have made of it all? How would Last Lesson of The Afternoon have sounded had he been teaching for seven hours straight at a computer? I think he may have written something like…

‘When will my internet crash, and end this weariness?

How long must I glare at ‘currently loading page’ before I pound the refresh button into Earth’s molten core?

My pack of unruly Pearson’s: I cannot navigate their tasks on a quarry of knowledge they hate to teach, I can click and tap on my mouse no more!’

Lawrence was always horrified by modernity, and was undoubtedly one of the profession’s first technophobes, but as often as I can still get uptight about new technology, I am thankful that teaching on Zoom has become easier and that I have evolved….

Last March I would grind my teeth over the smallest of things…such as struggling to navigate steadily through pages on a pdf, forming letters on a digital whiteboard like a graffiti artist, and not forgetting that in the world of Zoom I was, and still am, a screen hog. I mean, I could honestly be using this platform for decades and I would still forget to share my screen every two mins with you.  And even on the rare occasions when I am a paragon of screen sharing… I still find myself asking ’can you see my screen?’, every two seconds. It must do everyone’s head in.

Like all teachers should undoubtedly feel, I am proud that I have technologically evolved in my job, but as you can probably tell, it has come at a price of constantly duelling with my perfectionist demons. At the beginning I really did feel that my teaching style had relapsed. All of that fine teacher training just didn’t seem to always configure so smoothly to the fiddly world of online teaching, and looking back I was really frustrated by it. It was as if my progressive teaching style had done a Marty McFly and had gone back to the time of Queen Victoria. I no longer elicited nor used any guided questioning techniques at all, I saw breakout rooms as more trouble than what they’re worth, so basically gave up on group work altogether.

For a time, I basically kicked back to the old skool and gave up on laying down my trail of crumbs and kept the entire loaf of classroom interaction to myself. For months last year, never in my teaching career had I provided so much running commentary and resorted to rubber stamping everything as I did then.

Zoom was very much my laxative resulting in my verbal diarrhoea.

Curiously, the reason behind my excessive teacher talk, was not always just nerves, but because I live on top of a hill in Naples and I am surrounded by nature like Gerald Durrell. It happens only a few times a day now, but for a time the sparrows would bounce off my ariel and cut me off two minutes at a time. My feathered friends played on my mind constantly, so I had to get my words out fast. It was all very Hitchcock. I was at the mercy of the sparrows.

Through the feeling of having less control, I found that at the start I just bulldozed my way through digital textbooks, and stopped feeling like an interventionist in the way I used to. In short, teaching felt like working in a call centre.

I’m not sure precisely when, but I started watching more tutorials online on how to teach online better and just decided to combat the absurdity of it all. I could never make peace with this weird paradox of jug and mug style teaching in this odd dystopian Star Trek context.

I had been using Kahoot already, and now it’s become even more the norm, and now I am huge fan of interactive video quizzes on ISL Collective, and the other day I ran an activity club where I got my class to list three places in the world which they had always wanted to go to…and within minutes we were doing a walking tour on google maps using street view. Never in a regular class would I have got my class to give me a guided tour of Silicon Valley.

My absolute favourite is Window Share, where you can see from any number of webcams a live view out of someone’s window from anywhere on the planet. In anywhere I have ever taught with a good street view, I’ve always got my students to people watch out the window and to tell me what they can see. Now the globe is their window.

I now also have plans to use online videogames to get students talking, using the multiplayer option of a retro Czech games site I found many years ago. None of which I would not have thought of doing if not for this chaos.

In the old normal, I didn’t normally have the patience to carry out any arts and crafts lessons…but teaching online you’re only a click away from Paint 3D, and getting a class to design their own flags without them having to tidy up at the end, which is great.

Teaching on Zoom has certainly allowed me to share a bit more of my personality with my classes and be a lot more creative. My students have now met my pet cats Derby Countess and Kenneth Branagh, seen my fridge magnet collection and the guitar I have transformed into a clock. And it was adorable getting my five year old beginners to do a treasure hunt of their homes, which would not have necessarily happened in a classroom. Today, I taught my teens ‘a lot of’ ‘some’ ‘much’ and ‘not many’ by asking them to take their tablets to the kitchen and to talk us through the contents of their fridge, and I got them to write a shopping list for their parents.

Overall, even though the last year on Zoom has been testing, I am grateful in that it has provided the much needed opportunity to learn some new tricks, and probably the biggest triumph of all…(besides not using a photocopier for a a year) is that it has been a privilege to interact with students in a different way, and to engage with them in a much more exciting way.

From the offset this was never meant to be plan A, and the efforts behind the scenes to digitalize entire schools have been huge, and as a result, many aspects of school life have finally been brought further into the 21st century, and you know what? Long may that trend continue.