Despite the rising worldwide concern about coronavirus, I, as many other students, started the TEFL course in Barcelona without so much as a second thought about how the virus could get out of hand and consequently affect my life (in Barcelona or otherwise). Two weeks into my course and – surprise! – the country went into lockdown.
Switching to classes on Zoom
With the quarantine coming into full effect we were unable to continue attending our in-person classes at the school. So, with (literally) nowhere left to go, we switched to an online format, spending at least a few hours a day on Zoom. While this might seem like the ideal learning situation, being able to show up on screen in pyjamas with breakfast and a hot cup of coffee every morning, the transition was not as easy as it might seem.
The way I see it, the morning sessions online worked fine, though it did take some time to adjust to the platform (Zoom). Of course, it was easy to switch my computer on and join an online class in the morning, but actually maintaining attention and participating was a bit more difficult, especially given the unsupervised access to all sorts of online distractions. Personally, I focus better in a face-to-face environment, so trying to learn over Zoom took more effort on my part than I originally anticipated. Once I figured out how to leave my phone out of reach, my brain actually started focusing on whatever was going on. Additionally, having classes over Zoom also meant that we, the students, interacted less with each other than in the classroom setting which we had become accustomed to in the first two weeks. Pair and/or group work on Zoom, with the trainer joining the different groups during tasks, was something we gradually adjusted to over time. However, this ensured we were kept on task, and if we had any questions, we could easily raise our electronic hand for help. Personally, being forever scarred by the terrible group work experiences of my youth, I didn’t mind working in our smaller breakout groups without anyone else around to listen in (apart from the trainer), but I assume preferences in this regard vary from person to person.
One of the most difficult adjustments, at least for me, was staying productive while stuck inside. Even if you manage to absorb the information from the morning sessions, what do you do afterwards? Hopefully, the answer is “start working and tackle the steadily increasing pile of assignments due the following week.” Unfortunately, without the time restraints and reward associated with having a social life, the prospect of staying motivated decreased by the day.
So, even with the luxury of limitless free time, lesson planning became more arduous than ever. The process hadn’t changed at all – after all, I was still planning on my own at home – but the psychological impact of the “I have so much time, I can start later” mentality made starting the process much harder. Luckily, the teaching practice sessions in the afternoon, though online, still imposed a very palpable deadline. Furthermore, the lesson plan feedback sessions with the trainer were always available a few hours before I had to teach; I certainly didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to find out if my lesson plan was actually going to work or not (or to just iron out a few things). So that’s what usually kicked my tush into gear…eventually.
How did I stay productive then?
Well, being stuck inside also meant that there were only so many hours of Netflix I could watch before getting bored of that as well. Luckily, procrastination is one of my most problematic vices and I have battled it for years. I’ve therefore developed a certain level of mindfulness around it. To be clear, getting to the point of being mindful about this issue took time and will power, as well as numerous nights of observing my hyper-productive friend with envy. This trick (if mindfulness can really be called that) came in handy when deadlines started to appear, and it became even more effective when being bored all the time. So, before moving on to the next episode of Tiger King, or whatever it is I was binging at the time, I would take a second to consider just doing the tiniest bit of work. It didn’t have to be anything major or definitive – just a dent, a plan, a sentence. I’d think: “Hey, I can brainstorm some ideas now and edit it later; it’s still better than nothing”. To avoid misleading you, my dear reader, I’ll admit, the procrastination didn’t stop. But at least I started taking occasional breaks from procrastinating. It’s amazing the amount of work that gets done with enough of those breaks. The other problem with being stuck inside, one that pairs very well with endless movie or TV show marathons, is the unlimited access to food. And boy, do I snack a lot – especially when bored. One way I helped turn that around was to use food as a reward system. I’m not sure whether that’s a healthy mentality to have (I’m not a psychologist or nutritionist), but it helped cut down how often I ate and increased how much work I got done. So unless I was actually hungry, I would set goals for myself – write a paragraph, figure out half of the lesson plan, finish researching a topic, whatever – and then indulge in the reward that were my leftovers. The key here is to exert some self-control (difficult, I know), but it was worth it in the end. This tactic was especially fun and rewarding after a successful teaching practice session. The well-deserved treat (and glass of wine) paired exquisitely with the entertainment that was my groupmate’s class – that’s also why I preferred teaching first.
Doing our teaching practicum on Zoom
I wouldn’t say teaching via Zoom was particularly stressful, it just took some effort and plenty of preparation; not only was it unfamiliar at first, especially after we had already taught a couple of classes in person, there was also always the potential for technical malfunction and the loss of precious time. Additionally, teaching some of the more senior learners who were not used to online learning could be somewhat frustrating: all rules of common decency would suddenly go out the window. Of course, that wasn’t always the case, but there are always a few classes that don’t go quite as expected. There’s the case of the latecomer who starts participating despite being completely unfamiliar with the activity; there’s the unreliable who phases in and out of class at the mercy of the internet gods; and then there’s the unknown spouse who decides to tag along and then unexpectedly quit the call to do something else. I’m just kidding, the last one was an isolated incident, but very entertaining nonetheless.
The point is, even though teaching online comes with its own set of stress-inducing qualities, with practice and patience, lessons become smoother and more enjoyable, and you begin to see the benefits. For one, teaching behind a screen means that you can check your notes or your lesson plan
whenever you want without looking too unprofessional. And you know that annoying student who keeps asking questions completely unrelated to the class? Easily solved with Google, though I don’t necessarily recommend answering every random question thrown at you in class. And finally –
sweatpants. The whole experience of doing our teaching practicum on Zoom has certainly equipped us to better deal with teaching online in our future work. Personally, I found teaching online easier than face-to-face, especially after I figured out how to use Zoom. Still, treating myself to a good snack after the ordeal felt like the pat on the back that I really needed.
With all of this in mind, all I can say is that learning and teaching online is very doable and can be fun despite the gloom of being stuck inside. As for procrastination, it is a perfectly acceptable way to react to the circumstances…at least I think so. But when the urge, or rather the need, to be productive comes knocking on your door, reflecting on your daily routine and simple pleasures can be surprisingly helpful (especially if that pleasure is wine). That’s it guys, I’m on my third glass and fresh out of motivation.