Diary of an ESL Teacher During the Time of COVID-19
During the pandemic, I have had the opportunity to meet many extraordinary teachers and consultants from all over Quebec who have reached out to share their experiences to help their fellow colleagues. This article was written by one of those teachers. Thank you for sharing, Gisèle!
Schools are closed due the threat of a COVID-19 pandemic. Confinement. As a busy ESL teacher, I welcome the time off and enjoy the break. After a few days, I feel the need to reach out to my students. Are they okay? Do they understand what’s going on? What can I do to cheer them up and show them I’m still around and I care? I miss their hugs and their “I love you” messages.
Although I have no experience in front of a camera, I decide to make a video to say hello, and to send out challenge s to my students to practice the songs we’ve been learning since the beginning of the year. I also invite them to send me a video of themselves performing one of the songs, or just to say hello. I ask my boyfriend who loves film editing to help out. He encourages me to do my video in one take, but I think, “I’m not an actress and I’m definitely not Céline Dion!” He says he will add some special effects with iMovie. I sing my songs and do the actions regardless, in one take. Oh, how I look silly! My eyes look strange. My voice is weird. I should have done the roller coaster in “Sally the Camel” rounder… but then I think, what am I saying? I don’t expect my students to always be perfect. It’s more important to be present than to be perfect. So this is what I did -with all my imperfections: https://youtu.be/vb6R9PxFT9I
After a week, I start receiving emails with videos of my students saying hello, one while jumping on her trampoline! Another student sent me a video of them performing the songs we learned in class. Puppet shows, too! I was thrilled with the responses! I make a second video asking students to run on the spot as they count to one hundred.
Here is that video: https://youtu.be/9CKHFfPGpqc
Students continue to send me their videos telling me they have met my challenges. I do private video conferencing for students who are interested. I send other challenges like:
-Your Favourite Food Challenge
-Visit an App Challenge
-Read an Online Book Challenge
-Watch a YouTube Video Challenge
To help with teaching online, I reach out in many ways, and use the resources that are available to me. I attend online workshops, look for podcasts and teaching videos. I also participate in the ESL Café, attend webinars, TÉLUQ, have Happy Hour chats with colleagues, and ask for advice from my ESL consultant. I buy books online, and find many ways to enhance my teaching.
Time rolls by and eventually, we are asked to support parents in their use of La Trousse Pédagogique. I enjoy private chats with many parents, who follow my weekly challenges. I have created a bond with many parents, and they appreciate my efforts.
After all this time contacting students on a voluntary basis, teachers are now asked to follow a schedule. We are officially back to teaching-online. We do our best. Following the directives, I plan my classes.
STEP 1: Video of a concept.
Video Grade 1: Do You Like…?
Video Grade 3: Sports
Video Grade 4: Sports
STEP 2: Follow-up through video conferencing.
I have 14 groups. I decide to do 30 minutes with each grade level to practice the concepts from the video capsule. The night before my first video conference, I am so stressed. I had tried it once before with Google Meet and my Grade 1 students-and it was crazy! I couldn’t concentrate on what was being said. There was too much noise, and I didn’t know I could mute students. Some parents were not able to connect. A parent suggested I try Zoom for my second class. I figured out this new platform and asked students to keep their microphones off. Kids were respectful. The second class was better and the third, even better! Now, they raise their hand or say their name and wait for permission to speak. There are 80 students more or less per class.
Although everything is not perfect, classes are going relatively well. In my school, some teachers use Zoom while others prefer Teams. All teachers will be asked to use the platform for which our school board has a license for and that is Teams. It is much easier for specialists when teachers use the same platform.
STEP 3: Individual work.
I ask students to send me videos of themselves interviewing someone. “Do you like…?’ in Grade 1. “Write and talk to me about your favourite sport” in Grade 3. (I provide a model.) “What’s your favourite sport? Why? What equipment do you need”, in Grade 4. Learning English becomes a family affair. Grandma is being interviewed. Mom and Dad, and Brother and Sister, too! Of course, being an enthusiastic teacher, I send students personalized comments on their work. (I will tell you a little secret, I’m having such a great time witnessing all their creativity, and interacting with parents and students!)
STEP 4: Feedback and review of concepts presented.
I introduce the concept for the following week in advance, at the parents’ request. I make flashcards for parents to use, send links to more videos, and create new challenges!
STEP 5: Individual work once again.
Parents and students look forward to my challenges. Some ask me if their other children can attend my classes. One parent even asked me to give private video conferencing classes to her son this summer. COVID-19? Oh yes, I forgot about that…
At the beginning of the pandemic, I made a decision not to let the Coronavirus wear me down, but to put my energy toward making this world a better place. What we draw our attention to becomes our reality. What a better way to redirect my attention than to focus on helping my students learn English and to give them the tools to become autonomous learners. My focus was to bring out the best in my students. In turn, they gave me creativity, laughter, smiles, satisfaction, the need to inspire and so much more. This is why I became an ESL teacher.
Gisèle Lambert is an Elementary ESL teacher who has been teaching since 1988. She is the recipient of the 2014 SPEAQ Teacher of Merit Award. Presently, she teaches at École Étincelle in Terrebonne at CSDA and is busy planning motivating online activities and giving feedback to her 400 students!