Back to the classroom

I honestly did not know when I would be heading back to the classroom. In some ways, I’d hope it would be sooner rather than later because I missed classroom teaching. I missed the games, the partner swaps and the personalities of ‘real life’ interaction. Without the low resolution megapixels, without the buffering and the time lag of others’ voices. But what I didn’t even consider is that none of the ‘normal’ classroom things were going to be possible straight away.

Please bear in mind that this post is very much my own experience from this week and is probably quite different to everyone else’s. I am also still working from home in the afternoon and evenings, working for myself and loving every minute of it!

In all honesty, teaching online and working from home has been great! But, it certainly didn’t start off that way. I had no idea what to do, how to plan an online lesson or what to expect. It was a challenge at every level. My laptop was old, my internet was awful and my students weren’t as motivated because my technology wasn’t supporting all the fun things like quizzes, videos or even google slides some days!

Once I bought a new computer things became a little easier, although the internet was still shocking. I managed to find my own way of online teaching (despite many people trying to tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing) and it just worked! For 6 months I had the perfect schedule and everything ran fairly smoothly. And no, the ‘perfect’ schedule did not involve sleeping until lunchtime and teaching for an hour, as some people seem to think!

Going back to the classroom was a call that came quickly! At 6am on Sunday I had a message asking if I’d be free for the month to teach a B2 class. There are two students who are new to the city and wanted private lessons and thankfully, we’re using EnglishFile – which means no silly preparation! I had all of the information by 9am and it is so nice when someone gives you everything you need – times, details and materials – before you walk into the classroom. Or at least I think it is!

When I walked in at 8:30 on Monday morning, the building had been re-done. Painted, re-tiled, re-organised. It looked so bizarre, but bright and welcoming. There were so many sanitisation products everywhere as well, which made me realise that we were really living in different times more than ever.

There was also timetable mix-up, which meant I was over an hour early. The internet wouldn’t load, the computer log-in details weren’t working and the book I had used to prepare my lesson was actually an even older edition than I thought we had, so it wasn’t the smoothest of starts! Thankfully that extra time helped me get everything back on track for when the students walked in. To say I was nervous would been an understatement.

The students are absolutely lovely and have lots of interesting experiences to share. The set up is better than I expected, although they sit in the second row rather than the first, and it feels weird to have to keep such a distance and wear a mask for three hours. I am constantly sanitising my hands, the board and the books – just in case!

The weirdest thing so far has been how long everything takes back in the classroom. Writing a list of vocabulary, highlighting key words, writing definitions on the board and having to constantly rub things out to make space for new explanations or diagrams. Being on the computer and using the keyword to quickly type things out is far, far easier. However, it does make me think more carefully about what goes up on the board and how important or relevant it is.

Another odd part of being back in the classroom is not being able to ‘screenshot’ a part of the book, enlarge it and then annotate parts of it. If I did that in the classroom I’d have to photocopy and enlarge the text and then put it on the board for students to annotate. It doesn’t quite work as well in the classroom and you also can’t predict what parts will, or won’t, be a problem. I wonder if this is just an online ‘bonus’ and if not being able to do it even matters?

But, what I have really missed is the human connection. Being able to clearly (well, behind the masks!) see how my students respond to certain words, ideas or grammar points. Through the webcam you can’t always see that frown of confusion or those ‘lightbulb’ moments, and that’s something I miss. I also feel as though students feel more restricted online and that the classroom gives them the freedom to speak their minds more often. We have had many ‘off-topic’ discussions this week about jobs, politics, Manchester and travelling and I don’t think I have had that as often in an online classroom.

Being back in the classroom does inevitably mean the long commute to work. Waking up an hour earlier to make sure I’ve dressed, done my make up, eaten, had a coffee all before walking out of the door ready for my hour long commute. That’s two hours of my morning gone all before 9am and I have to admit, I don’t like it. Before this week, I was able to wake up at 5:30/6am to work on my other role, eat and drink when I felt like it and get dressed a little later in the morning. The mornings do feel a little more pressured this week, but to be able to walk through the city when it’s so peaceful is quite lovely. I have missed looking at the trees, buildings and people on their way to work. It is a nice change from staring out at a carpark all day!

Now, I have always believed that being in the classroom is the best way to teach, for so many reasons, but I have absolutely gained some new opinions in the last 6 months that are both selfish and looked at from my students’ points of view. I’m going to outline them all shortly but I do think I’m in a minority here and I’m not surprised.

Clothes. Aaah the dreaded ‘work’ outfits are back again. Whilst I have never had a strict work uniform, in any school that I have worked in, I have always found it tough dressing for work. I’m very much a ‘jeans and tee’ dresser and trying to find work outfits is something I struggle with. I’m not fashionable or trendy at all and I don’t feel as though I ‘suit’ work attire. That isn’t the worst thing though. Throughout lockdown I have, little by little, started eating more. At first it was because I was bored at home all day, then it was because I was working 12-16 hours a day, and then it just ‘stuck’. I couldn’t stop eating and even though I noticed a little weight gain, I didn’t try and stop. The other problem was that I was mostly wearing joggers or pyjama bottoms, and they really didn’t help to highlight how much weight I was putting on. When the restrictions eased and I started going out a little more, I was struck by the realisation that none of my clothes fitted me anymore. It was awful. I had nothing to wear. At all.

So over the weekend I rummaged through the sales to try and find a few ‘larger’ clothes. It definitely didn’t make me feel good, but I also know it is my own fault for eating like such a piggy and not exercising enough. For now, I have some clothes that at least fit me and look quite nice as well. Next step – lose some weight!! I’ve also bought a set of scales (which I’ve refused to do since I achieved my ‘preferred weight’) and I have also bought a hoola hoop! Which I’m hoping will help add a bit of fun into my day. Haha!

What are your go-to work outfits? Do you prefer jeans, like me?

Being back in the classroom means that I have 5 hours fewer at home during the day and I have really noticed how slack I have been with the housework. Which, to be fair (lol, Dad!), is a bit harsh on myself as I’ve done the washing up and loaded the washing machine every morning so far. But I do feel as though the flat is more disorganised. Well, welcome back to the real world, Claire! Has anyone else noticed this?

To round up, I’m going to highlight some positives of being back in the classroom, and teaching online, and I would be genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts as well. Either in the comments or over on Twitter.

Yay for the classroom
A real, human connection
Standing up, sitting down,
moving around
Group discussions are easier and more balanced
Respect for timing (start and break times)
Less distractions
Classroom = learning (home = relax)
Just a few positive aspects for each side
Yay for the internet
Increased comfort in terms of snacks, breaks, clothing, familiar surroundings
Easy access to extra materials, links and music that can be shared quickly on screen and via email
Breakout rooms or ‘camera off’ times can give both students and teachers a minute to breathe
Hey! Look at my dog / cat / hamster / mum / baby sister / car
Being comfortable can encourage learning, focus and sharing ideas

I don’t want to go into any negative points for now, as I may save that for another post. I just wanted to highlight the positives of both online and classroom teaching.

And finally, some of you will remember when my tag line was ‘The Ramblings of an English Teacher’ and I think this post definitely highlights why I chose that. I know it’s been a bit of a waffle here, but I still wanted to share my experiences from this week and structured doesn’t quite fit the state of my brain at the moment. So, I hope you’ll figure me and have enjoyed the post regardless.

Whether you are teaching online, in the classroom or a mixture of both I would love to know how it is all going and if there are any tips, games or materials that you’re enjoying!

Oh! And before I go, here are three blogs I’m really enjoying at the moment!

Martin Sketchley‘s

Katy P‘s

Jo Szoke‘s

See you all soon x

2 thoughts on “Back to the classroom

Add yours

  1. I took a break from classroom teaching for a while and missed the whole work from home phase. I am back at school doing a blended learning approach and honestly I didn’t realize how much I missed the human connection and social aspect of being at work!

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