What I’ve learned teaching offline and online
The last time I wrote a piece on Medium was on July 30, 2020.
It was the longest hiatus in blogging I’ve ever been in.
2020 was a whirl down the rabbit hole.
From March to June 2020, I taught online classes during the first outbreak of coronavirus.
In July, everything seemed to return to normalcy. I returned to my workplace in Taiping, Malaysia and resumed teaching real human beings for another 4 months.
For the record, students normally sit for a October/November or May/June paper test mailed straight from Cambridge, UK. After the exam, students’ papers would be sealed immediately and sent back to the examination board by courier or airmail.
However, the original plan was thrown off course because of the unanticipated coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of the usual back-and-forth mailing practice, students were given school-based paper tests printed and administered locally. Every exam paper was typeset, marked and graded by teachers from their very own school.
The unforeseen change of plan meant the burden of work was shifted to us teachers. Nonetheless it gave overseas schools, like ours, a degree of flexibility and autonomy in marking and grading.
That’s not the end of all the hustle and bustle.
Too much to do, too little time
In October, I began teaching Mathematics and Combined Science for the Cambridge IGCSE program.
Since then, my work schedule has been all over the place.
My work life has spiraled into a heavily loaded rat race packed with on-site teaching, coursework preparation, administrative stuff, …. and non-essential-but-time-consuming matter that I can’t put my finger on what it is.
A few unlikely events cropped up in the workplace that made me question — how should I use my voice, online and offline?
One of the most exciting and excruciating tasks was to prep the coursework for two entirely new subjects. Before class, I had to prepare one or two chapters of coursework ahead of schedule. Not even the clueless students, nor the equally confused teacher — it’s me — knew what we signed up for.
Fortunately I was given a hefty pile of Mathematics reference books and electronic syllabus for both subjects just in time. Everything else for Combined Science I had to search, research, scour and source from the internet, using my smartphone.
My dodgy laptop had an on-and-off relationship with the Wi-Fi connection. I’d revel in any momentary success of going online, even for a hasty 35-minutes lunch break.
It was by November that a new variant of coronavirus evolved and emerged in my country. More than a thousand Covid-stricken cases were reported every day in national breaking news.
A nationwide lockdown was imposed overnight. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine were back in order. This second wave of mutant Covid-19 strain found in Sabah appeared to be more contagious and infectious than previous.
We braced for it but education had to go on rain or shine, offline or online.
Soon we found ourselves in the safe confines of our living quarters. We were roaming back in Google Classroom.
The school community has moved away from face-to-face teaching in socially distanced 60m² classrooms, but digitized into back-to-back video tutoring. Stable internet connection at home is becoming a staple in our lives.
Homebound students and teachers hopped onto the next online class as if on a rolling TV appointment. Under parental supervision and vigilant care, offline and online classes have metamorphosed and taken a new hybrid form.
2020 in retrospect
My classes in 2020 blended together 7 months of offline classroom learning and 5 months of online distance learning. The final month of online learning — concerned parents constantly hovered and loomed at the background — essentially gave us the faintest glimpse of homeschooling.
(Homeschooling is a third viable option. Its evident upsides and potential downsides warrant a longer post, which I’ll write in future.)
From presentation slides to teaching props and prompts, from tutorial videos to students’ assignments, I spent most of my awake time creating teaching content organically. By ringing and waking up students at 9AM, ironically I became the bulldozing, lawnmowing teacher.
My next attempt is to overcome my perfectionist streak and ship more. Rather than spoon feeding, overfeeding or force feeding students with hard knowledge or cold facts, I teach them the skillset and mindset for independent learning.
A message to frontline workers, caregivers, and also to self:
Overworking is overrated. Take care of yourself, before anything else.