It’s been two weeks since I resumed teaching face-to-face, now that Covid measures here have further eased.
Yes, it does seem we’re back to pre-Covid days again.
Well, sort of.
The thing I’m forgetting is this: even as the educator in me looks forward to engaging my students live and in person, the non-traveler in me is secretly rebelling. He’s missing his armchair teaching and not having to dress up top to toe to venture outside his abode and jostle with highway traffic!
[Hah! There I said it. There’s a loafer still lurking somewhere in this adjunct lecturer. But hey, I’m just keeping it real here is all.]
Then again, I did sign up to teach part-time in not one but three institutions this semester. So I have but myself to blame, circumnavigating my little island state from one of my 10 classes to another. That would never have been the case during those work-from-home days at the peak of Covid.
Welcome to my new (or maybe it’s old?) teaching life!
Teaching in-person without a mask — finally!
With all that said, I am first and foremost genuninely excited to come back into a physical classroom as opposed to teaching in front of a laptop screen for the past two-and-a-half years.
It’s been a great thing these past two weeks to see students in person. Better than the past two years, when only one or two modules I taught had such contact opportunities. Even then it wasn’t all the time. And always with masks on while maintaining a suitable social distance.
There’s just something about being in the same air space with other human beings; in this case my students. Granted several are still opting to mask up most of the time, but at least we’re together and not looking at a screen alone in our separate homes scattered all over the country.
And since it’s no longer mandatory here, I refused to mask up this past fortnight in class unless I absolutely have to.
No one is gonna convince me speaking through a mask is the same as without. I believe in showing up in front of a class unfettered and free to express myself clearly, without a barrier between me and my charges. That way, they get the full-on effect when I engage them during lesson time. They will see my facial reactions, my smiles or scowls even as they hear my clear articulation without a mask to obscure.
In return, I also get to see them. All of them. All at once. Such a contrast from when it was solely lessons online. That’s when I had to literally beg or threaten to get students to turn their webcams on.
No hiding now. Except behind a mask. Or keeping a low profile while seated behind a cluster of classmates at the back of the classroom. (By the way, if any of my students are reading this, please know I’m very familiar with that trick!).
Teaching ain’t no mean “feet”
Yet I sense these two weeks some changes I wasn’t quite prepared for.
On the way to class, I had to wrestle with not getting too uptight about being in close proximity to others in a crowded elevator or stairwell. Navigating the narrow classroom corridors beside so many students rushing for their next class took some getting used to as well.
Especially for my inner introvert!
Finding the right classrooms in the first week of lessons was no stroll in the park either. I felt like a lost tourist as I struggled to find the directional signs to help get me to the right venues. In one of the institutions where I had back-to-back lessons in two opposite ends of the campus, I simply drove! Better that than figuring out the labyrinthian twists and turns on two sore feet.
Speaking of sore feet, I don’t think I’ve walked so much in the past two months as I have these past two weeks. With my now 52-year-old legs, that’s quite an effort I can tell you. I’ve developed aches and pains in places I didn’t know existed! And if like yesterday when I carried a heavy backpack, took the public bus and walked everywhere, it’s no surprise I woke up this morning feeling nothing more than a grimace in crumpled PJs!
So let no one say teaching is “chicken feet”! For chickens don’t carry heavy backpacks containing laptop, notebooks, whiteboard markers, charging cables, granola bars plus two-litre water bottles to hydrate my over-taxed throat! And the now-ubiquitous umbrella for the wet season to boot.
Someone once said that teachers carry the fate of the world’s future on their shoulders. I think he’s absolutely right!
[Oh wait, I think that “someone” is me! LOL!!]
Teaching without losing my cool
But seriously, by far the biggest difference I noticed these past two weeks was the fact that both my students and I were learning anew what interacting with one another was like in the same physical space.
Although the fact remains we’ve all had more years of experience learning in-person, Covid did happen oh so recently (and is still far from over). That means many of us may still be uncomfortable in the presence of others.
I could see from the body language of my students that they were “learning” again how to sit together with classmates and connecting with a teacher who is no longer a face on a screen they can swipe away with a flick of their fingers or a click of their computer mouse.
For I was in their face for real this time, whether they liked it or not!
Just that fact alone made me realise I had to go easy on them. And me.
I had to keep my expectations low in terms of their willingness to engage and respond. Which is saying quite a lot given that Asian students are already tight-lip and reticent compared to their Western counterparts. One literally has to cartwheel at times to get any reactions! No wonder many teachers are also stand-up comedians.
So tempted as I often am to lose patience with those who stay statue-still despite my repeated admonishings, I must remember that this return to in-person teaching and learning is for many a huge shift. Especially after these last two-and-a-half years of learning from home.
No need for me to make things worse by being overly-demanding, at least not in the initial weeks of classes.
Hopefully, we’ll settle into a comfortable rhythm soon, my 10 classes and I. It may not be quite pre-Covid again, but at the very least, I’d like to believe it’s a step-up from home-based learning.
In time I hope the “walls of reticence” will come down and the authentic dance of teaching and learning step in.
Meantime, I’m going to need better shoes.