Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

By Amanda WhittenSelfie of Amanda Whitten while abroad teaching during a pandemic.

Catch up on Amanda’s first interview before joining her for the second part of her three-part interview!

This has been one of the weirdest years ever for me, not just for teaching, but in general. I’m sure that the same could be said for everyone else, as well. It’s been transformative in a number of ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. This year has affected my relationships with my students, my co-workers, and even myself. One thing is for sure: the world is changing and we must adapt to it. Read on to find out how I adapted to teaching during a pandemic!

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Pre-coronavirus, I typically arrived 20-30 minutes before class because of the public transportation schedule. As soon as I arrived, I’d head to the English department room, my safe haven, and hideout. Then, I’d check to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing for each of my classes. I’d also make any last-minute necessary lesson plans or preparations and basically mentally prepare myself to go into performance mode. If I had any extra time, I’d go downstairs to the cafeteria to have a coffee and chat with any of the teachers already there.

This year, classes ranged from about 9:25am to 2:00pm, which is a pretty easy schedule, I’d say. Some days, I’d have a planning period, and other days I’d have a constant stream of classes apart from one break from 11:10am to 11:40am.

Afterwards, I’d rush home, eat very quickly, and then rush back into the world to go to my private lessons, academy classes, or whatever else I had going on. Of course, I had to adjust to teaching during a pandemic, so that all changed. I spent more time doing hobbies such as painting, and am really proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist so far! 

Teaching During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic initially began, I’d wake up an hour early, eat breakfast, shower, prepare my headset, laptop, and generally wait attentively to see if any students needed any help or wanted to talk in general. Other than that, I just uploaded their various activities and scheduled them to appear during class time. Kahoot and Educaplay were invaluable online resources for making quizzes about literally anything that the students could complete. 

After a while, other than the occasional video call, I started waking up two minutes before class because I had discovered, much to my lazy side’s delight, that Google classroom could be downloaded on cell phones. Then I could lazily browse and be “present” in class while laying in bed. A difficult and tiresome job, really.  

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

I interact frequently with a nucleus of about four to five teachers, but usually there are many more who actually teach at the school. At IES Pablo Neruda, I had sixteen classes and therefore, had sixteen working hours. 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I considered myself very lucky at what was, until June 30th, my current school. With a good rapport with all of the teachers I worked with, I developed what I would consider actual friendships with at least three of them. I really admire all of the teachers I personally worked with and basically feel that I won the lottery. All I wanted was to feel respected, appreciated, and accepted here in Spain. They did an amazing job of doing that for me. It was and is mutual. Even while teaching during a pandemic, I can honestly say these were the best coworkers I’ve had so far in Spain.

Amanda Whitten and Leganes while Amanda was abroad teaching during a pandemic

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

I would say that I had a few favorite groups that I really enjoyed working with. A bachillerato group I worked with always reacted enthusiastically to my activities whether an introduction to country music (seeing these kids goofily sing Garth Brooks literally made my year) or getting into heated debates, I had so much fun. I also really enjoyed teaching my 1st eso kids, which are pretty much 6th graders. They are still so full of excitement for learning. They loved telling me about their favorite foods and what they did on the weekends. How could I not adore them? 

I have a few favorite students scattered here and there: naughty ones who could make me laugh as well as academic and friendly ones who enjoyed interacting with me. All of these students made my days more enjoyable. While I can’t say that I had a specific favorite part of each day, I can say that I had certain highlights during the week. It makes leaving this part of my life behind all the more bittersweet.

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

It really depends on whichever teacher is in charge. For example, one teacher may prefer to heavily rely on going through the book via a program on the computer. This makes it easy to correct and grade exercises as a group. Others focus on using their book as a guideline, choosing to focus more on activities and conversation. The former may be easier, but it is so much more boring for both me and the students. The latter can be more challenging, but it is so much more fun and engaging, provided the students are interested. 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

Some classes required no preparation whatsoever. One teacher would give me the page numbers and exercises to correct via the computer program, and that was it. Usually, I was told that I had the freedom to come up with extra activities, but since these instructions were usually given right before class or the day before, I rarely ever knew what we were going to be going over. And for those classes, the activities were meant to “complement” the lesson, not detract. 

For other classes, I would be given a topic to make a presentation on or perhaps a topic to practice conversation around. These practice conversations would be easy enough to research a bit, and perhaps make a PowerPoint if necessary. 

Amanda Whitten pointing at a frog while abroad in Madrid teaching during a pandemic

Still, others would have me go over certain pages in the book, but without an answer key. I usually answered the questions myself before class so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids, teens, or even literal adults. 

Fortunately for me, I never had to worry about teaching actual grammar at this school, thank goodness. The teachers left the listening and conversation practice up to me, for the most part. And if there’s anything that I apparently have a gift for, it is a gift for gab. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes?

I have worked at a bilingual school in the past, but I much preferred working at a traditional school. The reason being is that it’s difficult to teach technical concepts such as art theory or, god forbid, science and math, to even the most academically advanced students. Yes, I much prefer the straightforwardness of teaching ESL English in English classes rather than English through a different subject. I can’t imagine the challenges of teaching during a pandemic at a bilingual school. 

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

If the students managed to speak up at all, they would get a point in their favor in the grade book. This would all add up at the end of the year, and it could hurt or help their grade. It was really all about mere participation, with the exception of when students gave rubric graded speeches. I’m sure that the teachers themselves had more extensive ways of measuring progress. However, in my classes, it was all about showing up and speaking up, no matter how quietly or hesitantly. Honestly, it was good enough for me because, concerning foreign languages, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey is rocky and full of humiliating errors. So if they even dare to take a step, I applaud them. 

Amanda's work station while teaching during a pandemic.
My work station I set up to teach during the pandemic.

 

Looking back at our first interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

My answer applies not just to our first interview, but also all the way to the beginning of my illustrious teaching career. I have learned to relax, breathe when rattled, not be a hammer, and be a high five. I have learned that having a good time, even if just playing an invigorating game, can be worth fifteen grammar lessons. If a student is laughing and smiling, then they are learning. 

Amanda will share her plans for next year in a follow-up interview. We look forward to hearing what she has to say and where her future will take her, especially considering her success in teaching during a pandemic. Be on the lookout for her third interview.

Introducing 2020’s Mid-Year Most Popular Travel Articles

We are halfway through 2020! A couple of years ago, we started publishing a mid-year review to see which articles were read the most. This has been an interesting year so far and thanks to you, our Dreams Abroad community, we are proud to release our mid-year review. Here are your favorite articles of the first half of 2020 to remind you which topics were at the top six months ago. 

So far, 2020 has been a year filled with backpacking, travel tales, teaching in Cambodia, and the impact of COVID-19 on our team in different countries. We are pleased to share our most popular travel articles with you.

How I Traveled to Cambodia and Stayed to Teach

In this illuminating interview, Ed Gagnon caught up with Michael Carter, a fellow Canadian he met while Michael was working in the restaurant industry. Ed explains Michael’s affliction for wanderlust coupled with his move to southeast Asia in 2000. Michael has been living, teaching, and traveling abroad for 20 years. 

Traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodi Travel Articles

If you would like to know more about how to stay and teach in Cambodia, this is undoubtedly a great travel article to read. Since this interview, Michael Carter has joined our team. Be sure to check out Michael’s second interview as well as his own articles. 

Why Everyone Should Try Backpacking Southeast Asia

Why Everyone Should Try Backpacking Southeast Asia

Emma Higgins taught in Phuket, Thailand for a year before deciding to backpack around southeast Asia for three months before heading home to the United States. In this article, she gives 10 reasons why you should backpack around southeast Asia. Emma discusses some of the cultural complexities that transform you into an especially strong traveler. In addition, she points out how you’ll learn new languages, the many different foods you’ll encounter, and how to get out of your comfort zone and discover a new one. 

The Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus in Our Education System

children being creative

Bebe Bakhtiar is a teacher who has been working during the COVID-19 pandemic. She takes a moment to shed some light and share her concerns about the impact of the virus in addition to what its impact will have on our international education system. This article covers the positive and negative effects of the Coronavirus on students and teachers. In this powerful piece, Bebe urges all community leaders to fight harder for our education system and its teachers. 

Arriving in Mexico City

Arriving in Mexico City

Tyler Black read about Leesa Truesdell’s trip to Mexico City and decided he wanted to also visit, too. Upon arrival, he talks about the view from the plane and how large the city is. He arrives in Mexico City and discusses the first day of his itinerary. Tyler certainly enjoys tasting the local food, touring the downtown city center, and seeing the nightlife. He provides recommendations for a taco and churrería in the city — be sure not to miss this article. Anthony Bourdain ate at the same street taco vendor! 

My Tour of Paris by Night

Moulin Rouge in paris

Leesa Truesdell shares her tour of Paris by night. She talks about the rippling effects of her canceled flight through a series of articles. In this last piece of the series, she spends a very special birthday touring Paris, living a dream she had had for years. This article talks about the different places she explored with her tour guide and the different ways to approach Paris at night (if you are a beginner). If you enjoy reading about Leesa’s solo travel adventures, then this one is a must-read. It has been one of her most popular travel articles. 

Mid-Year 2020 Best Travel Articles

Be on the lookout for our annual review coming in December 2020. You (our readers) decide who makes the top five by reading our content. Each time you read or click on a post, we appreciate it. Thank you so much for reading and being part of our community. If there are other things you would like to know from any of our writers, please send us an e-mail or leave a comment. We will share your feedback with them.

by Leesa Truesdell

Surviving and Recovering During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Edmond Gagnon

During our last trip to Italy, Cathryn and I booked a food tour during our stay in Venice. It was an amazing experience made possible by the tour operators, Adam and Maya, who were American Expats we became friends with. They moved from California to Venice to start a new business and live abroad. By staying in touch with this couple, I learned first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged their city and country. In a letter from Adam, he told us about their experience:

A Letter from Adam and Maya from Venice Bites Food Tours

Maya & Adam Venice Bites Food Tours“Beginning with the New Year in 2020, we were full of hope and excitement because our company, Venice Bites Food Tours, had just been recommended in the 16th edition of the Rick Steves Venice Guide Book.  We knew we had reached the pinnacle — receiving a Rick Steves recommendation is akin to winning an Oscar award for ‘best food tour’.

A Rocky Start Before the Pandemic

We had a tough end-of-season in 2019, because Venice experienced the second-worst flooding event in recorded history during early November. Tourists canceled their holiday plans to Venice out of fear that the city was completely underwater. Most businesses reopened by the end of the first week, but US news outlets reported that Venice looked like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and we were forced to close for the rest of the season.

Come February of 2020, it appeared that Venice was bouncing back. Carnevale had arrived, and hotels, while not full by normal standards, were still booked with tourists and residents alike, enjoying and participating in the annual celebrations. Things were looking up.  

But then we started getting reports about a virus that was already in full swing in China, and how it had found its way to northern Italy. The City of Venice made the difficult decision to close down the rest of Carnevale on February 23rd, and canceled all festivities leading up to Fat Tuesday, two days later.

At first, the government defined specific areas in northern Italy as “red zones”;  town officials closed off a catchment area of around 50,000 people. Then, within days, the red zone areas were widened. Soon, Venice was quarantined from the world.

The Pandemic News Worsens

Every day we would wake up to new news and new restrictions on our movement within Italy, our province, and the city itself. Venice and the Veneto, along with the neighboring Lombardy region, became a cautionary tale. People around the world watched as things became worse and worse here, with so many cases and deaths. The numbers seemed to grow exponentially with each passing day, as did our sense of dread and fear.

The Italian government, both city and regional, did their best to contain the situation in the midst of the pandemic. Restaurants and bars could be opened but had to close at 6:00 pm. They told them that they must keep diners one meter apart. This meant they were only able to fill every other table. It was the death knell for our eateries. With the restrictions, they could see no way to stay open.

Finally, they put a stay-at-home order in place. Only essential workers could leave their home unless shopping for food and supplies or to visit a doctor or pharmacist.  If you find yourself outside your home, you must wear a mask and gloves. You must also carry a self-verification form stating your home address, where you are going, and a testament that you will return directly back home.  

Predicting the Future of Travel

Adam & MayaTravel experts issued a four-phase recovery chart that contains both optimistic and pessimistic views on how long it might take for tourism to recover. The phases are lockdown, easing, returning, and recovery.  Their estimate for how long the lockdown will be 2-4 months. We are currently in month two of lockdown.  

Experts estimate the easing phase to take 4-9 months, which begins right at the end of lockdown. Travel restrictions will begin to let up and gradually return to normal. If Lockdown is over in four months (say, the end of June on the pessimistic side), and the easing phase begins in early July, this phase could potentially last until the end of July, 2021.

The returning phase is when travel demand grows and the economy recovers. They estimated this phase to take another 6-12 months. So again, pessimistically, that’s another year of waiting. Experts project that travel demand will be 40-70% of the 2019 numbers. That takes us to the beginning of August, 2022 before we can expect to be ‘back to normal.’

Finally, in the recovery phase, travel demand will approach pre-COVID levels. Experts expect another 12-18 months of this phase, with a pessimistic end date of February 2024. That’s a very long time for people like us in the travel industry, who have no other means of income. After learning of these estimates, real fear set in. 

What Will Venice Look Like?

Empty Italy StreetsWe also have to wonder about Venice and what this city will look like throughout these phases. How many Venetian-owned-and-operated restaurants will make it? How many Venetians will stay in Venice, hoping to ride this out?

As far as coping, it has been incredibly stressful. Maya contracted pneumonia and Bell’s Palsy, and was admitted to the hospital on April 1st. They immediately tested her for the virus and quarantined her in the hospital for 48 hours. Thankfully, the test returned negative. She continues to battle the aftermath of pneumonia but recovered 95% of the way. To add to the stress of all of this, we feel constantly worried about our families and loved ones, especially our parents. We are 6,700 miles away, with a nine-hour time difference. 

We also feel immense pressure due to money. Since the November flood, we have given only a handful of tours. We have savings, but it’s a race against time trying to anticipate when our money will run out. At what point do we pull the trigger and execute our exit plan? It will come at great financial, emotional, and mental costs.

Facing ‘Recovery’ After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maya in Hospital during the PandemicOur hopes were so high for 2020 and beyond. After the recommendation from Rick Steves, we thought we’d be able to grow our business, hire a few guides, and add more tours. Now, we are stuck in limbo for the foreseeable future, not knowing how this thing is going to play out. 

We will be home without work for at least twelve months and are coping in different ways. Those ways change daily. There are good days and bad. I do projects around the house and fetch groceries for seniors in our building. Maya is trying to learn guitar. These are small things that help keep our minds and hands busy.

We fear that the money will run out or that we won’t execute the correct plan at the right time because of the pandemic. We are in a vacuum and have no idea how long we will sit in it. Also, we worry for the rest of the world, as we know we are not alone in this fight.”

Wrap Up — The Exit Strategy

After reading this letter, I asked Adam if he could expand on their exit strategy.

“We still own rental property in California (my former home). We hope that the real estate market allows us to sell it at a profit if it comes to it. If we have to leave Venice, we’d use that profit to buy land in Ireland, where we’d begin the next chapter of our lives, and maybe start another business or two.” 

I’ve never met another couple with such resilience and an optimistic long-term game plan. They tackled all obstacles that life’s thrown at them. Cathryn and I wish them health and the best of luck. If you plan a trip to Italy in the near future, please check out ‘Venice Bites’. We, along with Rick Steves, highly recommend them as the best food tour in Venice.  

Edmond Gagnon is a storyteller, author of fiction novels and traveler. He resides in the City of Windsor, in Ontario, Canada with his wife Cathryn.

 

 

 

The Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus in Our Education System

Bebe BakhtiarNot to state the obvious, but the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped our education system. From school closures to the eruption of online teaching platforms, we may never return to what was our norm in academics. As a current teacher, I am quite concerned about where our education system is going under these conditions. I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of my biggest thoughts during this time. I also wanted to shed light onto what is going through the minds of educators today, both positive and negative.  

The Concerns:

Equality – The closure of schools also meant the closure of access for lots of students.

One of the biggest concerns to transitioning from in-person classes to online teaching is the inevitable digital divide that further widens the equality gap. Households with working parents may only have one computer, one laptop, or none at all. How can our students keep up with the class when these critical means of communication are inaccessible? In addition to the technological and academic downfalls, the resources that school institutions provide have yet to be replaced for many students. Cafeterias provide meals. Libraries provide an escape. Counselors provide guidance. Our students lost these resources once the doors closed. Typically, it is not the fortunate students who heavily depend on additional supports. It tends to be our students who need these resources the most who are hit the hardest.

Social and Emotional Support – When you take away a student’s network, you take away a part of who they are. 

student network Coronavirus

A big part of an adolescent’s identity is directly tied to their social network. Their friends shape a big part of their developmental process. This social circle they create within the walls of the schools is a huge support system. Many times, students confide in their friends before their families. Without these constant supportive outlets, how are they being affected emotionally? Sure, they can readjust through digital chats, starting a diary, or entrusting their families, for example. However, what if they choose not to? How are those needs being met? The mental and emotional states of our students are at risk by being locked and quarantined at home for extended periods of time without their accustomed supports. Imagine the potentially detrimental effects of losing your entire network on some of our students because of the coronavirus. Honestly, I lose sleep over the idea most nights. 

Lack of Skills – Should we expect teachers to possess the skills needed to engage students on these new digital platforms? 

In the past, many teacher programs did not focus on online teaching methods. Online programs have been a more recent addition to the curriculum in education. Unfortunately, many of us educators did not receive any formal training on the methodologies of online education. Sure, many teachers have picked up these skills along their careers. However, we cannot assume all teachers are equipped to handle the shift into digital teaching since the coronavirus. For those teachers, their workload has doubled. They need to figure out how to effectively reach out to students, while self-teaching the ins and outs of online platforms. Now, there is an additional stress to battle. Teachers are actively trying to figure out the best ways to support their students, but is anyone searching for ways to support our teachers?

The Positives:

Innovation – The opportunity to be creative and innovative is unprecedented. 

children being creative coronavirus

As I discussed, a handful of educators have struggled with virtual teaching; however, on the other end of the spectrum, there are some incredibly talented teachers who are succeeding in content delivery, curriculum design, and communication during this time. The videos, blogs, and self-guided materials these teachers create compare to nothing I have ever seen in the field. Many scholars have talked about the gamification of learning and the shift to working online has created the opportunity for many teachers to finally give this theory a chance. Some teachers have created group events with Kahoot, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, scavenger hunts, Zoom activities, and so much more. Considering that the younger generation is keen on using technology, this new innovative implementation of media in our curriculums could prove to increase students’ investment and engagement in education. 

Ease of Learning – A teacher’s dream: learning anywhere, anytime, and however they want! 

In education, we always try to make our classrooms student-centered. Usually, it is a huge challenge to cater the classroom environment and material to meet every student’s needs. Now, for those students who can access technology easily, education can happen however and at anytime they desire. Students can learn while sitting comfortably in their beds, sofas, dining tables, or even in their gardens at home. New material is only a click away. Additionally, they can follow lessons and activities at their own pace. It is remarkable that students are now in control of their pace and space. This new wave of digital teaching can allow students to make their own educational experiences as individualized as they please. This has been one of the biggest hurdles in teaching that can now be solved by remote learning. A student-centered education is the approach we all seek, and it has finally arrived! 

Reflection – When we are not balancing an active class of 30 students, we have time to take a breath and reflect.

active class of 30 students

One of the challenges of being a classroom teacher is multitasking. Any teacher will tell you that teaching while managing a classroom simultaneously is draining. One of the biggest downfalls of actively teaching while balancing classroom behavior is that a teacher rarely has time to sit and reflect individually. Between split-second decisions and juggling the attention of multiple students at once, we are constantly reacting to the environment around us. Now, our environments have changed and our opportunities to be a bit more in-control and proactive have come our way.

Between activities and online class sessions, we can take time to sit in silence and actively reflect and analyze what is happening with learning and how we are participating in a student’s journey. We can problem solve one at a time, rather than trying to put out multiple fires at once. Even though the workload has increased for many of us, we have finally been provided with time to stop, think, analyze, and decide. For me, it has a significant impact on my curriculum and presentation for my students. 

More Thoughts About the Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus

We are currently in unprecedented times. While I am personally trying to stay optimistic and focus on these positives, there are so many more stressful factors to take into account. I could list ten more concerns off the top of my head to elongate this article into a mini book of thoughts. I have only left a fraction of what is on my mind for you to think about. There are so many things we can takeaway and utilize to help reshape the foundation of our future education because of the coronavirus. That will have to wait for my next post. 😉 

What I do want to conclude with, though, are some messages for those of you out there dealing with the coronavirus. 

If you are a student, keep up the good work. Communicate with your teachers and do not forget to stay driven and passionate about learning. You will get through this. 

If you are a teacher, you should be proud. You are doing phenomenal work and I only wish you could be appreciated and celebrated more than what society is giving you during this time. 

If you are a parent, support your teachers by supporting your kid. Step in and take this opportunity to be part of your child’s academics unlike ever before. 

If you are an administrator, check in on your teachers. Many are overwhelmed, worried, and heartbroken to be without students. Be the support they need.

And if you are a politician, you already know we are underfunded and underpaid. Fight harder.

*This post was written by me, a teacher, and is based on my own current experience of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic

by Bebe Bakhtiar