In this second blog post contributed by Sara Katsonis, a trainee on the same online/blended CELTA course which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing restrictions, lockdown and inability to complete the teaching practicum part of the course which was under way at the time. Sara started with tech issues even with simple things like getting her audio files to play while she was projecting a powerpoint, or accidentally leaning against the interactive whiteboard and losing her presentation (which is just what has happened in the photo below). It was with a look of horror on her face that she took the news about online teaching. I am truly pleased she offered to write this post – she is a great teacher and finished her course with the highest of grades.
I took the liberty of changing the title she originally sent me, because this was not just teaching online but it involved teaching people who were not her students and being assessed at the same time. I thought this was an important point to make and to show that teaching is the same, it’s about people and good pedagogical decisions, not just about the tech!!!
Teaching Online – my Thoughts and Reactions
I was not quite half way through a CELTA course when lockdown started in Greece and, as a result of forced school closures, we were told that TPs* would be suspended indefinitely. At this point I had taught three classes face to face in Athens and had just started getting into the swing of things. Although I had another 5 TPs to go, I knew what was ahead of me and felt confident that I could cope with the demands of the course. Then, all of a sudden, we were left in limbo, not knowing when we would be able to continue our classes in Athens and, even more importantly, finish the course.
*TPs = Teaching Practices
However, after a month, our tutors informed us that Cambridge had taken the unprecedented step of allowing CELTA trainees to complete their TPs on line. My initial reaction was horror at the thought. TPs are already stressful enough without the added worry of what can go wrong if technology fails. I had enough trouble getting equipment to cooperate with me in a classroom and felt that teaching online could only lead to disaster. And I have always considered myself more of a traditional teacher enjoying the buzz you get from the face-to-face contact with students. Teaching online seemed so impersonal. How can you build up a relationship with learners when the only contact you have with them is through a computer screen? But after talking things through with tutors and fellow trainees, I decided to give it a go. It was the only way I could foresee finishing the course before the summer, but I also saw it as a challenge – to push myself outside of my comfort zone and develop some valuable new skills.
So, after a few sessions learning how to use the various on-line platforms the day of my TP arrived. I had already observed two of the other course participants teaching the previous day and they had made it look so easy. That was not the case for me – problems with the sound and then with the internet connection made me feel like giving up halfway through the lesson. I was convinced the students had lost all interest as it was so difficult to gauge their reactions on the screen. However, after receiving feedback from my tutor at the end of the lesson, I realised that I had been focussing solely on what had gone wrong during the lesson rather than being positive and seeing what aspects had gone well.
As a result, my second lesson went much more smoothly, my confidence grew and I began to enjoy using the online learning platform. I saw how engaged learners could be if the tasks they were asked to do were varied and allowed them to interact with each other in a meaningful way. It is also possible to build up a relationship with learners online. It might take longer than in a traditional classroom, but taking advantage of the few minutes at the beginning of the class while waiting for all the students to log on is enough to allow you to learn a little about each individual and build on it in subsequent lessons. I’ve now completed all of the remaining TPs on line and each time I felt that I was developing new skill sets. Lesson plans need to be much more concise as every activity has to count, time management is even more important and instructions have to be extra clear so that when students are sent to break-out rooms they don’t waste time trying to work out what they are supposed to be doing. And when all goes well, the rewards more than compensate for all the effort that has gone into the planning of the lesson.
Given the current situation, it looks like on-line learning is here to stay and I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to learn the necessary skills in a safe, controlled environment guided by our tutor and now feel that I can take on any new challenge that I may come across. I have conquered my fears of technology and am confident in my ability to cope with the demands of teaching on-line. I realise that I still have a lot to learn but there are so many amazing on-line resources out there and even more amazing colleagues who are happy to share their experiences that I always know help is at hand.post
Post contributor Sara Katsonis – trainee on the CELTA online course which ran from January to May – Sara completed her CELTA with a grade A.