Always Be Flexible

Experiences of an NZ-Trained Teacher in Dubai

21 December, 2020

“Always be flexible. If the students can do it, and be resilient, so can we.”

The next take comes from a fifth-year NZ-trained teacher currently living and working in Dubai. A significant portion of her year has been spent teaching her fifth grade class online and, although school has reopened now, it’s a whole new world for teachers and students to adjust to. What does this new ‘normal’ look like? Check out her experience of teaching in 2020:

🔒 Lockdown

Cast your memory back to the day when you found out that your school was closing. Did you know it was coming? How was it announced? What was the feeling amongst staff?
We had heard murmurs all week that change was coming. On Wednesday afternoon (the school week finishes on a Thursday here), we were told that our Spring Break holidays were being moved forward by three weeks and commencing as of 3pm the next day. The plan was to have two weeks of holidays, two weeks online and then return to school as usual. This news came as a shock to teachers with a lot, including myself, thinking it was a huge overreaction.

What did teaching during lockdown look like for you? What were the expectations from your school?
We were online teaching from home from March - July. Our school used its own platform for day to day communication with students alongside Google (Slides/Meet). We utilised Google Slides for our lessons; students would read and complete work with time constraints on each curriculum area then post their completed work on Seesaw. Each day they would have two live meets with me - one as a whole class and one in a small group setting.

What was the hardest part about transitioning to online learning? Do you think your school was set up to deliver this?
I was fortunate that we had been relatively digital in class so systems were already in place. Our school liaised with a lot of schools that had already commenced online learning, and took their advice on what they found worked and what did not. Expectations certainly changed along the way as we all figured out the new normal together.

Expectations certainly changed along the way as we all figured out the new normal together.

🎒 The Big Return

What procedures or systems did your school put in place once students were back at school?
Families have the option of students learning online or in person. I am an in-class teacher. My class is split over two physical classrooms, with a maximum of thirteen students in each. Their tables are completely socially distanced and face masks are to be worn by all at all times. I teach in one room at a time and I have a full-time teaching assistant who works in the other. My step count has certainly gone up running between the two rooms! Only now, in December have students been allowed to leave the class and it is only for PE. Our school has pushed for most work to be digital, with a one-way system in place for paper/school supplies if absolutely necessary. It is funny how quickly we adjust, as I could not imagine having my whole class in one room now. I think these procedures have put families at ease and given them confidence in sending their children back to school.

My step count has certainly gone up running between the rooms!

Did your curriculum/timetable change?
Our day was shortened by an hour because students are constantly sitting at their desks. We have no timetabled recess or lunch and plan accordingly as teachers. Our specialist subjects have remained the same with the addition of a well-being lesson taught in class by the PE teachers. These changes have definitely assisted in making the new environment more manageable as there is more time allocated to planning and meeting with our learning assistants.

How did your students feel about coming back to school? What was their attendance like? Did anything surprise you about their attitudes towards learning?
They were beyond excited. All of them hated online learning. Their attendance has been amazing. I feel like they took a while to adjust. I remember our first few break times sitting in silence, no one talked. There was a lot of teaching needed to be done for relearning social and communication skills.

Did you notice any big gaps in your students' learning?
Not in their learning but in their behaviour. The calling out and interruptions was at an all time high. They had forgotten what a classroom environment was like without a teacher mute button.

They had forgotten what a classroom environment was like without a teacher mute button.

How did you find returning to school?
I was excited. Online learning was tough. But the first month back was exhausting. It was hard relearning everything I knew. Teaching across two physical classrooms took a while to adjust to and form routines for. This is definitely unlike any other teaching experience I’ve had.

💭 Reflections

Has school returned to 'normal' for you yet?
How school looks and works feels normal. I said before, I can not imagine having all my students in one class. I’ve adjusted. There are still many many restrictions but we are making the best out of what the situation is.

What has online teaching taught you? Has it changed your perspective on teaching and/or technology?
It has encouraged me to use it more and form routines within the class. Students need to be equipped with digital learning skills not just because of the pandemic but because of how fast our world progresses.

How did you find the workload this year?
Now, a few months in, the workload feels less. We do have more meetings than normal but we are sharing a lot more of the planning than we used to. There are no duties because there are no break times. Having the students back in person has made my days a whole lot better.

What positives have come for you personally this year?
I have had more time to create my own resources specifically for my class and for my TPT [Teachers Pay Teachers] store. There is a much better work-life balance.

Word of the year: Flexibility

Always be flexible. If the students can do it, and be resilient, so can we.

Any thoughts, hopes or take-aways going into 2021?
I hope that masks can come off in class! Keep making time for those in class relationships with each student, that is what they missed the absolute most being at home.


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