Teaching in the Pandemic: Mute, Unmute, and Patience

, Teaching in the Pandemic: Mute, Unmute, and Patience

Since the first week of February, our workchat have been inundated with messages like: “Please tell xxxx parents that he is not opening his camera” or “Please call xxxx parents, she muted her mic”. It is a dejavu from the spring of 2020.

Before the announced closure of schools in February, I asked my students if they like studying online. Their response – not a single one of them liked it. They prefer coming to face-to-face class and studying through physical interaction with their teacher and classmates.

Neither did I like online classes. When schools closed for three months last year and we went online, I spiralled down to depression. Hearing the news that we will do online classes until the end of February made me worried I’d feel the same way.

I work in an English Center and I have an average of 15 students per class. I get to teach kindergarten, primary, and secondary – each level requires a different approach of classroom management. To be fair, teaching English grammar is a piece of cake compared to making the classroom a safe and encouraging environment to learn.

I have been teaching for a year in Vietnam, and most of my efforts have been poured into encouraging xxZ do his homework, making xxY stop saying swear words, making xxQ wait for her turn, trying to make my kindergarteners focus, stopping my primary students from kicking each other, getting my secondary students to resurrect to life from their zombie-mode. I have learned some tricks, and I’ve been better at managing kids.

But how will I make xxZ open his camera so that I can see he is giving his attention to the lesson and not playing minecraft? How will I stop xxY from scribbling doodles when I allow them to annotate? How will I get xxQ to wake up when she muted me?

Virtual space only becomes real when everyone is present, when attention is undivided. Otherwise, it’s a rabbit hole. XxA is running and from the moving image I see in her camera, she is chasing chickens; XxB is eating ice cream; I can only see XxC’s forehead, I wonder what manga character she’s drawing again; XxD is playing with his virtual background.

To put it simply – teaching online is more exhausting. I wish I could ask XxA to sit in front and stop chasing chickens or take away XxB’s ice cream.

But I also wonder what it’s like for them. The fact that they told me that they don’t like online means they’re struggling as much as I am. Internet have been unpredictable due to repairs recently. And who could resist the temptation of the sofa over a study desk while fiddling a tablet

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Their struggle may seem petty to us adults, but they deserve better that the prison of the screen. To learn, they need to move, to see their teacher’s body language, to modulate their voices from low to high among other things. But it is not possible. We’re making do, and they’re compromised more than us. We know better to realize that at their age, life and learning should be out in the open spaces.

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XxR haven’t done a single task for the past three online classes. Sometimes he opens his camera but most of the time he doesn’t. He said his mic is broken. I know he’s making excuses. I could get mad but I’ll only exhaust myself from anger for nothing. For now, I can only offer tolerance and patience for there are just some things I cannot manage in our current class set-up at the moment. I can only hope that XxR finds a way out from the rabbit hole he didn’t even dig himself.

By Dumay Solinggay, an expat in Vietnam

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