It’s early June 2021, and as I open Australian news from my Berlin apartment I see that Melbourne has ventured into another snap lockdown.
Having taught in Melbourne before moving to Germany, I immediately thought of my previous colleagues and what I imagine was their last minute dash to quickly change their onsite teaching plans to online, within a space of a couple of hours. Unfortunately, this is a situation that I am now all too used to.
The New Normal
The Indian Restraurant on my street has just become a Corona ‘Schnell-Test’ station – a spot for rapid testing. Two weeks ago it was the French restaurant and last week it was the local beauticians. Face masks replaced with face masks and nasal swabs. Next to my front door sits a collection of FFP2 masks and rapid self-tests. Today I am returning back to ‘on-site’ schooling after close to seven months of online learning. Testing, masks, antigen, quarantine, isolation, rapid, vaccinations – these have become the lexicon of the time whilst air-filters, masks, hand-sanitisers, negative-test forms and rapid tests the paraphernalia.
What has it meant to be a teacher through these times, and more specifically, a drama teacher? Well, it has been a journey, to say the least. One which has put to the test a teacher’s ability to be flexible, creative and patient.
Where it all began
It was the early weeks of of March 2020 when Berlin counted their first positive cases of Covid-19. There was almost something exciting and novel about it, and, when the first lockdown was announced we organised and prepared the students for perhaps a ‘couple of weeks’ of home-schooling (online, remote learning had yet to become part of our regular vernacular), sending them off hesitantly but hopefully, an anticipatory spring in their step. Within the space of 48 hours we had gone from on-site to online, nothing which any of us were prepared for but something in which we were all positive about and assuming it was only temporary. How wrong we were!
So here I am over a year later and having only taught in class for perhaps 3 months of the last academic (northern hemisphere) year. Being a largely practical-based subject, we had to consider how to transfer this into an online setting whilst still meeting curriculum requirements, providing engaging and enriching experiences for our students and ensuring that their well-being was also considered. New tasks and projects were quickly created focused upon directing and stage-craft folios, performances using house-hold objects have become the norm, we quickly became experts in searching for safe and secure websites (hello, Flipgrid!) where students could upload performance videos and provide recorded feedback, breakout rooms on Microsoft Teams (my school’s chosen platform) became a lifeline – where it has quickly become apparent that students did not like to speak or show their faces on a large, virtual call but would happily do so in smaller, private groups. I now remember students by their virtual icon rather than their face.
Humour was, and is the key. Lessons were constantly interrupted by a stray cat‘s tail brushing against the screen (or face, or paw), dogs barking, deliveries at the front door and internet drop outs, to name a few. It was clear when a student had just woken up, muting oneself became the norm and I can only imagine what my neighbours must think of me after hearing months of me reading Shakespeare, asking for ‘videos on’ and running virtual warm-up sessions (imagine your body is made of mud!), all from my kitchen. The National Theatre’s weekly streaming of plays created a much needed sense of community, where my Grade 11 Drama class had weekly ‘Play Dates’ and would watch these, often alongside parents and other teachers.
June has rolled around and with it new guidelines and changes. Our school is now open under a hybrid-learning programme, where students attend alternate days of school and on their ‘off-site’ days access classes through online learning.
This has resulted in a new challenges as a teacher: trying to engage a group of students who are physically in the class whilst also ensuring your students at home are following along, are engaged, and can hear you.
We must wear FFP2 masks at all times and test regulalry. Social-distancing is still adhered to, so any activities that involve students working in close proximity are now adapted – I have drawn circles at 1.5 metres apart on our Drama classroom floor and have adpated units to focus on physical, distance based theatre.
Life is slowly returning in a muted and somewhat stifled form, but it is life, nonetheless, and with the increase in vaccinations and the gradual decrease of Covid numbers, I am finally starting to see a tiny, yet determined, glimmer of light at the end of a very long and very arduous tunnel.
The Big Lessons
What have I learnt?
- I have learnt that community stands for so much and is such an integral part of who we are as educators. I have learnt that students are a lot more resilient than we think. I have learnt that I am more resilient that I thought, as well as flexible.
- I have learnt that the best laid plans are just that – plans that can change drastically and quickly. I have learnt that the ability to laugh and be honest and real and genuine with students, especially teenagers, is so important.
- I have learnt to let go of ‘lessons’ and listen to what my students need in that moment – whether that is just a good chat, or whether it is to get them to go outside and take a photo and write about it it because the sun has finally decided to come out in Berlin.
- I have learnt that I won’t take ‘normalacy’ for granted again.