Teacher Natalia Bernal on transitioning to remote teaching at an all-girls school in Colombia

 

This post is a reflection written by Natalia Bernal who is a teacher at an all-girls school in Bogota, Colombia. While the transition to remote learning has received massive media attention, we aim to highlight the voice of the teacher and their experiences, challenges, and resilience during COVID-19.

The post is a part of a series of interviews with teachers, about their COVID-19 experiences. While some teachers had experience teaching online, others did not. Some received specific instructions on what to do and which tools to use, while others did not. On Monday, June 1st, 2020, CanopyLAB is launching TeacherLAB, a learning platform that is dedicated to helping teachers succeed.

 


 

Things changed radically in a week and teachers were asked to come to school, clear student lockers, and send the students items back home.

 

How can I keep the bond with my students if I don’t see them every day? That was my biggest concern when we were affected by COVID-19 at my school. Most of the schools in Bogota started getting ready for a possible transition to online learning and all of us were scared. Things changed radically in a week and teachers were asked to come to school, clear student lockers, and send the students items back home.

 

Within two days we received information about the platforms and tools we should use, we received emails, planned, gathered our materials, and all of the sudden, starting March 19th, we were all teaching remotely without much prior experience.

 

I have been inside the classroom for 11 years now and all of a sudden I was sitting in front of a computer, with an empty platform and with no idea how to proceed.

 

I have been inside the classroom for 11 years now and all of a sudden I was sitting in front of a computer, with an empty platform and with no idea how to proceed. You see, I have always relied on the bond I have with my students to ensure their learning. My classroom is not a typical one! You can hear music, you can see students sitting where they want, perhaps a lot of mess and loud voices… but behind that, tons of learning happens! So now, I was wondering what I could do if I was not going to see them anymore.

 

That day, when Marco emerged from the school gates barely managing to carry all his school supplies Gaby recalls: “I had this weird feeling that a big change was coming”.

 

I asked myself things like:

  • How could I keep my classes fun?
  • How could I still check on them?
  • How would I keep the bond strong and make sure that they felt safe in my class?

 

 

Never have I felt so challenged because now, in addition to studying content, I am trying to get to know as many tools as I can so that my classes stay dynamic and I can ensure that learning is actually taking place!

 

This past couple of months have been of intense learning on my behalf! Never have I felt so challenged because now, in addition to studying content, I am trying to get to know as many tools as I can so that my classes stay dynamic and I can ensure that learning is actually taking place! I knew that if I only asked them to read and answer questions and I made classes with no interaction, most of them would “go to class” shut down the microphone, shut down the camera and go back to bed. So once more, I am finding myself learning about online games, techniques, assessment styles, and all sorts of tools.

 

…but what my students need the most is knowing I am still there as a person! Knowing that I still care.  Each class I try to greet them all by name as they are coming in, I try to remember small details they have shared and try talking to them about it.

 

However, the most important thing I have had to learn during this time is not mastering the tools. Sure I need to keep my class engaging, but what my students need the most is knowing I am still there as a person! Knowing that I still care.  Each class I try to greet them all by name as they are coming in, I try to remember small details they have shared and try talking to them about it.

Our best sessions have been the ones in which they are doing hands-on activities and also when we do something different! You have no idea how powerful it can be teaching 15-year olds to make banana bread. I went online from my kitchen and we baked together. We all struggled with instructions and the mess but we all had a great hour and a half and a very different afternoon together.

At this moment I feel I am becoming more and more acquainted with online tools and I can say that I have improved a lot! At first, I was just assigning readings to my students and they had to answer questions based on the readings, now… we have even started using TikToks for learning and I’m trying to make my visual aids as effective as possible.

What do you need in order to be an effective online teacher? What you have always had! Imagination, a willingness to learn and especially, love for your students.

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