Shanghai Hongrun Boyuan school's team of foreign teachers are very dedicated and stable. In early February, when the epidemic was raging in China, our foreign teachers returned to Shanghai one by one, to prepare in advance for our online course on February 17th.
After the first week of online teaching, Ms. Shirley and Mr. Justin shared their feelings. We were impressed by our foreign teachers' pursuit of excellence in teaching, and their love for the students and our community.
Shirley:Teaching French Is Hard
I had one of those infuriating reoccurring dreams last night. You know the kind. The dream that dogs you for hours. The dream that wakes you up but when you fall asleep again you are still in the dream. I literally have a headache this morning from teaching French all night. French! What the what? I have never studied French. I do not speak or understand French, yet I was teaching it--all night long! I woke up, finally, wondering what that was about. What was my brain trying to work out? I got up and started making coffee and then it hit me: my dream was about learning.
Learning is hard. I don’t mean memorization of facts. Memorization has the illusion of difficulty. Memorization consumes time and it looks like hard work. But real learning, the kind of learning that results in deep understanding of topics and issues and systems and ideas, that kind of learning, is freaking hard work. It’s frustratingly hard work ,and that, my friends, is what my brain was trying to tell me.
On February 10, the staff of Shanghai HongrunBoyuan School had its first online staff meeting in preparation for re-opening school --on line--a week later. Beau and I were still in the US at that time but we had made the decision to return to China. It was a hard choice to make right now but I’m glad that we did. Especially considering what we are trying to do for our students.
We all began experimenting and practicing with the platform - figuring out how to be long-distance teachers.
Friday (February 21), we completed the first week of this online teaching and learning endeavor. It was challenging. The learning curve is steep for everyone, but there was a sense of accomplishment at our Friday afternoon staff meeting-online staff meeting. We did it. We can do it. We will do it. I was exhausted but feeling like this was a cool experience. Then Saturday came, and it was time to plan for next week.
Beau and I walked over to the school building after lunch about 12:30. I sat at my desk in the office and started to think about next week. My first class of the week is the entry level ESL class. I began there.
I pushed papers around my desk. I clicked in and out of documents. I decided on and discarded resources. I created resources that I could share online and could be worked on and sent back. I discarded those and made more. At 5 pm, as I sat at my desk, sobbing, an outline for Monday morning’s 80 minute session that I was not happy with in front of me, Beau called and asked if I were going to eat dinner. I had just spent 4.5 hours trying to plan an effective class to deliver online. 4.5 hours to plan 80 minutes. I was frustrated and still had 7 more 80 minute blocks to plan. My head hurt. I was crying, feeling defeated, inept, and humiliated that I was having so much trouble. I went to dinner, took one look, left my tray on the table and returned to my “home.” I vowed I would not think about school until this morning. But, as you know, I dreamed about it all night.
Three years ago, I embraced Understanding By Design and committed to transforming my approach to teaching and learning. I mistakenly thought that I was a student centered teacher. It was hard to look at myself and analyzing what I had been doing for more than 30 years. More hard to realize how a lot of my teaching was about me and not so much about kids. That’s another blog post but my point is that the process of redefining who I am as a teacher and the topics, issues, systems and ideas I needed to understand, deeply understand, was hard work. Really difficult, frustrating, time consuming, ego busting, hard work. As part of the process ,I read a book, Make It Stick, by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. (Check it out at: www.retrievalpractice.org/make-it-stick) Probably many educators out there have already read it. Just the first chapter could be useful to everyone, especially parents and students .
Make It Stick explains the authors’ research into the science of how we learn in language that is accessible to us un-scientific types. And guess what, learning is freaking hard work. Learning to understand is frustrating. It gives you a headache. It takes a long time, lots of repetition, trial and error, practice, thinking. And re-educating myself to teach students how to be students, how to learn effectively and reach deep understanding of topics, issues, systems and ideas was just as hard as what my students were going to need to embrace in response to my changes. I cried a lot. I got headaches. It was exhausting. Just writing the unit plans made me scream. But now....now I cannot work effectively without those unit plans that show me how to connect the standards I want to teach with essential questions and enduring understandings. It took about a year to transform myself, my classroom, and my students.
And now I find myself in this position again. The essential question is how do I maintain a student centered classroom in 80 minute blocks, long distance. Learning to do this is hard. I don’t think I will have it accomplished by the end of June, but my dream last night reminded me that the process of learning and understanding takes time, tears, and trials. Today I can go back to my desk with the deep understanding that I am learning, that it takes time and I don’t have to get it right the first time, I just have to work at it, sweat and cry. It will happen.
The Coronavirus has affected each of us in our ways: some feel trapped, some have families extremely worried, many are on the front lines putting themselves in grave danger, and most of us have felt some sort of anxiety. In my case, this is unfamiliar territory, nothing I’ve ever been through. The never-ending stream of newscasts and endless We-chat groups of incorrect information. Most meant well, but it was definitely, an overload of the senses. After the initial shock subsided and knowing that many people will lose loved ones and friends, for some life will never be the same. There came a sense of National pride throughout China. A unification that everyone needs to pull their weight and play their part. Everyone in China serves a purpose, function, or part of this epidemic. There was a sense of beauty and sadness in this that people came together, people supported each other, and people check on their neighbors.
My role is little in this event. I am a teacher and teach at Shanghai HongrunBoyuan School. I take much pride in what I do, and my concerns were on the students I have gotten to know and love. Even with the many messages daily I was pleaded with to go home, I told my family this is my home. I am not better nor any worse than any individual in China. If I practice safe health habits; wear a mask, wash hands constantly, stay indoors for as long as possible, limit contact with the outside while shopping for food, and make meals that would last for many days, then I should be okay. I have cleaned so much and become very sanitize conscious that I have learned so many things. As a teacher, every situation has a lesson to be learned including this one.
When it was time to teach again and learn a platform most of us never used, it came with some anxiety, but it also came with some hope. We will be teaching again, working without students and it will be bringing much joy to see their faces and all their personalities again. It will also bring us together and help everyone remain vigilant of what is going on around us, but also keep learning. Our administrative team pulled all this together over and beyond their normal parameters as the administrative team. This is one place in my life that it truly feels like a family during tough times and we all pull together to get the job done. Teaching, when I am good at it, brings fulfillment to me. There is no material item that can replace a student who will always remember you. The first week of online teaching for me was very enjoyable even with some glitches. The reward again is being able to teach and teaching to my students. As I previously stated there is only a small role for me to play, but I am very prideful of my role and do my best to keep China safe and with a bright future.
May China be Blessed