I never signed up to be an online teacher
I have been teaching adult students of English as a Second Language at the International Institute of Minnesota since 2016. Most of my students are refugees or immigrants; some have been resettled by the International Institute itself, and others are working toward their U.S. citizenship through the Institute as well. Some of my students have also been spouses of scholars or researchers at the University of Minnesota, especially since the International Institute is very close to the U of M's Saint Paul campus and student housing complex.
I love teaching these students. They come from so many different places around the world -- Somalia, China, Cameroon, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Ecuador, the Gambia, Ethiopia, Japan, Brazil, Vietnam, Mali, Venezuela, Ukraine, Colombia, Azerbaijan, Peru, Haiti, and more. One of my favorite things to do in class is for students to share their cultural knowledge with each other and with me.
Like everyone else, I was not prepared for all the changes that came with the pandemic. I remember that the last day we were open for classes was March 16th, 2020, and I had stayed home from work that day because my younger daughter had a fever and couldn't go to school. So I really didn't get to say goodbye to my students in person, and there was no way to know when I would be able to see them again. Indeed, some of those students have since returned to their countries, so I never got to see them again at all.
For about two weeks, I took time off from work -- first because of my daughter's fever, and then because my children's school was closed, and I had to take care of both of them during the day. During this time, my coworkers figured out how we could start having classes on Zoom with our students. I think the first day we started online teaching was around March 30.
It has been a very long journey since then, with all the social distancing and remote teaching. During the summer months, I struggled with depression and anxiety. For a long time, I felt like I not only didn't know *how* to teach online, but I didn't know *what* to teach anymore, either. I didn't believe I had anything to say that would be of value to my students.
In September or October, I finally started to feel better, like I could cope with virtual teaching and all the other aspects of pandemic life. One thing that helped me a lot was going back to my workplace. Of course, I still couldn't meet with my classes in the classroom. The students stayed at their homes, and we met every day on Zoom. But even though I was alone in my classroom, it helped me to feel more like a teacher again.
The pandemic isn't over, and we are still teaching at a distance. I have gained enough tech skills and regained enough of my confidence to be comfortable teaching online, for now. I was even able to connect emotionally with one or two students who went through pandemic depression, like I had done. But like most everyone else, I can't wait for things to return to something closer to normal again. How amazing it will feel to meet face to face with students in my classroom again one day!