Will there be subtle or not so subtle changes in how college staff teach and students learn, once the dust has settled on COVID-19? Or will it be back to just business as normal?
Potential and newly qualified teachers are witnessing a huge, unprecedented revolution in communications as our education system has had to switch to online learning to continue education provision during the coronavirus lockdown.
“We’ve been forced into it, so it has to work. It is working, so there’s no sense in us being successful and then forgetting about it afterward,” one senior lecturer at an adult education college told me last week.
More means of communicating online could, for many new teachers, popularise the idea of ‘flipped classrooms’ - teachers record lectures for students to watch online outside class, while traditional ‘homework’ is done in class, freeing up students to collaborate in real time on projects, while teachers provide help when needed.
Getting on top of real-time digital platforms to communicate clearly to students now looks likely to become a required academic skill. So make the most of lockdown to check out treasure troves such as Teachertoolkit, a resources website that includes a list of online links to websites detailing some of the latest free and paid-for apps/programs for teaching and learning online. As a brief snapshot, check out Revision Buddies for students, on a free, three-day trial; Periscope, Google Classroom, Youtube, Facebook, Skype and Zoom as video screening and conferencing platforms; Retransfer, Gdrive/G suite, and Remind as teaching aids; plus a host of online quiz sites.
Remote working during lockdown - and beyond - means teachers may increasingly get less traditional peer support on campus. Organisation, self-motivation and work/life balance will become essential requisites for teachers when working from home. Knowing how to draw up a programme of work will become a must. So take every opportunity to get to know your peers both on campus (post lockdown) and online (via social media). And don’t forget the non-teaching staff who’ll be happy to help you out with, say, computer problems (IT technician), resources (librarian) or financial headaches (accountants).
Everyone has their preferred means of communication, be it email, WhatsApp, simple text messaging or phone conversations; and knowing a colleague’s personal preferences will get you the quickest answer from them in an emergency. Strike up friendships through a shared interest in sport, music, the arts, good causes, or the occasional Friday night pub visit. Use your time before and after departmental meetings and during coffee and meal breaks to build connections - you don’t have to be experienced just to listen - just patient!
Much teaching is done alone (learning assistants are often in short supply). There is no backup until you finish a class and seek support from colleagues. But one important key to a successful teaching year is mutual respect between teacher and students.
who had only been teaching two years told me about the remarkable rapport she has built up with her students. Rather than seeing them linger in the corridor outside class until just before the first lesson began, she started inviting them in while she was preparing the room. She used the time to unobtrusively find out about her students' home life, interests, niggles about their studies, what they liked about their course, even what they would like included in next week’s lessons.
The personal interest she continually shows in her students now means her classroom is almost always full some 15-20 minutes before morning and afternoon lessons begin. One learner has even come in on his day off just to find out what was happening. Her students say they can’t rate her highly enough!
Perhaps your most valuable resource lies all around you. FE is a fast-moving, exciting and challenging environment staffed by a broad range of lecturers, many of whom have worked and managed in different industries. They all know the challenges of a first year in teaching, whether it’s how to get used to a college teaching cycle, lesson planning, what works in class and what doesn’t, the boundaries to set your students, how to handle challenging learners, or identifying local employers most likely to help you with student work placements. Most colleagues are rarely too busy to advise or even mentor on activities new to you but often ‘old hat’ to them.
One hour of teaching takes several hours of preparation, particularly when you are fresh to FE teaching. But effort does reap rewards. Even if the curriculum is rigid, the need for familiarity with your subject matter cannot be stressed enough. You’ll always need to have prepared a plan B if, say, technology breaks down. You will need extra tasks to hand out if the lesson doesn’t work out as planned or it does go well and you have time to fill.
Teaching in FE college is full-on. You are working with young people and mature students from difficult backgrounds who often see FE as a second chance and need guiding both on an academic and personal level. At the same time, you are a role model, an enthusiastic ‘performer’ in many ways. Your students are your top priority.
It’s easy to forget your own needs when confronted with those of your students, A couple of months into the year you, like most ‘newbies’, are likely to ask if teaching is for you. Maybe a lesson has not worked out or you’ve said something about yourself in a lesson you wish you hadn’t. We all make mistakes but we need to learn from, not dwell on, them. The focus should be on successes and sorting out a daily pattern for eating, sleeping, exercising and socialising that keeps your spirits high.
Successful FE teachers can become incredibly flexible workers but they all need a regular dose of self-applied TLC.