Categories
Thoughts and reflections

There shouldn’t be a crack in everything

One of the ELT related podcasts I listen to more or less regularly is TEFLology – A Podcast about Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics.

I’m going to digress briefly right at the start because I’ve been meaning to say for a while now that I enjoy and very much recommend this podcast. It’s informative and interesting – I find my mind rarely wanders – and the presenters seem to get on really well, as if they’ve been working together for ages. Which I think they have. So if you aren’t already following them, you should definitely try an episode.

wintersoul1: cracked brick wall3 SQ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Recently I listened to a February episode from this year in which the topic discussed in the TEFL News section was teacher wellbeing. The presenters talked about an article called  Language teachers’ coping strategies during the Covid-19 conversion to online teaching: Correlations with stress, wellbeing and negative emotions. Before going into more detail about the article, they did (what would be) a little pre-reading activity (if this article were shorter and you were doing it in class with students) and discussed two questions. 

I found myself wishing I could join in and answer the questions, and then it occurred to me I could do it here on the blog. So here we go.

Question 1: Do you feel that your mental health has changed over this past year since we’ve had to move to remote emergency teaching? Do you feel that you’ve noticed any differences in your mental health, your mindset, things like that?

(I should note here that even if the idea was to talk mainly about teaching, the discussion ended up being quite a bit broader, so I’m not straying too far from the topic.) 

Yes, my mental health has been affected by the past year but not so much by the pandemic nor by the move to online teaching. Readers of this blog know I don’t teach full time anymore and the teaching I do is all online anyway, in the sense that it was online for years before covid.

The event that has had the biggest impact on me since the pandemic started was the earthquake in Zagreb. And then 9 months later another earthquake pretty close to Zagreb. Prior to these, earthquakes were something you covered in science class and so in theory must be happening somewhere, only this wasn’t where I lived. Then the first one almost knocked me out of bed on a Sunday morning in the middle of the lockdown and there have been very few moments that I haven’t thought about it since. 

Actually, last year it took me a lot less time to get back to my regular daily routine, for instance, not going to bed fully clothed or charging my phone obsessively so I was ready in case it happened again. It only took a couple of weeks, possibly because we knew so little about covid at the time and I was more worried about that. And it was easier to convince myself that if it hadn’t happened in the ∗coughs, clears throat∗ decades since I was born, it wasn’t likely to happen again soon. 

In December things were different because it did happen again and it had only taken nine months. Like, what the…?! Also, I’d had covid in the meantime and thought I was relatively safe from catching it again in the next six months, so the earthquake could take priority. Getting back to normal has been much more challenging this time around. You can’t tell just by looking at me or talking to me – I hardly ever talk about it because people tell you you’re overreacting. They are willing to be patient with you for the first couple of weeks but then it’s, “You’d better pull yourself together; how old are you – 5?”. And by now everything is fine on the outside: I sleep okay, I can go into the city center with all the old buildings and ride on elevators. But when I cook I can’t wait to be done so I can turn off the gas, I rarely shower if I’m home alone and I think about when the next one is coming all the time. I do think about other things, of course. I couldn’t function otherwise. But every day, many times a day, the thought of the building collapsing around me pops into my head. 

I’m guessing it *will* eventually go away but in the meantime it’s been exhausting. I keep thinking how I would give anything to be able to know with certainty that I can relax for a couple of days – just a couple of days during which someone could guarantee that there will be no earthquakes and I could go back to the way life was before, when it was just a topic in science class*.

Question 2: How have you been coping with professional challenges (but could be personal too)? What have you done to cope or pay attention or keep an eye on your wellbeing?

Perhaps I haven’t done as much as I could. For instance, about a month after the December quake, while I was still having trouble sleeping, I decided I would take herbal sleeping pills. I bought them and then, just as I was about to take the first one, I thought, “What if there’s another earthquake and you’re too drowsy to wake up?” So I never opened the packet and it’s still gathering dust in the living room. 

I did consciously give myself time to start doing things again. For instance, I slept fully dressed for about a month and I didn’t beat myself up over it; I knew that there would come a day when I would stop doing it and so I did. I experienced phantom earthquakes for a long time and so I kept a glass of water on the desk to be able to tell if the shaking was real. 

I realized I felt most anxious and sort of trapped in buildings (as opposed to outdoors) and so one reason I’ve been walking to work so often in the past year is because I’m able to go back to that pre-earthquake state of mind when I’m at ground level. At the same time, I listen to a podcast or an audiobook, so these are the times when I’m practically guaranteed to forget about the quake.

It’s also helped that we have moved back into our old office. I was in another office for a couple of months, including when the December quake struck. In the old office I find I’ve been thinking about it a lot less, although I suppose this is also partly due to time doing its thing. However, I was asleep in my bedroom when the first quake struck and there isn’t much I can do about that – moving to another flat so as to avoid reliving the experience is not an option. 

I suppose the reason I think I may not have done as much as I could is because I didn’t seek anyone that I could talk to in a professional capacity. Mostly this was because the prevailing view seems to be that anything other than shaking it off and getting on with your life would be beyond childish and, well, peer pressure works on me. 

After these opening questions, the podcast episode went on to discuss the article, which as you noticed from the title is about dealing with covid & online teaching and not earthquakes, so this seems like a good place to wrap up this post. 

I did want to briefly note one more thing: the article described coping strategies that teachers adopted to deal with the stress they were experiencing due to the transition to remote teaching, and it’s my impression that these coping strategies could be adopted in many stressful situations, including the one I’ve been describing. The article lists 14 coping strategies and they’re divided into two categories: approach and avoidant. 

I was pleased to see that the strategies I unintentionally seem to be using are of the approach category: acceptance and to an extent active coping. The emotional support and instrumental support strategies also seem to be useful – maybe it’s simply by writing this post that I’m using the emotional support strategy. Using the instrumental support one would be, for instance, asking you to tell me in the comments if you have any advice. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

*I actually did go on holiday after writing up most of this post and noticed that I felt much better, i.e. dwelled a lot less on earthquakes, probably because I was in an entirely different setting which I don’t associate with moving buildings.

Categories
Moodle online course Tertiary teaching Thoughts and reflections

It’s been a privilege

Those who have been following this blog a little longer (as in 5 years or so) since the dawn of time may remember this post in which I talked about the first semester I had assistant moderators: (mostly) graduate students who helped me moderate forum discussions and comment on student learning journal entries. It was the first time I’d involved students in this capacity in an online course, although, to be fair, I hadn’t been teaching the course for very long at that point. It was in its fifth run. A brief digression right at the start: involving students this way online seems completely natural, yet doing a similar thing in class is much more difficult to imagine, for me at least. 

Photo “Team Work” taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/jerixthekid/ by mønsterdestrøyer, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The original four-mod cast only stayed together that one semester, but running the course with the help of moderators has remained a permanent feature. Twelve semesters on I can say that I have had the privilege of working with twelve incredibly communicative and motivated young people (says she, sounding about ninety-three 😛 ) who I have learned a lot from and who have been hugely helpful. Here I was, all overcome with warm and fuzzy feelings and then it occurred to me that it would be really interesting to do a post in which they would talk about their moderator experience and what it meant to them. 

So I set up a Google doc and added a few questions plus the option that they add their own questions if they felt there was something more they wanted to say. Of course, I told them the answers would be shared on this blog and that they could remain anonymous if they liked. This all happened in the first half of November, so by now I’m feeling guilty for not getting the post out sooner. One lovely (partly) unexpected benefit of the whole endeavor was catching up with some of them and finding out what they were up to professionally. 

Without further ado, I’m adding the questions and answers below. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them! Oh, and if you have any questions for the mods I’ll pass them on.

Q1. How many semesters (roughly) were you an assistant mod for Writing in English? (my comments in italics)

Beatta: 1 semester (Actually, it was two now I’ve checked my records. Then you went on a semester abroad.)

Ivana: Huh, 4 i believe (Three, actually.)

Marija: This would be my 5th, but I am not certain 🙂 (Yes, you’re right!)

Dora: I believe 4 but could be more 🙂 (It was four.)

Q2. What made you decide to “accept the challenge” – it could be argued that being an assistant mod is just more work for students with already busy schedules?

Beatta:  I just really like expressing myself in English so thought this would give me an opportunity to expand my vocabulary and get a better handle on the language. It was not so much about the actual work – as challenging as it may have been sometimes, but rather just talking to other people in English 🙂

Ivana: I liked the concept of online courses, which was completely new for me at the time. Plus I looove writing and expressing myself in that way so this was a perfect way to match my passion for writing, helping students and learning some new english 🙂

Marija: To be completely honest, it just seemed like something I would actually enjoy doing that would look good in my resume 🙂 What is great about this specific course is that all of our work is online, and that I could (and I have) be active anytime, day and night. So, on top of all my other activities, it seemed like a good challenge to take on.

Dora: I always liked being an assistant, helping other students as well as professors. I didn’t mind the additional work, it wasn’t too much for sure. Also, this additional stuff in college always look good in CV and you definitely learn a lot.

Q3. How would you describe your assistant mod experience? Is there anything you’d single out as applicable outside of the course (here I’m not referring to the course content but the work of assistant mods)?

Beatta: I do not remember many details, but I remember having fun. As I said, some tasks were more challenging (i.e. getting the students to “debate” you) or boring than others (i.e. checking their homework) but all in all, I have positive memories regarding it. I really think the assistant mod experience upped my English game – I became more fluent in both speaking and writing, I expressed myself easier and my “ear” and instinct for the language developed further. Regarding some hard skills I may have developed from my mod experience, I think it pushed me to be more/better organised with my private time.

Ivana: It was a long time ago but I remember feeling amused and it really was not a problem for me to work on the tasks we had to fulfill. Sometimes I was looking forward to reading the tasks other students have done or to read about their opinions connected to the subject (and the themes that we were talking about were always rather interesting and current). I also feel like it prepared me for some future obligations that I had (doing some work online). Also I got a job because of the recommendation of prof. Vedrana 🙂

Marija: It is not so hard or too time consuming, but it makes a big difference for the students – I remember having really bad and indifferent assistants in other courses and I felt like I could contribute and make other students’ experiences better. I would like to single out the “leadership” aspect of it. We are only assistants, but we manage student communication, give instructions and directions and provide much needed feedback. It was a new field for me personally and a great practice.. It made me really improve myself and my communicating abilities which I am sure I will use later in life.

Dora: I liked the whole experience and that is why I was an assistant for all those years. We didn’t have many English classes as I would have liked, so it helped me stay fluent and learn even more. Also, it was really interesting to see what other students are thinking, how they do the assignments and how I actually got to know them without ever knowing them 😃 for my future it helped with keeping to the schedule, having obligation to other students to help them when needed and somewhat mentor them.

Q4. How do you see the work of assistant mods as contributing to the course?

Beatta: I think assistants can be of great help, not only to the professor but to the students as well. They can lessen the workload of the professor and help students open up in the debates as well as their assignments (especially blog entries).

Ivana: Sometimes students might feel more open towards the assistant and therefore open themselves in writing also. Plus, I remember that sometimes me or my mods colleagues were needed to direct the debating in a different way that was needed for the course.

Marija: My main task, I believe, is to help the professor manage all the aspects of the course (from portfolio entries to forums and debates), but also to be the link between professor and student – students tend to hesitate in asking for help and directions, but we reassure them and help them realise it is OK, even welcome.

Dora: They can help with work overload for the professor but also students might be “less afraid” to ask assistants some questions.

Q5. Is there anything about being an assistant mod that you found challenging (and how did you address that)?

Beatta: As I already mentioned, it was quite some time ago, so my memories are a bit faded, but I don’t remember it being too challenging. I remember there were lessons where the workload was heavier and/or more demanding (be that in volume or in the type of task – for me the grammar always got me :D). I addressed it by just taking more time to go through it.

Ivana: Nothing challenging about it as far as I am concerned, but it wasn’t boring either. Maybe sometimes I had a lack of time to do some tasks, but then I wrote shorter answers, simple as that. Would recommend this kind of assistance in class anytime because at the end of the day, you do your own schedule.

Marija: Everything was really well organised and I managed to stay on top of things, but sometimes I had too many other responsibilities in order to assist as well as I wanted to. It was such a terrific experience for me because of professor Estatiev too, because every time I felt pressured or thought it was too much, all I had to do was let her know and she would help out – which was greatly appreciated.

Dora: Can’t remember honestly. Just know I enjoyed it!! 🙂

Questions you wish I’d asked (add your suggestions below – possibly to be addressed in another post)

Marija: Would I recommend it and why? Absolutely! Having a great mentor who gives you responsibility and trust you do serious work is such a valuable college experience. It helps you work on yourself, come out of your student comfort zone and makes you work closely with other students and, in the end, do beneficial work for those students who really need assistance in tackling new course concepts. Plus, it sounds really good when you mention it during a job interview (I speak from experience).  

Categories
Edtech Thoughts and reflections

Milestone

I’m going to start off by quoting myself. This is what I once said in a comment on one of Ljiljana’s lovely posts:

I don’t think it’s likely I’ll feel comfortable calling myself a blogger until I’ve written about 50 posts.

This was in January 2015. Yes, over four years ago. Which won’t be a surprise if you’ve read any of my posts, as they usually start with something along the lines of: This post has only been waiting for me to get around to writing it for two years…

You guys! The day has finally arrived! This is … drum roll … post no. 50!

I still don’t see myself a blogger – maybe that’ll happen after 100 posts and if the first 50 are anything to go by, I think this may just happen before I retire 😛 –  but I *am* really glad I stuck with it. 

Anyway, this is simply to say that I’ve reached a milestone of sorts and I thought I’d do something different to mark the occasion. Because many of my posts have been about something digital, I figured I might as well try out something new and decided an infographic would fit the bill nicely. I haven’t done many of those and I’ve never tried out Piktochart, which I’ve heard good things about. (Adding this sentence before I hit publish: you can add links to the infographic, but they won’t be active if you’re on the free WP plan because you can’t embed content. I had to upload the png file, so you can’t click through to the two posts included in the image. But you can click through to the interactive version of the infographic if you want to give the AMORES post a bit more love.)

What do you think? Do you need to have written a certain number of posts before you qualify as a blogger? Does it matter at all? 

Thanks for reading!