Lockdown measures around the world have changed the lives of many of us. For teachers, this has generally either led to unemployment or to a huge and sudden switch to online teaching.

As a result, many teachers, myself included, have been faced with unprecedented and difficult situations. Suddenly isolated from our students, we have had to come to grips with online teaching quickly – often with little in the way of training and financial support. We have been offered webinars and articles trying to support us in the shift to online teaching, and yet somehow, feelings of failure, anxiety and frustration have been common.

I experienced all this, but at some point last week I realised something. Despite how powerless, incapable and a bit of a novice I may feel right now, I have a unique set of skills as a language teacher to make a difference in other people’s lives. I always knew English teachers were well-rounded professionals: however, I more recently learned how our knowledge and skills as language teachers can make a difference, without us even realising! Here are a few examples and stories from my experience.


Social skills and rapport

One of the best things that I have realised is that I have continued to bring my students together, interacting and feeling less isolated and bored. However clunky and odd my online lessons may be, students can connect to others in their group and give their days some structure. I did not initially realise this, but for some of my adult students, my class was the only human interaction they had all day!

Another important aspect for my students preparing for an exam was that although exams are suspended, the mere act of continuing to study toward them and receive my feedback has given them a sense of purpose.



Language knowledge and awareness

As an expert in language, I have been able to offer my students a window on the world and help them better understand what is happening. We analysed the use of words such as “lockdown” and “social distancing”, allowing them to feel more confident finding information in English about the current crisis.

With more advanced students, we reflected on language use on a wider scale: last week I did a lesson on the consequences of the military rhetoric used in public discourse to discuss coronavirus and differences with other languages they speak.


Knowledge of language learning

As a teacher who has lived and worked in various non-English majority countries, I have plenty of family and friends who are or would like to be English learners. Lockdown has led so many to brush up on their English – or in my mom’s case, start studying it completely from scratch! Being familiar with how language learning works, I have been able to give them practical tips for self-study, including trying to learn vocabulary in context, managing their expectations, pacing themselves and learn based on their interests.



Knowledge of language learning materials

Related to the previous point, I could help those with this newfound love for learning English by simply pointing them to the right sources: from more structured courses (such as those freely available on FutureLearn to more unstructured basic activities (such as watching videos with subtitles). Also, my sister was delighted that the free placement tests I had her do told her she still had a B1 level all these years after leaving school!


There’s another side to this coin…

Realising that I was helping gave me a great feeling and helped me tackle that sense of inadequacy connected to online teaching. Nevertheless, we also need to acknowledge that all of this is exhausting, and we are bound to feel tired and isolated, so perhaps our most useful and necessary skill right now is…



Communicating and sharing with colleagues

Like my fellow blogger Michelle Ocriciano says, it is normal to feel anxious at this time and reconnecting with people can help. To me, connecting with colleagues online right now feels much more useful as a human tool than merely finding out about the latest app or text editing tool I absolutely have to try (although I am not going to lie, learning about Mentimeter was a game changer!) Indeed, whatever apps allow us to stay in contact with our colleagues near and far – for me it’s especially Twitter (for example, in the weekly #ESOLchat – are worth my time. Sharing our frustrations, small victories, and some much-needed humour whenever possible, has made all the difference to me and has helped me cope with the situation.

So, are you suddenly having to deal with online teaching? What small things are helping you cope? Let us know in the comments section!