One of our teachers, Sally, shares her experience of teaching during lockdown.

Did you have much time to prepare for teaching online?

The NZ Government introduced the 4 level alert system for Coronavirus on Saturday 21st March. We were immediately in level 2. Then two days later, on Monday 22nd, we told students this was their last day of face to face teaching. There would be one day of preparation and then we would have online classes from Wednesday. Monday night we went to level 3 and level 4 (total lockdown) Wednesday night. A lot of changes happened very quickly. Meanwhile staff had to learn how to use “Zoom”. There was a great deal to understand in a short amount of time, but we survived!!

Was teaching the same?

Although the material was the same, and we continued using the class books, teaching on-line felt quite different. I couldn’t look over anyone’s shoulder to see who was having problems, so I asked a lot of questions!! Some students were living alone, so coming on-line each day as a class was a good chance for everyone to connect and see their friends. We had plenty of laughs. People look different, wearing pyjamas! I would start online a few minutes earlier each day, so I could speak individually to students and find out how there were feeling. I’d send “how are you?” emails, when someone didn’t come to class.Just like any major thing happening around the world, I tried to keep everyone up to date with the situation with Coronavirus in NZ. As time went on and numbers of cases of Covid 19 went down, there were lots of hand punches into the air and clapping! We did have one new student in class. A student living with family, would do her lessons with the family dog sitting next to her! We all wanted to play with it!! The presence of a dog made our strange life seem more normal! The dog graduated with a strong on its progress report but needs to improve its’ writing!

Were there many problems?

Some students had problems with wifi . Maybe they were sharing one wifi account with others or maybe they were in a building that came with free wifi. These building managers probably never imagined everyone would be wanting to use wifi at the same time! Others didn’t have a lap-top and were doing lessons using their phone which is not so easy. One person had a birthday and it was disappointing not being able to give them a card and share a cake. We DID sing them “Happy Birthday” though but it’s hard to sing in time together, on zoom!

Did you manage to relax?

The NZ Government encouraged us to all do some exercise and the weather was beautiful. We were blessed with long, still, sunny days. It just made lock down so much easier! I know some of my students went walking. I managed a bike ride most days. We had to remember social distancing but people were quite relaxed, smiled at you, said “hello”. We talked to people in our neighbourhoods. We had to be careful of the bears though!

Bears! You have bears in NZ?

To encourage children to go for a walk with their family, people put a teddy bear in the window of their house. In fact sometimes there was a whole family of bears. My students noticed this too, even in the city. Bear spotting was fun for all of us, not only the children. I don’t have a teddy bear so I put out a blue elephant. I bet you didn’t know we have elephants in NZ!!

Were some days more significant than others, during lockdown?

Three significant events happened during lockdown. Firstly Easter. Two extra public holidays but no one could go anywhere! Then Anzac Day, when we remember the contribution that Australian and NZ soldiers made in World War 1 and finally Mothers Day in May. For Anzac Day people usually buy and wear a red poppy. My artistic neighbour made poppies and planted them in the grass. They looked like they were growing in her lawn. With many mothers being older, a lot of people couldn’t visit their mothers on the day. As a result, people had to become creative. My friend sent a video clip to her Mum, with each family member, saying something. For some reason these three events seemed more significant this year.

And what’s it like in NZ now?

The only new cases of Coronavirus we have, come from New Zealanders returning back to NZ. We are at level 1 which means that everything is almost normal. We have sports, school, people around for a meal, go to movies, concerts, have weddings. The only difference is our border is not yet open to non New Zealanders, but we hope that will happen soon. Everyone who comes to NZ will still have to spend two weeks in isolation but then they can come and learn English with us again and enjoy the NZ experience! We look forward to seeing you all soon. But remember we have bears!

Author: Sally M, a teacher at Languages International