A Teacher’s Reflections on 2020: The Year of the Coronavirus

2020 has been an unforgettable year for the teaching profession. In many countries around the world schools were closed and teachers had to quickly adapt their knowledge and skills to deliver effective lessons remotely. Today, I’ve invited Dr Andreas Economou, Head of Science at The American International School in Cyprus, to share his reflections on 2020, along with some suggestions for teachers as we enter the New Year.

2020 is now gone, and what a year this has been. If you spent some time in social media looking through education/teacher dedicated accounts, you would have been exposed to the perception of the hive mind in this particular year. The consensus is that it was mostly doom and gloom. 2020 was “the worst”, and you will be reminded of the lockdown, all the issues of remote teaching such as the staring at blank screens in the chat rooms, the chronic student absenteeism, the lax in assessment and so on. But, there are those voices that point out that this was in-fact a great year because “we did it”. We all became online instructors overnight. We managed to persevere and provide the best, under the circumstances, education we could, and this should be celebrated.

In a way, perception is key. One of my favorite authors, Nikos Kazantzakis has stated “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes that see reality” and these words cannot ring truer this year. Both cases described above about 2020 are true. It’s the way that you perceive reality that can make 2020 “the best” or “the worst”.

If we take this a step further, consider, how important is your own perception about your surroundings, and most importantly about your students?

“An AMAZING Book for Teachers”

Setting high expectations signals to your students that you perceive them as able, intelligent and smart. Giving hard tests and challenging assignments signals the same. The opposite, easy tests, low expectations or half-backed lectures instead of a well-planned lesson signals to your learners that you perceive them as less able. And this perception, both by the educator as well as the learners is important. Anyone who has taught an “Honors” vs a “Standard” class in the same year can attest to that. The labeling of the classes as such is a self-fulfilling prophecy because the students perceive themselves more or less able because of it.

So how do we set high expectations? If you are a seasoned teacher, you already know that that this is a delicate issue. Setting the bar too high can lead to disappointment and disengagement. You need to make sure that you know your learners and set the bar a little bit higher day by day. Just enough, so when a student “fails” to clear the bar, he/she feels not disgruntled but instead convinced that they know exactly what they need to do to clear it in the future. And remember to cheer them for doing so. And keep on going.

Will your kids like you for this? Yes, and no. They will dislike every step of it. They are going to dislike the work you put them through, they are going to dislike the feedback demanding more of them, but in the end, when they realize how much they have learned and accomplished, then they will like you. And maybe, along the way, they will also realize the value of perception themselves.

Have a great 2021 every one. Let’s make it a good one!

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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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Happy New Year 2020

2019 has been a great year. I’m very grateful to all of the support shown by you: my loyal readers and fans. Some of the highlights of 2019 were as follows:

1. I released a second book for teachers: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback
2. More teachers than ever before read and benefited from the articles on this blog
3. I became a Google Certified Educator (Level 1) – I highly recommend this course for every teacher (check out my blog post on this at https://richardjamesrogers.com/2019/12/29/becoming-a-google-certified-educator/)

2020 projects in the pipeline:

1. I’ll become a Google Certified Educator Level 2 and then a Google Certified Innovator, and I’ll be sure to blog about the process so that others can learn how to do it.
2. My next book: The EdTech Book, will be released.
3. Giveaways of my first two books will happen from May – Aug 2020.
4. More blog posts and more frequent YouTube videos to provide teachers everywhere with practical tips
5. A new podcast will be set up to provide practical tips for teachers.

Happy New Year everyone and thank you for your continued support.