As of June 25th my teaching in Albania came to an end. Throughout March and April I had held out hope that perhaps we could get back to school for at least the last few weeks of school. But of course, just like most of the rest of the world, that was not to be. Since March 10th I have spent 3 to 4 hours a day prepping for and delivering instruction to my grade one students. As you can imagine teaching children online versus in person is completely different. Here are a few reflections after completing more than three months of distance learning:
- I felt like I was able to keep most of my students from losing their skills but I don’t think any of them made the progress they could have made if we had had face-to-face teaching. My students who were new to speaking English this year had a harder time simply because they were not hearing English spoken in the classroom all day long like they needed to do.
- The school’s expectation was that each primary teacher prepare 20-25 minutes each of literacy, math and Albanian with the goal that each primary age child would spend an hour and a half daily on distance learning. In general I made 4-5 assignments each day that followed this general structure:
- read aloud- I made a 6-8 minute video of me reading aloud each day
- math assignment- many of the assignments started with a 3-4 minute video of me teaching a skill and then I made a pencil/paper or IXL (an excellent, scaffolded, electronic math resource) assignment
- reading assignment- alternating between Raz-Kids, Storyline Online and Tumble Books; the children recorded themselves reading and then answered a short quiz about what they had read
- writing assignment- once again many of these assignments started with a 3-4 minute video of me teaching a writing skill (i.e. descriptive words, punctuation, narrative writing, etc.) followed by assigning the child to write in their journal for at least 10 minutes
- inquiry assignment- these assignments centered on the central idea (international baccalaureate) and were either science or social studies related
- As the children completed their assignments they sent them to me through a platform called Class Dojo. I individually commented, approved or returned these assignments to the children each day.
- I scheduled class Zoom meetings once or twice a week. One of the meetings was academic and usually centered on our inquiry unit. The other weekly class Zoom meeting was more for fun. i.e. celebrating a child’s birthday, playing a game or just talking about whatever the kids wanted to talk about. I did periodic individual Zoom meetings which I found to be very helpful and will do more of if distance learning continues in the fall.
- The parents were key to the success the children experienced with distance learning. The children are 6 and 7 years old so they cannot manage distance learning independently. The more involved the parents were the more assignments the child would complete which meant the more progress the child made. I really admired the parents and how they managed it all. Most of them were working from home while trying to manage their child’s schooling. Some children were cared for by grandparents who spoke no English which meant the children had to wait for mom or dad to help them when they could.
- My technology skills took a giant leap forward over the last few months because they had to do so. I think the main thing I learned about technology is to be patient with myself. Often, if I clicked around on a site I could independently figure out how it worked and how to implement it with my students. If needed, I could always depend on another teacher to get me going.
- As you already know a big part of school is socializing with other children. I encouraged my students to call, FaceTime, use Just Talk Kids and Skype with their classmates. A few of them did stay in touch with one another but it simply is not the same as actually getting to play together. Lack of socialization for the kids was one of the biggest downsides to distance learning. The children really, really missed each other.
Here is one of our many Zoom meetings.
Here is link to a video I made to say farewell to my students, 2019-20 Grade One at Albanian College It is 11 minutes long so please just watch part of it. It is always bittersweet to say goodbye to students. I feel ready to have a few weeks off from teaching but at the same time I will definitely miss my students particularly because there is a good chance I will never see them again. 😦
A year ago I was finishing up my first year of international teaching. It was an exciting year full of meeting new people, adjusting to living internationally and many, many travel opportunities. This second year of international teaching started by the entire administrative staff from Albanian College resigning followed by three earthquakes and then a pandemic. Despite the contrast between the two years I have no regrets. I have grown to love the country of Albania and it’s fiercely loyal, hospitable people, beautiful beaches and stunning mountains. The opportunity to work (and play) with people from around the world cannot be underestimated. I have LOVED this experience! It has helped me grow as a person and as a teacher. I am grateful to the Fairport Central School District for giving me a two year leave to pursue this dream. Also, my rock star husband was so very supportive through it all. I could and would not have done it without him.
So what is next? I am headed back to Fairport to finish my teaching career there. I have reconnected to my FCSD email account and the 2,800 emails that have accumulated over the last two years. :0 I will be resuming my position as a grade one special education teacher at Dudley School. Who knows what teaching will be like in the fall. No matter how it looks I am ready for and looking forward to it.
Right now I am still in South Africa. Last month I purchased a ticket from Austrian Air to fly back to Albania on July 4th. Our apartment and my classroom need to be packed up plus I wanted to have a bit of closure before moving back to the States. Randy bought tickets to meet me in Albania. My flights were canceled, not because I could not get into Albania but because I could not get out of South Africa. Randy was able to get into Albania and is there packing up with the help of a few friends. I have now purchased a repatriation flight to America that departs here on July 19th. I feel confident that it will go because it is on KLM Airlines which has had a flight every Sunday for the last several weeks. The cost of the ticket was horribly expensive but I felt like I had no choice. I need to get home so I can quarantine for two weeks and then get my life restarted in Fairport.
This will probably be my last post but I may do one more about my almost 4 months locked down in South Africa with Elizabeth and her family. We’ll see…
Thanks so much for reading this blog over the last two years and going on this adventure with me. I have enjoyed sharing it all with family and friends. Your encouraging words and interest in this experience have humbled me. My hopes and prayers are that you and your loved ones are staying healthy during this world health crisis.