The Challenges of Remote Teaching
For about a year now, I have been teaching English to our dive and snorkelling guides. Since the beginning of the lockdown, we intensified the training so that I am now teaching three times a week. We have two groups, beginners and advanced, and the lessons usually take place from around 4 to 5pm, with 30 mins for each group. Timing is always a little challenging as every other time or so, something comes up that makes it difficult to either start on time or even have the class. And sometimes, they simply forget to show up because they are so busy working…
Teaching the beginners is not an easy task, because the Indonesian language has a very different (and much easier) structure than English. To go from easier to more difficult is obviously harder than the other way around, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to find an example to explain something. But in a face-to-face situation, I usually manage, because I can use gestures or – if worst comes to worst – ask one of my colleagues for the Indonesian word if I don’t know it myself.
Since I am currently back in Switzerland again for a while and knowing that they will not study English on their own, I offered to teach via Zoom twice a week, always at 7.30am (!) for me and 4.30pm for them. While concentrating was already difficult for them during our normal face-to-face class on the island, it is even more difficult in a remote situation. Arif, our dive manger, is helping a lot by getting the technical side sorted out, starting up the Zoom meeting and getting everybody there on time. Most of the times, he stays during both classes to help them focus on studying, but as soon as he leaves the room, I can feel the concentration fading.
When I’m on site, I try to make our English class varied and spontaneous, integrating games and involving my students actively. Via Zoom, this is a little more challenging. The advanced group has been working on looking up marine animals and describing them in English during our class. Apart from small talk with our guests, this is what they need most in their daily jobs as dive and snorkelling guides. So, we are trying to continue this via Zoom. With the poor internet connection, the sound is rather bad and I’m having problems understanding my students. And some of them seem to think that while one is talking, the others don’t need to stay in the room. They simply walk out of the room to have a smoke or go for a little stroll. They do come back after a while, but at first, I was very irritated and didn’t understand what was going on.
In Switzerland, most of us are quite disciplined and would be upset by such behavior, but I know my students don’t mean to be disrespectful. Most of them didn't spend a lot of time at school or didn’t have to sit still for longer periods of time to concentrate on studying. And digital education is already demanding for people who are used to home schooling and Zoom meetings, let alone for someone who grew up in a little Papuan village.
Yet, I still believe they enjoy these English lessons. It’s a change from the daily routine and I’m convinced, most of them actually like to learn something new, even if they don’t always appear very keen. We laugh a lot and have fun while studying. I simply try to make them talk which is what they really need. What we all need in a foreign language – loose our fear of making a mistake when talking. When one of them does make a mistake, the others usually laugh at him. At the beginning, I felt really sorry for the guy. But now, I learned that it’s normal to laugh just about anything and this is not considered rude. The one that is laughed about will laugh about someone else soon after.
The other day (or morning for me), all of my students were at the dive center at the same time (and on time) when we started the Zoom session. Arif told me that we would do both levels together because they needed to finish something afterwards. OK I thought, this is going to be interesting.
And then I realized that the only thing they were really interested in before we started with English was whether my daughter was around. They were hoping to get a glimpse of her via Zoom! Unfortunately for them, she was out that morning.
Maybe next time. I hope this will encourage them to use their best English to communicate with her😉.
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I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…