Are we ready for the face-to-face classroom?

By - Valéria Benévolo França*

This is a very personal reflection on what we may face as we go back to our classrooms this year. I am sure all of us will face our own personal journeys this year, but I thought I would share with you all some points which have been circling around in my head as we go back to school.

As we start 2022 and go back to our classrooms, we face the scenario we have all been looking forward to: teaching our students face-to-face, without having to teach half the group, or teach a hybrid class. I say that we have all been looking forward to this, but as I observe this initial moment of return to the traditional classroom set up, I cannot ignore the fact that we are already noticing a number of aspects, which seem to suggest that we may in fact surprise ourselves a bit. The routines, which were once part and parcel of our daily classroom practice, may need to be adjusted slightly. Our students are all wearing masks, as are we, and this creates a barrier in terms of communication. One which we did begin to deal with last year as some schools gradually took up face-to-face teaching, but as we now may face a full classroom, this will impose the need for a great amount of classroom management and the setting up of very clear routines with our students.

However, what worries me the most is not the more procedural aspect of classroom management. This is an understanding and skill which teachers and students will build up together. They will gradually discover what works and what does not work and will change accordingly. What concerns me the most is how we are going to deal with the socio-emotional side of the classroom. How are we going to pick up the threads of the way we get on together and work together within our school “society”.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has left scars in all of us. All of us have had to live through exceedingly difficult moments, we have had our resilience tested and may be still trying to find that confidence we once had as teachers, as individuals. How do we build up our teaching confidence again? How do we walk back into the classroom and work our magic as teachers? How do we preserve the humility of a learner: a teacher learning how to teach in a post pandemic world? I think there is a great deal to be said about the need for us to talk and share with colleagues in our teaching community and to be open to the fact that we are going to find a few situations quite challenging. Yet, if we work together in a community of practice, we will be able to share and learn from each other and overcome our initial struggles.

This brings me nicely to another point: being able to listen to our students. Everyone is worried and talks about how much learning was lost over the last two years. We read this in newspapers. We hear parents talking about it. We, as teachers, may have some examples as well. In our anxiousness to ensure that the students do not miss out anymore on any sort of learning, are we ready to give them enough space and listen to them or do we run the risk of trying to impart the learning on them to make up for anything they missed out on over the last two years? This is, I believe, a risk we face. We need to continue to be open and to listen empathetically. Listen in order to find out where our students are in their own learning paths. Listen to find out what they have discovered about themselves over the last two years. If we as teachers found out a lot about ourselves, what about our learners? I am sure they have also been on incredible learning journeys.

I think that as we go back to the classroom we need to remember that first and foremost we are dealing with human beings who have struggled a great deal as well over the last two years. We need to be very aware of everyone’s feelings and be ready to create new bonds and relationships. We as teachers will find ourselves in a position in which we will need to deal with students’ anxiety and stress about learning. We will need to provide learners with a safe space to talk about this and to express themselves. In this manner teachers and the whole school community will find a voice and a way of providing support. Support which will cover social-emotional needs and, consequently, will allow for all the cognitive development we wish to see happening in the classroom.

I feel that if we bring to bear these skills in our classroom, we will certainly be creating rich learning opportunities for our students and this will allow them to thrive.

I wish each and all of you a wonderful return to the face-to-face classroom and I hope that we as a community support each other and also thrive in our own manner.

*Valeria França has been an ELT professional and educator for around 30 years. Her main focus today is in the field of L&D and creating virtual learning experiences.