525, 600 minutes – the number of minutes in a year. The song ‘Seasons of Love’ from Jonathan Larsen’s hit musical Rent invites us to ask how to measure a year:
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
Should I measure this year in tweets? Online lessons? Google Forms?
To risk both an understatement and a statement of nauseating cliche, it has been an extraordinary year. I started 2020 celebrating my first publication: an article about my MEd research that was published by an IATEFL journal in late January. Back then, the novel coronavirus was in the news, but wasn’t being presented (at least here) as something to be too concerned about. Indeed, in early March (a week before the first state of alarm was declared in Spain) I was in Salamanca for TESOL Spain’s annual congress, but by then it was starting to become clear that something was wrong. Some of the presenters were speaking remotely; this was an interesting development and many commented about the positive environmental benefits of this.
By the second week of March, however, and just a few days after getting back from Salamanca, things in Spain had changed completely. We transformed our practice and went from fully face-to-face to fully online in under 24 hours. We thought this was a short term measure and I admit that I thought that after the Semana Santa (Easter) break we would be back. When I left my classroom on 10th March, I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me that I wouldn’t be back in it until 1st September.
This year, we’ve been forced to work in different ways and to adapt our pedagogies to an online class environment. One of the things I love about my job is being in a face-to-face classroom with my learners and so being placed firmly behind a desk has been a painful experience (as witnessed in my upper back and shoulders). In some research I’m working on with Victor Hugo Media Soares about teachers’ experiences transitioning to teaching online, one participant commented that they would seriously reconsider their future in our sector if online was the way he would have to go.
Yet, online events has been something of a salvation at the same time. While mandated to remain in my apartment, I’ve been able to present at conferences that I would have never been able to even attend if they had been entirely offline. This has also allowed me to “meet” new people and hear new voices. Webinars have been part of the international ELT scene for a while, but in 2020, entire events have gone online; from ELT Ireland’s summer event in June, to the IATEFL web carnival on race and queerness in ELT organised by the TDSIG and GISIG. I was also able to get back in touch with my teaching roots at Diverse Educators events “in” the UK.
What’s more, I’ve found myself learning about online tools and edtech that have interested me, but have never taken advantage of before. A novel situation forces us to find novel ways of working; new problems, new solutions. Never before have I made so much use of Google Forms, and it really speeds up marking mock exams to have one spreadsheet with all of the student responses in one place!
The extra time at home while under the Spring “confinement” here in Spain was hard. Spring is probably my favourite season and being unable to walk in the parks of Madrid and watch the new life flourish was difficult. However, it allowed me plenty of reflection time and a number of the talks I’ve given and articles I’ve written since, were born during those months.
Summer travel plans were cancelled and I had my first summer away from summer school in England. Normally, I spend July and August as an academic manager near Brighton in England. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the time off from work, and this year I really needed the break, but I also missed the summer school environment and the opportunity to meet and work with an entirely different bunch of people.
By the autumn, we were allowed back to hybrid teaching: half the students present at the academy, the other half connecting from home. This is not simply a bit like fully online teaching nor like fully face-to-face teaching, but something completely different in itself. After a few months, this has become another new normal.
I rewatch the film version of Rent as a personal Christmas Eve tradition and, although I watched it a little earlier this year, 2020 is no exception. The song suggests that we should measure a year in love. I hope everyone is able to celebrate this abnormal Christmas/New Year season with someone (or with some people) they love, and that we carry love for each other into 2021. We are sure to find ourselves in need of love in the coming twelve months, as much as in the preceding twelve.