Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t what you’ve got
Till it’s goneJoni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
They may not have ‘paved paradise’ in order to ‘put up a parking lot’, but we’ve been given the opportunity over the last couple of years to think about what we didn’t realise we had. When I originally trained as a teacher, I remember that the Qualified Teacher Status standards required that I had to demonstrate that I knew how to use ICT skills to support my ‘teaching and wider professional activities’ (Q17; yes, I looked up the exact wording). At the time, this generally meant being able to handle the smart board/projector set up and be able to use the software the school used to manage data. None of us were dreaming about remote teaching or using Zoom (other platforms are available) to teach lessons. When I studied for my MEd just a few years ago, I wrote a theoretical paper about using Twitter in teaching, but whilst I liked my idea, it’s not one I put into practice.
Late last Spring, I collobarated with a colleague to do some informal research about how our friends and colleagues were finding the sudden transition to online teaching. One comment in particular stood out and remains stuck in my memory:
If, in the future, online dominated the industry, I would seriously consider changing profession.
This teacher commented that his enjoyment of teaching had decreased and that, despite having more time, he was ‘much less motivated’. Many of the respondents commented about missing the face-to-face aspect of their job, but this teacher specfically noted that he missed: ‘connecting with students, them connecting with one another’ (emphasis added).
I became a teacher, in part, in order to work with people. I had done some online teaching before the pandemic happened, but this was one-to-one teaching of an adult who was self-motivated, self-employed and studying to improve their professional interactions. Thus, there wasn’t really a marked difference to what we could achieve had we been together in the classroom. Although the student didn’t have the opportunity to interact with others in class, they were practising at work.
In my opinion, in order for language to cease to be merely an academic pursuit, there needs to be interaction. This might be with other learners, or other speakers out in the real world. Either way, some form of togetherness is necessary. Our words become meaningful when someone else hears them.