Responding to COVID-19: Educator First Steps

The transition to social distancing and online teaching due to COVID-19 has required many educators to quickly and feverishly revamp their courses and teaching. Public schools and colleges, private language schools, and community programs are having to create a “Plan B” in order to keep students learning while also adapting to the changing pandemic paradigms. With all of this change, it is important to sit down, breathe, and create a plan.

While thinking about what you are going to teach and how you are going to teach is important, this is a time when we really need to focus on our students and build community. Before creating handouts or learning how to use a new online educational platform, consider doing the following.

1. Check In With Your Students

As we all face changing and uncertain times, the most important thing is to check in with your students. How you connect with students depends on their age, language level, and access to technology. Find a way to contact your students. This could be through email, an online virtual meeting, a letter in the mail, or a phone call. It is important that students know that you are a resource and that they have a way to contact you if they need something.

2. Connect Students to Resources

As schools and community resources change their hours and locations, take stock of where students can access food, unemployment support, and other important resources. If you work with an older population, find times when stores are open specifically for people over the age of 60. Social media is flowing with people sharing community resources and updates. Create a list of these resources and find a way to share these with students. As new resources become available, be sure that you are passing these along to students and their families.

3. Share COVID-19 Information

Make sure that students and their families are getting correct information about COVID-19. Share information from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Many of these organizations also have COVID-19 handouts and resources in other languages. TESOL has a blog post, “Coronavirus Resources for ELT,” dedicated to curating many of these resources for you. If students have questions, be sure that you are sending them in the right direction. Social media is full of false information and anxious assumptions about the pandemic.

4. Put the Curriculum Down

Yes, meeting objectives and following your curriculum is important for standardized tests, course progression, and funding. However, now is the time to focus on creating an open and safe space for students to connect. If you are teaching online through virtual meetings, dedicate the next few weeks to connecting and reflecting together. With handouts or online assignments, ask folks to share how they are feeling and provide meaningful opportunities for the class to connect to the world and our current moment in time.

5. Reduce the Load

Everyone is worried about making ends meet, childcare, food insecurity, and other important issues. Our students are no different. During this time, with many things to juggle, it is not possible to ask students to complete the same amount of work that they might have done previously. This is not to say that students should not be held to a high quality of work or specific outcomes. It is to say that students do not deserve busy work. Students deserve meaningful assignments that can be done in a reasonable amount of time while they are also watching their children, trying to work, and managing changing social conditions. Think twice about the assignments that you are asking students to complete.

6. Connect With Your Community of Practice

As educators, there is a lot on our back right now to make sure that things are moving in the right direction. We act as educators, community members, parents, social workers, and more. However, we need to be sure that we are not emptying our own glasses to the point that we cannot support our students. This is a time to (1) share resources and online materials and (2) to reflect and debrief with others. If you’re a member of TESOL, go to your myTESOL community and join in a discussion with your ELT colleagues. Find time to talk on the phone or over an online virtual meeting with a work friend. That 10-minute conversation is often validating, refreshing, and motivating.

7. Self-Care Is the Most Important

As you are sharing resources with students and colleagues, make sure to make time for self-care. Many gyms and community centers are sharing free online training sessions, virtual yoga sessions, meditation sessions, and more. Make sure to take time to reflect and stay calm. These are also resources that you might share with students and your fellow educators—feel free to share them in the comments section, below! In addition to these resources that are online, be sure to think about how you are interacting with your computer. Take time to unplug. Open a book or take a walk. Your eyes and soul will thank you.

As things change in education over the coming weeks and beyond, it is important that we are checking in with ourselves, our students, and our community. This is the foundation for teaching and learning. Together, we are able to support each other through any surprises thrown our way. Stay safe and be well.

About Stephanie Marcotte

Stephanie Marcotte
Stephanie N. Marcotte, EdD, is the nursing resource coordinator and an adjunct professor of academic ESL at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts. She is passionate about supporting and advocating for credit-bearing academic ESL community college programs. In May 2020, she completed her doctoral studies at the University of New England in Maine, where she focused on transformative leadership in higher education. Stephanie is a MATSOL board member, and she has previously served as an NNETESOL board member and as president. Lastly, she has served in various union leadership capacities at the community college, including the position of union chapter president.
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