Teaching in Times of Corona

We live in weird times. 

Two weeks ago, schools closed all around the country. Thousands of teachers and students had to re-organize their way of teaching and learning over night, parents had to become used to having their kids home all day and help them with school assignments while doing their own work as well. Following all the funny and more serious posts from parents and teachers online, I guess it’s been a challenging time for all of us. 

When I was a student myself and my parents were missionaries in the Ugandan bush, we were homeschooled, so learning by myself was not completely new to me. But what would it look like applied to my own teaching? Here’s what I have learned from distance teaching so far.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching from a distance is exhausting.
On a normal school day, I teach two to four classes seeing about a hundred students. I prepare my material and hand it out to students. They work through it, ask questions, we discuss the results. Distance takes away the immediate student – teacher interaction, and this week I’ve learned again how important it actually is. 

When learning a language, you need to practice it with someone and a teacher to give you feedback. When you learn about something in history, it’s about so much more than just facts. Issues are complex and only become alive and relevant for our world today in a discussion with the class. 

Whenever a student has a question, I can quickly explain it to them verbally. During a study phase I can walk around and see where students are stuck or might have taken a wrong turn. Giving them direction can be solved with a couple of words. 

‘Translating’ all of this into written form has kept me busy for the last two weeks. You have to prepare your lessons even more carefully, putting every explanation and task into such words that every student can follow them. Instead of quick questions in class I receive 50-100 emails or messages a day from students to clarify a task or asking for feedback on a completed exercise. Sending out standard answers won’t help their learning progress, but replying to each learner individually takes time. 

I truly hope that the experience of homeschooling might change the perspective on teachers, who are often stereotyped as ‘lazy’ or ‘overpaid’ by the public (and some parents as well).

You need a routine and help others create one.
The first few days of this new situation felt a little bit like a holiday with no one waiting for me to show up at a specific time and place. You can suddenly have a lie in or watch Netflix all day – which is cool for a few days. But when it suddenly dawns on us that this is not a game and staying home is our new reality, living and working in it can become quite a challenge. 

I try to stay outside the hole of purposelessness and dullness by keeping up a routine. I set my alarm clock and try to get up around the same time every day. I put on proper clothes and clean my apartment. I eat my meals at the table instead of on the couch. I schedule daily meetings with students and friends to have something to look forward to. Since I’m in quarantine, I can’t leave the house, but I try to exercise inside and take in fresh air on my balcony. I make time to read and relax. And yes, I Netflix (obviously). 

In one of our calls, a student asked if we continued classes during Easter break. When I replied, “No because you deserve some holidays as well”, he desperately begged to keep going and admitted that he was quite overwhelmed and bored. Many teachers have drowned their students in piles of exercises and tasks without any structure or plan to proceed. While I’m a huge fan of responsibility and ownership, the ability to organize yourself doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For families and young people who struggle to make time for their tasks and motivate themselves to do something, teachers can help to set up a schedule that is challenging and not overpowering at the same time.  


This is not a holiday, but this is also real life.
While I do think that keeping ourselves busy is a good strategy to fight boredom and panic in these uncertain times, we just also be realistic. There are tons of memes and videos out there from parents ranting about homeschooling and all the work teachers give their kids. Yes, for some students (and some parents) it might be a wake-up call that teaching and learning is actual work. Even though we don’t get to meet in a classroom, it doesn’t mean that we’re off for the next five weeks (or more) without any tasks or expectations. So don’t call it a holiday, take it seriously. 

However, we as teachers have to consider the circumstances. We cannot expect a kid or teenager to concentrate for eight hours a day with younger siblings bouncing around or parents to explain complicated math problems. Our tasks have to modified for easy access and easy understanding. Or maybe abandoned all together. Families now have the chance to be together, enjoy each other’s company, learn things outside the classroom and curriculum. Why not spend some time cooking with a parent or experimenting with play dough or naming the plants in the garden? If we allow our students to breathe and their parents to be their teachers for once, we might support families and their learning experience even better. 


(Re-)Discover yourself.
As much as I love a routine, it doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. A traditional school environment doesn’t allow for much individuality with specific classes and mostly one method of teaching and learning. This unusual situation might prove to be a blessing to those struggling to fit into the strict patterns of a school day. 

Times like these challenge us to focus on ourselves a bit more and discover what we’re made of. When no schedule dictates what we have to do when, we might learn that we’re not as tough or organized as we’d hoped to be. However, we might also re-discover strengths that we’ve had all along and which can now be brought to fruition. 

It helps to identify times throughout the day (or night) when you’re most productive: Are you an early riser? Do you work best during the night? Which setting helps you concentrate the best, which factors distract you the most? Get to know yourself and then work accordingly. If you work early in the morning, why not relax in the afternoon? If other people motivate you, why not connect with them virtually while you both do your respective work? 

In order to maximize your results in the individual tasks, it helps to sort them into heavy and light work. 

Collect all the tasks you have or want to do. Which of them need a lot of headspace, creativity and energy? Which ones have a deadline attached to them? Which of them do you dread the most? Label them as heavy work and do them in your most productive times. 

Use your down time (less productive time) for less demanding and fun tasks, your light work. 

In my case, I am a morning person and therefore get up early to do my heavy work: writing and creating things. My down times are often used for light work, such as responding to emails or research. 

Teachers and parents can help students to find their best working times and settings, and then allow them space to work with that. At the of the day, you’ll look back on today’s accomplishments feeling productive and content.

 

Challenge yourself and challenge the system. 
A normal school week has me so busy that I don’t have the time and energy to experiment a lot and sometimes I am not happy with how my lessons turn out. School resources, especially digital ones, are often limited and don’t allow for many new teaching or testing options. With so much time at home right now, I enjoy looking into new ways of lesson planning and communicating with students online. Putting together online quizzes, videos and whole lessons is a challenge, but also quite fun. 

Observing the rapid change in the last few weeks has been quite interesting actually:  Pedagogical researchers have demanded more individualized learning strategies and support for years, open-minded teachers have struggled with restricting rules and politics have held back support for too long. Issues like data security, money or lack of knowledge have always been recited as stumbling blocks to innovation and change – until a national crisis hits and people are forced to teach and learn differently. May this challenge encourage teachers to make use of what is already out there and may politicians and those who have something to say in the educational sector finally cash in on their promises and pave the way to true change and innovation.


Thank God for technology.
The most obvious challenges and changes happen in the digital realm. Every day, I log into a zoom meeting with a bunch of students. With a shared screen we talk through new content and old exercises. We play vocabulary and history quizzes on our phones and tablets. I put together tests which every student can access through our cloud classroom. All while lying in bed and sipping coffee. 

With the absence of classrooms, suspended tests and loss of personal contact you have to become creative. Yes, using new technology can be exhausting and work intensive at first, it takes a while to figure out how it works. I’m grateful for my students’ feedback what worked and what didn’t. 

But now we have the time to experiment and try new things which can be incredibly useful in our teaching (both in and outside the classroom). Why not click through the ebook versions of your normal school books and see what is already on offer there? Why not enrol in an online class for fun and see what is possible in digital teaching? Why not set up a cloud classroom and explore the possibilities to engage and connect with students in new ways? Why not reinvent the ways you teach and test? 

If we spend some time challenging ourselves and our teaching styles now, we will hopefully be better prepared for the digital challenges in education in the future. And we might have some fun along the way, who knows. 


Why social distancing is wrong (by definition).
Technology can solve a lot of problems, but there are a few things no screen or app can replace: The personal connection to another human being. 

These days, politicians and media urge us to practice ‘social distancing’. While I understand the logic and reasoning behind it, I am also a word person and struggle with the word choice. ‘Social distancing’ implies that we stop communicating with each other and focus solely on ourselves. This would be catastrophic in times when so many of our students are stuck in struggling homes. Many of them share rooms with siblings and don’t have a lot of space to themselves. Some have no other form of distraction than their phone. Some of them struggle to connect with family members. Some of them face domestic violence.   

If we teachers stop communicating with our students, they might lose a valuable contact to trust and talk to. We could be the key people to provide a routine, encouragement or simply an open ear. These strange weeks at home have made us more vulnerable, more hungry for human interaction and connection. They reveal what humanity is made of, the good and the bad. We need to be in touch with others – not physically, but with every opportunity we can find online. It will help us grow together, as teachers and students, as human beings. 
This lockdown is a challenge for the entire society – doctors and politicians, nurses and farmers,   workers, parents and their children, teachers. There will be hindrances and conflict along the way, but hopefully this will be an opportunity for all of us to explore and thrive. As individuals in our roles as students, parents and teachers, but also as a community helping and encouraging each other. 

What have you learned from this experience so far – as a student, teacher or parent? I’d love to hear from you! 

Permission to Settle

When people used to ask me, “So where do you want to be in the future?”, I would always say somewhere abroad. Staying here or settling down was never an option.

TCKs never settle.
That’s a fact.
Something that has seeped into my veins and become part of my identity.
I cannot settle.
I am not allowed to settle.
I am made for a nomad life, wandering from place to place in search of the next adventure, a sense of home.

After I graduated from university and started to work, something changed.

I have become more at ease with staying in a place. When I moved into my apartment, I was brave enough to hang up pictures and make myself comfortable for the first time. No matter how long I would stay, I wanted it to look like my place.

There have been battles raging inside of me.
Flashes of envy whenever I read about my TCK friends taking a job in a faraway country and living the global lifestyle.
Inner urges to look out for other job opportunities, to keep on moving.
Unknown feelings of actually liking my work and the people I’m with every day from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds.

The world I had longed to explored has been put right in front of me.

The thought of being stuck in one place and becoming too comfortable still creeps me out and I hope I won’t fall into this trap. But when people ask me now where I want to be in the future, I tell them,
“I don’t know.
But for now, I want to invest myself in the work I’ve been given.
To be present with the people in this place.
To make a home and get to know new parts of myself here.
I give myself permission to stay and settle.

To my fellow TCKs: Have you settled somewhere? How do you feel about settling vs. constantly moving?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Open Your Door

There was a note in my mailbox yesterday: “You weren’t home when we tried to deliver your package, so we dropped it off at your neighbor’s apartment.”

This happens quite often since mailmen normally show up when I’m at work. What was different, though, was the name on the note.
A neighbor I hadn’t heard of or met yet.

When I rang, nobody answered.
I was already walking further up the stairs when the door opened.
An older man sat there in his wheelchair and invited me in.

I have lived in my apartment for three years, but I have never been in any of my neighbors’ apartments. I roughly know the names, but I haven’t really talked to anyone. Everyone seems to live their own life and is happy to enjoy quiet evenings behind closed doors.

With a heavy accent he told me about his life, how rough things have become after his leg had been amputated some months ago. His wife had died two years ago and the depression had made his whole body suffer. When his granddaughter showed up, they spoke Portuguese. He was sad about the lack of care from so many and yet wanted to enjoy living.

When I left I was deeply touched.
Here’s a story of a man, an individual behind the cold walls of my apartment building. Someone who makes it a bit more alive, more human.
And I wonder who and what else is behind closed doors, everyone with their own stories and problems. Maybe we have to challenge ourselves a bit more to look behind the scenes, to invite others into our homes, into our stories, into our lives.
Often things aren’t as shiny and happy as they seem on the outside – looking at them together might make us more alive, more human.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Why You Should Make Less Money [and Have More Life]

We have just started school last week and I am glad to be back in my routine, back with my students and colleagues. I teach a lot of the same classes with most of the same material in buildings I’m familiar with. There’s a schedule and a curriculum and all that. At the end of the month, there’ll be a pay check.
Same old, same old.

And yet, this year will be a little different.

This last year has really exhausted me. There was too much on the agenda, too many lessons, too much travel and projects on the side. Everything I wanted do for myself was pushed to the future and life seemed to be only about work.
I seemed to function during the week and try really hard to be alive on weekends and the breaks in between, which didn’t always go that well. I struggled with doubt and questions like, “What are you even doing here? Is this what life will always look like?”

Somewhere in between, a thought started to nag me.
What if you could change the way you work? 
What if you could make more time for the things besides your tasks? 

Maybe you feel caught up in the busyness of your life, trapped in people’s (or your own) expectations and long for space to breathe and create.
Maybe you question your work and doubt when and where life will actually happen. Maybe you want to change something and don’t know how.

Can anyone relate?

Rearrange your week
In order to make more time to create, you don’t necessarily have to quit your job and invest every minute in art or whatever you want to pursue. Sometimes it might just take another way to arrange your week.
In one episode of her podcast The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman mentioned a technique I’ve tried out for a couple of months with some surprising results. Creative people who have so many different things on their plates can easily get overwhelmed. We have our jobs, our passions, our projects, our friends and family…and we never seem to have enough time to do it all. Our to-do lists are endless and leave us feeling unaccomplished and unfinished because we’ll never manage all of them in one day.

Emily suggests assigning each day a category of work, may it be chores at home or a passion project or meeting a friend. That way you don’t need to accomplish everything everyday and actually feel like you did something on that day. Whenever emails or requests come in, you can sort them into the day they belong to and don’t allow them to bother you today.
I have tried this method for a while now and it’s really helped me to calm my stress level. The different aspects of my life don’t overwhelm me as much and I have the impression that the actual days have become more productive and creative. 

Live curiously 
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about creative living – which, by the way, has nothing to do with being an artist, a writer, or a rockstar. We are meant to create, to make something of our lives and to discover hidden treasures in our souls. But far too often, we don’t do anything because we’re held back by fear.
Fear of not earning enough money,
of not being good enough,
of not being successful with what we create.
We deny ourselves the joy of creation and discovery because we give in to anxiety (which is often irrational). A sentence that really hit home for me was this:

Let your life be driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
Liz Gilbert

What would change in our lives if we listened to our curiosity some more? If we became more like children sometimes who simply follow their interests instead of necessities, their passions instead of their chores? 

At the beginning of my journey I pushed these thoughts away as foolish desires and utopian fantasies: You can’t just change things, you just don’t do that. 
I wrestled with my own fear and need for financial security and a stable routine:
What if I don’t make enough and will be lost in my week? 
I listened to advice from friends and wise words from those who’ve done it before me:
You might like it and you could always come back. 

And most of all, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling, “I don’t want to regret to not having done it.” What if I wake up with fifty and realize I have functioned all my life, but haven’t really lived?

You can’t create if you don’t try 
The other day I shared my writing ideas with a friend and immediately added, “I’m not sure I should even write about it, maybe no one will read it. Who am I to think I could write something like that?” She listened and then said very firmly, “Why don’t you think you could? You’ve already proven that you can.”

For so many of us, the biggest hindrance towards change is self-doubt. We don’t believe that we have a right to do or say certain things, we hide behind other people who might be better (or pretend to be), we question our place to be here.

Well, it’s not about being always right or becoming famous with our words or deeds, it’s about showing up and giving it a try. It’s about listening to the passions and nudges deep inside of us, uncovering them and having the courage to share them with others. They will always speak to someone – even if it’s just our own timid souls. Or, as the brilliant Liz Gilbert puts it:

You will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try.
Liz Gilbert

So, this is me trying.
When the pay check comes in at the end of the month, there will be less money on it because I chose to work less hours. I have taken a step back from going to work in order to make time for being a work in progress: Listening, creating, wondering. I don’t know if it’ll work out, I don’t know if it’ll be successful – but at the end of the day, I want to be able to say I tried. 

What are some areas or aspects of your life you’d like to have more time for? 
How could you rearrange your week in order to make more time for the individual tasks? 
What keeps you from believing you’re entitled to try? 
What could be a first step towards trying and creating?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today. This goes way beyond the five minutes, but the prompt is START and it felt appropriate to share a writer’s progress.

Life Lessons

It’s been quiet around here. Maybe a bit too quiet.
I was shocked to see that I hadn’t written anything since May, but well…life happened. This school year, I took on an extra Erasmus+ project which allowed me to travel all across Europe and gave me access to historic sites, well-connected people and great learning experiences. On the other hand, it also kept me away from my life at home and time to practice my writing.

Last Friday was the last day of school and there are six weeks of no agenda and to-do-lists ahead of me.
I can’t believe how much I need this right now.

In the last lesson I asked my students what they have learned about the world, each other and themselves this year. So they wrote down facts and skills they have taken away from my class.

But what have I learned this year?

Never stop learning.
As a teacher, your job is mainly to rearrange complex facts into learning tasks and smaller steps. It is quite easy that you forget to be a learner yourself, to take time to really dig into a topic and experience that satisfaction when you comprehend something new. The project I was in taught me a lot about history and the value of modern democracy. It felt so good to be somewhere new and to discover things I hadn’t heard about before.

Self-care has to be a priority. 
It was probably my busiest year yet because I had so many things going on on the side. On the calendar it looked like a few trips and appointments that would be manageable – being in the midst of them sometimes felt like hell. There were several days when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s been a few years since my beakdown and I never wanted to let it come that far again. Well, it was close. I need to take better care of my time and allow enough moments of rest in between.

People are life’s greatest adventure. 
This year has been a lot about people. The material and schedules become less important as I grow aware of my students’ lives, personalities and challenges. In one class, students were really open and allowed me glimpses into their thoughts and emotions, which is an immeasurable gift I’ll treasure forever. I was lucky to travel a lot with the same group of students and got to know them beyond the school context. This has been enriching and life-giving.

This life is about you. So who do YOU want to be? 
However, I can’t deny that people can be exhausting and draining your energy. You give so much and often receive so little in return. If your emotional tank is depleted it can become frustrating, and sometimes I found myself angry and disappointed by so little feedback or gratitude. I discovered how much I depend on people’s appreciation and recognition. Don’t we all want to be seen and feel like we matter? I began to compare myself to friends and colleagues who seemed to be so much better and so much more loved (which is a lie, but your mind can go crazy if you don’t monitor your emotions). I had to confront my own neediness and feelings of envy – and I’m glad to have some friends who called me out on it and reminded me of the really important things in life: it’s not about the others, this is about you. Who are you and what kind of person do you want to be?

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Find your people and share yourself with them. 
When things get tough and life tosses you around, surround yourself with people who remind you of truth in the midst of lies and light in the darkness. Be brave to share yourself with others, the good and especially the rough parts, and allow them to love you either way.

Make space at the table. 
Even though it hurts when your work goes unnoticed, I don’t want it to stop me from being generous. Instead of letting bitterness settle in my heart, I want to look out for the beauty around me and speak it. I want to notice people’s service and applaud it. I want to pull others from the shadows into the light where everybody is welcome and everyone is seen.

There was one field on the evaluation form that allowed students to leave comments. Many left it blank, but a few wrote things that warmed my heart:
“You’re a great teacher.”
“Thank you for being so patient with us.”
“Thank you for all the opportunities you gave us this year.”
“I will miss you.”

Life is probably only as dark as the way you choose to look at it and people can surprise you if you allow them to. Here’s to a beauty-filled summer break ahead!

What have you learned this year? I would love to hear from you! 


It’s been a while since I joined my friends at Five Minute Friday. Kate celebrates her five year anniversary of hosting this writing family this week – come and join the party!

The Grass on this Side of the Fence

So here’s a confession: I compare. More than I actually should.
No matter how much I seem or am content with my life right now, no matter how many good things I have going on – I will always peek across the fence, observe what other people have, who they are with, what I seemingly miss in my life.
A slimmer figure.
Money to travel the world.
Better skills at writing, photography or cooking.
Success in marketing and sharing my craft.
A stable place I can call home.
A partner who loves me unconditionally.
A deep sense of belonging.
More self-confidence.
An unwavering faith.

Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

As I spiral down into my hole of despair, I wonder how people got to the other side of the fence. Were they lucky or did they just work harder than me? Do they know more people or did they just wait until something happened? Were they given better opportunities than me?

And that’s when it clicks and somethings shifts in my mind and heart.
It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity is actually an interesting concept because it’s not something we can earn or work for. Opportunities are undeserved gifts of grace that present themselves. 
But it is up to us what we make of them.

I am challenged to open my eyes for the many gifts that I have already been given in my life. The many little chances that could make a change in my story.
I see a woman with a nice coat – do I go over and make her compliment?
I discover the talents that are inside of me – do I use them for my career and relationships?
I hear of someone in need – do I offer my help?
I have this insane understanding of a certain topic – do I make it accessible for others?
I am a rather quiet and stable person – do I use it to create an open space for people to feel welcome?
I question a lot of things and think aloud – do I help others on their journey and engage in conversation?

The more I marvel at the many opportunities I’ve been given, I realize how green the grass on this side of the fence actually is.

I challenge you to look at the opportunities in your life: which gifts of grace have you received and what do you make of them? Which opportunities can you seize today? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

The Twist inside of Us

I sit at the table, a stack of papers in front of me. The red pen is dancing across the white sheets as I cross out something here or correct something there.
I am grading papers – one of the uncomfortable parts of my teaching job.

The more I have to tell others what they did wrong, the more I realize how twisted the mindset behind it is. We focus so much on our mistakes, call out what is not going well and complain about everything we lack. We have drilled our minds to watch out for the negative and always strive for improvement.

And while I’m not saying that we shouldn’t grow and learn and change ourselves, I wonder if this mindset tells us something about a belief we have installed in our society and allowed to trickle down into the very core of our DNA: We are not good enough. There’s always something wrong about us. 

This lie has shaped our identity from early on and affects the way we perform in school, engage in our relationships, practice our faith. In this fast-paced world of ours, we only seem to matter if we become faster, better, more effective at hiding our weaknesses.

But what if we shone some truth on this lie?
What if we celebrated our strengths and put them to good use?
What if we practiced more gratitude for the many great things we’ve been given?
What if we handed out compliments instead of criticism for a change?
What if we believed in the old words of “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing”?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.