64 days ago my family and I prepared to celebrate our 8th Chinese New Year Festival in sunnier climates abroad. Several weeks ago while on the Island of Koh Samui the unexpected took place when the world held its breath as news of new epidemic dominated the air waves.
It didn’t take long for us to recognise that forward thinking was a necessity. We called the airline we planned to travel with and knew immediately we would have to make alternative arrangements or extend our stay when I was put on hold for an extended period of time. Our flight had been cancelled and everywhere was fully booked.
Our mission was to try and secure accommodation and after a day of trying to hunt down a room, bungalow, or villa we found a hotel suitable for another 19 days of stay. It wasn’t long into our first extension of our holiday that we were on the hunt again. With most rooms fully booked and expenses beginning to increase, we decided to rent a villa just in time to receive the news that classes for RDFZ would have to resume online. We were in unknown territory without borders as was the faceless and boundless spread of what we have come to know as COVID-19.
Little did I know that this would be the beginning of the real challenges for my family and I. Stranded in Thailand with no laptop, resources or pre-planned materials, how was I going to conduct 17 classes, which included AS-Level and IGCSE lessons, weekly department and House meetings and other House Leader duties each week on just my phone? It was time to rise to the challenge and think outside the box. Uncertain times always call for ingenuity and forward thinking.
My wife who is also a full time teacher has been conducting lessons online for Beijing 101 High School as well as helping to care for our 19-month old son. As a family we have also had to consider the impact of our extended stay on our full time ayi back in Beijing, who is now out of work and with 3 young children of her own. The increase in living expenses has put a huge dent in our savings and as a family we have had to schedule our daily routine in a way that supports both of our professional requirements.This has included hiring another full time ayi in Thailand to help care for our son whilst we teach.
I adopted a new way of executing my lessons and giving feedback to all of my 70 students using an app called One Note. I consolidated my lesson plans into a unique interactive system that students could use to access work, collaborate and complete tasks and activities as well as receive daily personalised feedback - all on my smartphone. RDFZ management notified teachers that we would be using Skype to conduct our online lessons, so using this in conjuction with the one-note system, enabled my students and I to get the best out of a challenging situation. Both platforms provided a unique and comprehensive study and teaching zone.
Along with these duties included supporting my department and house teams to give our students the very best of ourselves and one another. While conducting tasks attached to my house leader role I also took on the responsibility of Homeroom teacher for T456B, as differences in time zones required all of us to take the baton for those in more difficulty. Although an increase in my workload, working as Homeroom teacher has been an honour.
While teaching I have also taken this opportunity to encourage and support my students to excel during an unpredictable time for all. The pastoral care of the students within my house has coincided with my duties to execute timely and informative lessons that remain engaging despite the distance. One of the activities I set for my house to encourage positive thinking and actions, was to provide a personal video blog of new skills that they have learned during their self-quarantine at home. Remaining at home for extended periods of time can affect morale, our physical and mental welfare, as well as the general impact of isolation or social distancing.
To combat this, students were asked to think and act on the positives that can come out of negative situations. My students have shown excellent cooking skills, motivational speaking, and sharing of revision practices as we approach our Mock and Final Exams. Together we are not only reinforcing practices to stay healthy but to use this time to our advantage.
Time differences have affected us all but drawing on our extensive experience and going beyond what is required enables us all to work efficiently and continue to be “The Best By Every Measure” - our house slogan, which has now become a collective way of overcoming our current situation by striving for the very best. Together or separated my land and sea, the education of our students remains a top priority and this time has proven to be the making of us through resilience and sheer determination.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank God for keeping my family, friends and colleagues safe and well. I also thank my department (Social science), my house, as well as the school’s management for their valued support. Without which I would not have been able to accomplish all that I have with my students over the past 6 weeks.