Well, it has been a very stressful five months in lockdown. Not being able to keep to an active routine, not seeing students everyday, not having friends around — all of these things have made the time more difficult to endure. And yet, things continue to evolve in interesting and unexpected ways.
As many of you know, I decided not to renew my contract at The Anglo — the school where I have been for the last two years and where I have made many friends. It wasn’t because of the teaching. That is the part I loved and will miss the most. Rather, there were too many changes happening too quickly for me during an already stressful time. So, about a month ago, I sent in my resignation. No one has, as of yet, acknowledged it. A bit strange, yes, but then there is a lot going on at the school right now. A total reorganization.
It’s a business, after all.
Online teaching and learning is just not the same as in-person instruction. It requires technology and technological skill on the part of both teacher and student. Here in Mexico, as in other places, access to high-speed wifi connections is not guaranteed. It can be daunting to run a class where people pop in and out due to poor internet connections. Throw in the fact that we had only days to learn a rather complex, robust software program, and the stress becomes palpable. Students couldn’t access the classes; teachers couldn’t figure out how to help them; resources and nerves were strained.
We lost some students for a variety of reasons — some just didn’t like online learning. Others lost jobs or access. But, at the same time, it allowed us to expand in different ways. We could teach people from other regions who otherwise couldn’t come into the branch to attend classes. It took a little while, but we adapted. Some of the students who left even came back.
The challenges of teaching over the internet.
Building relationships with people online is difficult. While teaching students I already knew was not a problem, working with new students to create a classroom atmosphere was challenging. One of the ways to manage poor internet service is to turn your video off, which many students did. However, if a teacher can’t see the students, she can assess their attention or understanding. Not being able to see the students also prevented them from making connections with each other, which is very important when learning a language. Pair and group work suffered. Teachers had to be more directive and explicit in giving instruction. Students needed closer monitoring.
No matter the challenges, however, we muddled on. We made it work. We found new tools and new strategies to cope with the changes.
In some ways, the transition to on-line helped to form new relationships with people outside the branch. I did enjoy that part. And yet, communication between those of us at the branch and from the central office became fragmented. No one felt they knew what was going on, what decisions were being made, and what our future would hold.
Asking too much too fast.
There is no doubt that everyone in the organization felt the strain of the changes. There were a barrage of workshops and classes to learn new applications and fill the time. We were being monitored more than ever to ensure we were fulfilling our duties to the school and to the students. Yet, no one was really telling us anything useful — how long it might last, what other plans were being made, etc. Everyone kept saying “we’re here to support you,” and yet they were visibly absent. We had fewer meetings, fewer phone calls and texts, fewer interactions between us. We were only told about changes when they were about to be implemented, which is, in my opinion, not the way to do things. People need to feel they are a part of the change process and not merely a pawn on a chessboard waiting to be sacrificed to save the queen.
The camel’s back was breaking.
The final straw came just a few weeks ago, when we were told they would be making “changes” to our branch. Of course, no one really said why or exactly what they wanted to change. The only thing we knew for sure was they they were changing the administrative positions, requiring the few people currently in those roles to reapply for their jobs. We were only told what a “great opportunity” it was for the Anglo. Whoa! It was more than I could handle, and so, I made the difficult decision to not renew my contract.
Those very people who sang the praises of the organization and kept it running throughout this perpetual lockdown were then dismissed. All of them. Today is their last day. Mine is, technically, Monday.
And so, in the space of a few days, the Anglo Querétaro will be without a full-time native speaker, its academic supervisor, general manager and administrator. Only the part-time teachers and sales staff remain. There is no morale. There is no more of the “family” we once were.
As one of my former colleagues said, “R.I.P. Anglo Querétaro.” I sincerely hope that, like the phoenix, you can rise again from the ashes.
As for me, I’ve picked up enough private students to keep the rent paid and, when our lease expires here in April, it is likely we will relocate somewhere less expensive. Not sure where yet, but we’re working on it.
I’ll keep you posted!