Lockdown Ushers a Rethink of Language Teachers’ Roles, Job Security and the Need for Recognition

Natalie Donohue 

July 2020 

The three English language teachers I interviewed -Olivia (UAE), Murat (Northern Cyprus), and Myrtle (Japan)- were based in very different contexts, teaching vastly different student profiles, and yet despite this some common themes can be identified across the three individuals in light of Covid19 and how this has impacted them, their teaching, and their students. Each individual also faced their own unique challenges, but it is interesting to consider the similarities shared among teachers who are so geographically dispersed. Two, Murat and Myrtle were teaching in a university setting, whilst Olivia was teaching children and adults at a language school. Despite this, all three teachers commented upon the confusion, lack of preparation and limited useful training opportunities at the beginning of the shift to online teaching. Although each of the teachers already felt fairly confident with digital technology, none were satisfied with the amount or quality of training they had received, and instead relied on trial-and-error and support from colleagues. In Murat’s case, he himself provided digital training to his colleagues, whilst Myrtle and her colleagues set up channels in which to share both materials and advice.  

In the transition to online teaching, all three teachers perceived a shift in their role as teachers. Each individual commented upon the increase in students seeking help in relation to technology rather than language, resulting in feeling like a technology advisor or technician. Olivia and Myrtle added that they had assumed supportive roles as well, with Olivia acting as a ‘counsellor’ at times for her students, whilst Myrtle felt like a ‘parent’. 

The move to online teaching also resulted in a significant increase in workload for each of the teachers, with more planning and materials development, adaptation or conversion necessary. One participant, Myrtle, felt frustrated that teachers’ hard work during these unprecedented times was being taken for granted by her institution and voiced frustration that teachers continue to be underappreciated. It is clear from the three narratives, however, that these language teachers were resolute in doing their best to meet students’ needs and collaborate with colleagues in the face of unexpected challenges brought on by Covid19. With the pandemic affecting Japan at the beginning of their academic year, Myrtle had the additional challenge of delivering online teaching to students whom she had never met, but was determined to ensure they had more input than they would otherwise, even though this meant her planning workload increased significantly. Murat, similarly, was very conscious of the amount of input his students received and consistently tried to motivate his students despite their lack of engagement. Olivia faced cultural challenges with student engagement, and also had to rethink her teaching style and methods to cater to young learners –some of whom were illiterate and who did not always have access to basic learning resources in their homes. 

Despite the significant -personal and shared- challenges faced by the three teachers in light of the coronavirus pandemic, all three remained positive. Although none of the three would have chosen to teach online, throughout their narratives they recognised some unexpected benefits, such as increased collaboration with colleagues (Olivia), increased digital proficiency (Murat), and more student bonding (Myrtle). Each teacher was also hopeful for the future, but this was tempered with some concerns: both Olivia and Murat were conscious that group work and classroom interaction will now have to be carefully managed in face-to-face classes, whilst Myrtle was concerned that the effort put into developing online courses would be wasted unless some elements of blended learning were kept in the future. Concern over job security was also voiced by Olivia and Murat, who were conscious that a sustained drop in student numbers will impact their institutions’ staffing needs. This being said, however, it was clear from their narratives that these concerns did not impact the effort which these teachers have expended to continue to meet the needs of their students in these trying times. Their resilience in light of the unpredictable challenges brought on by Covid19 is commendable, and, as Myrtle remarks, it is important that teachers’ contributions and hard work are recognised and appreciated, now more than ever. 

To see all narratives in Language Teachers’ Lives in Global Lockdown, please click here. 

To hear Natalie speak about her doctoral research, please click here