We’ve all had a heck of a lot to get used to in the past year. Who knew that a pandemic could turn kitchen tables into school rooms, cause toilet roll anxiety, and bring a fresh understanding of Aretha Franklin’s hit ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’
And for our wonderful band of English conversation classes, up and down the land, there was also massive challenges and change. Like many others, they had to work out how they could continue to deliver classes, build relationships and share the gospel. We all know that our classes thrive on the hustle and bustle of human interaction, the buzz of relationships and the hum of laughter.
So when our classes had to go online we were keen to find out how it went, and in particular how our fantastic group of classroom assistants found the shift to virtual lessons.
We asked some of them to share their experiences and reflections. What worked and what didn’t? What made them smile and what made them grate their teeth?! Here’s what they told us.
How did you find the transition to online classes?
It was not all plain sailing, as we will see, but for some it proved to be quite a positive shift. Perhaps surprisingly the technology itself had its benefits! One volunteer wrote:
“Zoom has proved itself suitable and flexible. Full screen graphics work well. (Furthermore, it provides) a measure of social life (for) students during lockdown.”
Another commented on the opportunities it gives for them to get to know students:
“I find it’s easier to chat while we’re waiting for the lessons to start. (Probably. Because I’m not in the foyer doing the register!)”
So, the transition to Zoom actually had some positive aspects (perhaps being more convenient for some and reducing some of the time-consuming admin for others). Interestingly, and amazingly, it also opened doors for the gospel, as the following volunteer noted:
“God provided for us in a wonderful way. It gave us the opportunity to present the gospel message of Easter that we wouldn’t have been able to (where we teach). Our students stayed with us and new ones joined.”
Naturally, the transition also had its drawbacks. A common theme in feedback was the difficulties for some of the lower level language learners:
“Zoom [makes it] harder to judge how much students are taking in. Harder to help the strugglers.”
Perhaps connected to the challenge of helping students who need extra support was the impact on relationship building, which is such a central part of what our classes are about and can be such a useful way to open up spiritual conversations:
“I think students would (like) to get to know each other. It’s tricky to get close to a student, which hinders friendship that leads to gospel chats.”
And of course, the move to Zoom involved technical challenges, even though one volunteer admitted such difficulties were “not our fault!”
Did your role as a volunteer/helper change in any way?
The occasional wrestling with uncooperative technology also figured in the feedback we received about what the transition meant for the volunteers’ role itself:
“I occasionally had to take over as Zoom host and teacher for a short time.”
But the shift online meant that our indomitable assistants not only had to provide emergency cover, but interestingly it also provided opportunities for them to develop their role in the lessons:
“Zoom makes it easier for assistants to contribute…(It) seemed to me I am more involved and contributing more in lessons”
And Zoom’s break-out room facilities even led some volunteers to savour their role more:
“We found the small groups worked much better than everyone together, so we did more of that, which meant I was more in the role of teacher, which I enjoyed in fact!”
What is striking is that though the transition has brought its fair share of stress (from chaotic classes in which too many people are talking or internet connection is not strong enough) it has brought some very special developments for our assistants as well as shown just how appreciative our students are, as the final comment testifies:
“High level of appreciation for what we do each week from the students…H & I are examples of students who are serious and conscientious and have started to smile and enjoy (the classes) as much as we do…(and) gift from M & A very special (Italian students (who) made a large monetary donation in thanks and appreciation for Zoom classes during lockdown).”
What a wonderful testimony to the commitment of our volunteers. Without their selfless service – as this feedback demonstrates – the sudden need to go online would not have worked. It’s clear that for many the change has brought opportunities which they have relished, and we need to be mindful of this when it comes time to go back into the classroom. To all the Assistants and Helpers, we want to say a big thank you and send our blessings to you in your faithful work.
Thank you to the following volunteers for their participation and comments used in the writing of this article:
From Bridges Argyle in Reading – Judy, Trevor, Lis and Sue
From Bridges Carey in Reading – Katherine
From English4U, Grace Church Highlands, North London – Sue