UAE's remote teachers tell of challenges of leading classes from home

Staff and pupils have had to adapt to a new age of education due to the pandemic

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The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a remote learning revolution as schools around the world swiftly embraced technology to ensure pupils did not miss out on crucial education.

The switch from classrooms to living rooms, however, raised questions about the long-term impact on pupils left disconnected from friends and teachers.

But it was not just learners who have had to make the transition from in-person studies to Zoom lessons.

Now, because I'm at home, I don't get that opportunity for regular intervention. So that's actually the biggest challenge that I'm facing so far
Christi McKeever

While government schools across the emirates and all schools in Abu Dhabi are adopting remote learning until January 21, some teachers have had to get to grips with remote teaching while pupils are in class.

Christi McKeever, a grade five teacher at American Academy for Girls in Dubai, had to immediately switch from leading an in-person class to teaching remotely after she was identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 case.

Ms McKeever teaches English, mathematics, science and social emotional learning, and has 18 pupils in her class, evenly split between remote and in-person learning.

For her class, a staff member oversees the progress for children who are in class, while Ms McKeever teaches from home via video.

“There are definitely challenges when it comes to the actual teaching, such as making sure lessons are engaging, accessible and challenging, and also trying to provide individualised support, especially if pupils are at home," said Ms McKeever.

She said that in a normal classroom dynamic, she would be able to support children on the spot and monitor their work and progress.

Mastering a new way of teaching

“Now, because I'm at home, I don't get that opportunity for regular intervention. So that's actually the biggest challenge that I'm facing so far," she said.

"I'm trying to figure out ways that are going to be engaging and accessible and challenging, but also catered to that individualized support that our pupils need, because they all have different ways of learning.

“It required teachers to completely shift their skill set. And it sometimes it feels like starting from nothing.

“it's constantly just having to be creative, and flexible, and adaptable. And it's throughout the day, it's after school hours, it's in the morning before you log in.“

She said that if a pupil made a mistake she could not always catch it in the moment or address it immediately.

Or if a student was doing really well, she was not able to challenge them on the spot to deepen their understanding.

Plans in place to help teachers

Lisa Johnson, principal at the American Academy for Girls in Dubai, said flexibility was key to allow teachers to tailor lessons.

A hybrid model may involve all pupils learning online or divided into groups with some in class and others working remotely.

She said sometimes teachers would be dialing in just to work with one or two pupils because they needed a little extra attention or support.

“We see sometimes that pupils who are online, tend to disconnect a little bit. It's very difficult to keep them engaged and motivated unless you keep the pace of the class moving," said Ms Johnson.

While some of her grades have around 80 per cent pupils attending in-person classes, others have only 10 per cent of pupils in classrooms.

Ms Johnson said planning logistical changes during the winter break and making schedules was a challenge.

“We've scheduled a system for the admin team and for specialists to make sure that homeroom teachers get breaks to plan and have a bit of lunch and tea.

"All this (planning) was happening over the winter break. So that was an element that made the planning a little bit more challenging, because I had staff traveling. In addition to that, we were completely redoing our master schedule to respond to the four-and-a-half-day work week," said Ms Johnson.

Teacher presses on after infection

Hadeel Jallad, an Arabic teacher at Gems American Academy in Abu Dhabi, was keen to put her pupils first after testing positive for the virus.

With the support of her school, she chose to continue teaching from home.

"It was a little bit difficult and on some days I wasn't feeling well and needed to have medicine before the class," said Ms Jallad.

"My pupils are so young in grade one and grade two, so it was a bit difficult."

She said she decided to use quizzes to make learning fun.

She explained the concept to pupils, got them together in groups, and then used quiz platforms such as Kahoot.

New age of education

Nathalie Pageau, a grade two teacher at the American Academy for Girls in Dubai, said supporting pupils in the classroom as well as online could be difficult.

"It definitely has its challenges such as to keep everyone engaged," she said.

"There are technology issues. Sometimes the technology doesn't work, the calls don't go through or the cameras are not working, so you can't see what the pupils are doing at home."

She said these created disruptions to the lessons and schedule.

"It can be frustrating and challenging at times, because we need to adapt really quickly to a new way of doing things."

Updated: January 16, 2022, 6:15 AM