English teachers keen to return to class
Achieved by students participating in a range of interactive activities that help improve their English, with a smile big enough to brighten anyone’s day. It was all part of the daily ritual that myself and the foreign teachers had become accustomed to in Vietnam. Oh, how I miss it.
On May 4, 2021, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of deja vu as I read my company’s email confirming that schools in Hanoi will be closed after the public holiday. Despite the bad news, there was cause for optimism due to Vietnam’s remarkable response to the pandemic so far. Cases and deaths were significantly lower than their Vietnamese counterparts in ASEAN, which is why many foreign teachers believed it would only be a momentary setback in the country’s fight against Covid-19.
Fast forward six months and foreign English teachers are all too used to opening the Zoom app on their computers and dealing with the myriad challenges that come with teaching online. Along with the difficulties of online learning, many foreign teachers have also had to deal with uncertainty surrounding finances, visas and the unpredictability of a pandemic.
Dominic Marshall, who teaches English to primary pupils at Olympia Schools in Nam Tu Liem, said: “It’s so strange to think that the last time I saw my pupils was before the Christmas holidays. Labor Day. During this time, teachers and students have done an amazing job adapting to online learning, but we are all desperate to get back to school as soon as possible.”
For many expats, teaching in a classroom is their first window into Vietnamese culture as they interact and connect with young students. International teachers may be afraid to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar environment when they set foot in a new country, but the classroom is an easy opportunity to form new relationships.
Scott Sanders came to Hanoi during the pandemic to work for the American International School of Hanoi and was confined to teaching only on his computer at home. He says: “Learning from home has been surreal. Teaching, at its best, is marked by dynamic interaction with a group of enthusiastic young students. , more difficult to inspire.
“Being new to Hanoi compounds the problem because I cannot rely on the pre-existing teacher-student rapport or my reputation within the school community to reinvigorate student engagement that will lead to productive classroom discourse; instead of that, I have to tediously build that trust from scratch using clunky online tools.”
I remember being overwhelmed by the chaos of Hanoi when I arrived in 2016, not being able to speak a word of the language and not being familiar with a new culture is a daunting prospect for most people. Despite this, the connection and bond formed with the students in the class created a comfort zone amidst the chaos. I sympathize with the foreign teachers who arrived in Vietnam during the pandemic, finished their quarantine and have yet to meet any of their new students in person.
Teachers teach English online at HCMC, February 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Ha
For many Western teachers, they long to return to the classroom and earn the reliable, stable income they were once used to. Meanwhile, they are sympathetic towards their Vietnamese neighbors who have suffered much greater financial difficulties during this year and many have at times felt a sense of helplessness towards them.
English teachers are increasingly optimistic about returning to class, with more than 80% of Hanoi’s adult population fully vaccinated and the Ministry of Health recently approved the vaccine for children aged 12-17. in the city.
However, some teachers are concerned about the logistics of reopening schools, as many safety measures may be adopted. The prospect of enforcing social distancing within the classroom, preventing schools from providing lunches and a combination of online/offline lessons could be disruptive for students.
Despite these concerns, most foreign teachers and parents agree that the many benefits of classroom learning are essential to student development.
Andrew Creek, who teaches at the American International School in Hanoi, says: “While online learning has been a necessary health and safety measure, I know most teachers did not expect school closures last that long. The hardest part is seeing how students struggle with the lack of meaningful socialization. We do our best, but simply put, there is no viable alternative or substitute for in-person learning in a classroom.
Ultimately, teachers overseas will welcome the return to the classroom with open arms, regardless of the measures in place. Like all the challenges and adaptation that have been necessary throughout this pandemic, we will continue to comply with the regulations and grateful for the opportunities and the way of life that Vietnam offers its teachers. English.
*Darren Barnard is an English teacher who has lived in Vietnam for three years.