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What I've learned during lockdown

Author and teacher Fran Hill has found lockdown messy and a techno-challenge – but has learned a few things along the way ...

After 18 years in secondary school classrooms, I’m now self-employed. I tutor English privately, which earns me money, and I’m an author, which earns me valuable lessons in being content with what you have.

March 2020 saw me regularly inviting pupils into my house, pointing them to a desk, and subjecting them to face-to-face English.

Then lockdown began.

I had a choice. Master the technology for tutoring pupils online, or learn further lessons in contentment.

Lord, I begged. Take this cup from me. Lord, you know me and technology – if anything goes wrong, I’m all fingers and fingers and no thumbs and need to breathe into paper bags.

Was I the only person losing sleep over techno-fear? Reassuringly, no. Ex-colleagues in schools messaged me, babbling in panic about teaching six classes a day from home using Google Classroom with minimal training and two youngsters of their own to homeschool.  

Perspective always helps. I merely had to Zoom one pupil at a time and only the screenshare facility was likely to be uncooperative.

It’s July now, and I’ve limped along this new techno-tutoring path, losing documents, sound, visuals and dignity.

But, haven’t we all? Unless already expert in video conferencing and document-sharing, in which case I bet your phone hasn’t stopped ringing, haven’t we all limped along? 

I was interviewed by local BBC radio recently to chat about my latest book. I felt colly-wobbly beforehand. What if I messed up?

On the day, the presenter emailed a link. I clicked and received an error message. She tried again. A different error message. She phoned me, laughing, to explain. She was having to produce her own show. The day before, she’d had an hour’s training to learn the ropes.

She contacted someone for advice and tried again. This time, the link worked, and I realised, during the interview, that my nerves had fled. We even bantered.

I think we’d bonded over fear of failure.

It didn’t matter – that imperfect, messy start. I understood. Similarly, while I’ve faffed and fluffed many Zoom lessons, my pupils have been empathetic and patient. They’ve had their own learning curves to navigate, forced into embracing whatever online platforms their respective schools have chosen for setting, sending, receiving and assessing schoolwork. 

“They’re making me use email!” some have complained. “What’s email? That’s just for old people!”  

With my other hat on, I’ve checked into online literary festivals, Society of Authors webinars and Association of Christian Writers events as well as Zoom-chats with writer pals. Amidst the fumbling starts and the sudden disappearances from screen, the dodgy connections and the surprise disconnections, is a new tolerance of the imperfect. No one’s expecting slick any more. No one’s holding others to unrealistic expectations. Empathy abounds.  

We might laugh when someone flusters onto Zoom, saying, “I kept clicking, but nothing happened!” but we’re laughing with, not at.

Post lockdown, I think some of my pupils will opt to stick with online lessons, so I fear my Zoom-tutoring is here to stay.

I hope the empathy is, too. I still haven’t dared try screen-sharing a video.  

Fran Hill writes and teaches from her home in Warwickshire where she lives with her husband. She has three grown-up children and two grandchildren. Her new book ‘Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?’ is a funny and life-affirming memoir of a typical year in her life as an English teacher, during which it’s not just the pupils who misbehave. It’s available from SPCK Publishing and many online bookshops in paperback and e-book. Check Fran out at www.franhill.co.uk

Read our review of Fran's book here

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