English teachers longing to return to the classroom

November 16, 2021 | 10:23 pm PT
Darren Barnard Teacher
7 a.m. The alarm rings and I drag myself over to my cafetière to inject the much-needed caffeine into my system to prepare for the chaotic morning traffic. Upon entering the school playground, I am greeted by the infectious energy of lively students rushing to the classroom and screaming "hello teacher" at the top of their lungs.

Succeeded by the students participating in a range of interactive activities that help improve their English, with a grin big enough to brighten anyone's day. This was all part of the daily ritual that myself and 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 déjà vu as I read the email from my company confirming that schools in Hanoi will be closed following the public holiday. Despite the bad news, there was cause for optimism due to Vietnam's remarkable response to the pandemic up to that point. Cases and deaths were significantly lower than Vietnam's ASEAN counterparts, therefore many foreign teachers believed this would be merely a momentary blip in the country's fight against Covid-19.

Fast forward six months and foreign English teachers are all-too familiar with opening the Zoom app on their computers and coping with the multitude of challenges that come with teaching online. In addition to the difficulties of online learning, many foreign teachers have also had to cope with uncertainty surrounding finances, visas and the unpredictable nature of a pandemic.

Dominic Marshall, who teaches English to primary school students at The Olympia Schools in Nam Tu Liem, said: "It's so strange to think that the last time I saw my students was before the Labor Day holiday. 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 expatriates, teaching in a classroom is their first window into Vietnamese culture as they interact and connect with young students. International teachers may be anxious about immersing themselves in an unfamiliar environment when they first step foot in a new country, however 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 in Hanoi and has been confined to only teaching on his computer at home. He states: "Home learning has been surreal. Teaching, at its best, is marked by a dynamic interaction with a group of eager young students. Online learning make these moments less organic and, subsequently, more difficult to inspire.

"Being new to Hanoi compounds the problem because I can't rely on pre-existing teacher-student rapport or my reputation within the school community to jumpstart student buy-in that will lead to productive classroom discourse; instead, I have to tediously build that trust from scratch using clumsy online tools."

I recall being overwhelmed by the chaos of Hanoi when I first arrived in 2016, not being able to speak a word of the language and being unfamiliar with a new culture is a daunting prospect for most people. Despite this, the connection and bond formed with the students in the classroom created a comfort zone in the midst of the mayhem. I sympathize with foreign teachers who arrived in Vietnam during the pandemic, finished their quarantine and are still yet to meet any of their new students in person.

Teachers teach English online in HCMC, February 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Ha

Teachers teach English online in HCMC, February 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Ha

For many western teachers they are craving returning to the classroom and earning a reliable, stable income that they were previously used to. Meanwhile, they are sympathetic towards their Vietnamese neighbors who have suffered much greater financial hardship over the course of this year and many have felt a sense of helplessness towards them at times.

English teachers are becoming more optimistic about the return to the classroom, with over 80 percent of Hanoi’s adult population fully vaccinated and the Ministry of Health recently approving the vaccine for children aged 12-17 within the city.

Although, some teachers are concerned about the logistics of schools reopening with many safety measures possibly being adopted. The prospect of enforcing social distancing within the classroom, preventing schools from providing lunches and a combination of online/offline classes could be disruptive for the students.

Despite these concerns, most foreign teachers and parents are in agreement that the numerous benefits of learning in the classroom are critical for student's development.

Andrew Creek, who teaches at the American International School in Hanoi, states: "While learning online has been a necessary health and safety measure, I know that most teachers never expected school closures to last as long as they have. The most difficult thing is seeing how students struggle with the lack of genuine socialization. We do the best we can but simply put, there is no viable alternative or substitute for in-person learning in a classroom."

Ultimately, foreign teachers will welcome returning to the classroom with open arms, regardless of the measures that may be in place. Similarly to all the challenges and adapting that has been required throughout this pandemic, we will continue to comply with regulations and thankful for the opportunities and the way of life that Vietnam offers its English teachers.

*Darren Barnard is an English teacher who has lived in Vietnam for three years.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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