The Year Teaching and Learning Changed

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The work-from-home situation has lasted more than a year. During the pandemic, almost everything has been moved online, including education. This has been especially challenging for ESL education. We teachers needed to quickly learn technology and adapt it to meet our students’ needs. Our students have had to deal with technical issues in the language they are learning. But, at the end of the day, we all managed, and managed well! Here are a few lessons from my year-at-home.

Fears Are Okay

I started a new class last September and finished it at the end of June. I never actually met my students in person. Over the course of ten months, I cried and had meltdowns many times. I was scared because I thought I couldn’t handle the technology, the challenges, and the students. The amount of stress was just unbearable. Then, things started changing in a good way. I realized that thoughts create feelings. All the negative thoughts I had since the beginning had been giving me all sorts of negative feelings, and fear was one of them. I decided to talk to my students about our fears concerning online learning. That was inspiring. We all discovered that fear exists regardless of where you are and what language you speak. Once we were open with each other and able to communicate, our fears gradually disappeared, and we felt better. I think this is what exactly David Hawkins says in his book (2018).

“We all derive great benefit from liberating ourselves out of a fearful inhibition into successful functioning, because that learning process automatically spills over into many other areas of our life. We become more capable, freer and happier and with that, there is an inner peace of mind.”

Challenges Push Us to Move Forward

There were challenges for both me and my students. As a teacher, I learned not only how to use all kinds of online tools, but also how to translate this knowledge into simple procedures so that my students could understand how to use the technology. My students not only dealt with learning a language, but also with the “online stuff”. I kept reminding myself that some of my students might have never used email, Google or any other “online stuff” before they came to Canada. During the learning process, we all often felt frustrated. However, the students went from not being able to log into their Google Classroom, Google Meet and Google Forms to now being able to help show newly enrolled students how to use those tools. At the end of the term, a few students told me that they have learned a lot from the challenges they had had. They told me: “Teacher, challenges good. I don’t know. I ask. Then I know. And I learn.” And this is what exactly I should tell myself: Challenges push all of us moving forward.

It has been a tough, yet a fulfilling year for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, a teacher, a manager, a volunteer or anyone, the fear, stress, and challenges are the same. We all had down times, but now we are rising. We learn from our mistakes and move forward. This is a year that changed education forever. We are all adapting, and we have managed it. What I have learned from the year of the pandemic is that fear is ok. We can acknowledge its existence and let go of it. Challenges are stressful but are not a bad thing to have. They push us to learn more and grow faster and better. This is a year that changed everything.

What lessons have you learned from teaching during the pandemic?


Hawkins, D. R. (2018). In Letting go: the pathway of surrender. essay, Hay House, Inc.

Hello, my name is Bei Zhang. I am delighted to be part of the team to share my ideas and experience. I am currently working at Huron University College as an English Language Learning specialist. My job there is to help international students with their academic English language skills. I also teach ESL and LINC at Thames Valley District School Board, and ESL at London Language Institute, a private language school in London. I graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in Education Studies from Western University, focused on applied linguistics and teacher education. I also have a background in human resources management. I hope that my unique perspective of teaching ESL in different educational systems can benefit the TESL Ontario Blog and our members.


3 thoughts on “The Year Teaching and Learning Changed”

  1. Being fully online for over an entire school “year” has certainly had its challenges as well as its opportunities. I think you’ve had the right attitude – which is to be flexible and to keep on going, even when the going is tough. Last year we were “building the airplane in mid-flight” (or something like that).

    This year it’s time to step back. Reflect. Let’s not toss the virtual bathwater yet, even if we’re heading back to in-person classrooms. How can we take the technology that we’ve been using (and learning) and continue to use it to enhance the learning experience? What skills can we help our learners to develop that will get them the knowledge, skills and abilities that they need in order to be successful in the Canadian job market? We know that this needs to include virtual skills. We know it needs to be more than an hour or two in an antiquated computer lab that still has CD-ROMs.

    We also learned how incredibly important it is to support our teachers. And last, but certainly not least, we’ve learned that even in the Zoom meetings, pants are not optional…

  2. Thank you Bei for sharing your honest feelings about your online teaching experience this past school year. I love how you articulate the way you and your students have grown from the challenges your faced together. Bravo!

    I appreciate Jenn’s comments also. It will be great to use what we’ve learned about teaching online and incorporate improved use of technology into the physical classroom.

  3. Bei, your article honours educators’ resilience, despite our fears over the course of the pandemic. I appreciate you acknowledging your own personal struggles because it normalizes the fact that it has been difficult…difficult for students and teachers. I like that you openly discussed this with your students. Silencing fears is unhealthy. Thank you!

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