Throughout the history of society, the teacher has been considered a knowledgeable person, a role model and the backbone of society by providing the power of education to apprentices or students from all around the world. The role of the teacher is relevant because they prepare generations for the future, they mold students by providing skills and knowledge that will bring learning to life, allowing humanity to develop and evolve cognitively which has allowed countries to also develop socially and emotionally.
For centuries, teachers were highly regarded, and parents trusted their wisdom to educate their children. In our modern society, teachers have become facilitators and most parents enjoy collaborating with their children’s teachers. This collaboration ensures students receive the best education possible, by working as a team around the child.
This partnership promotes the development of the whole person by addressing the emotional, social, ethical and academic needs of students in a comprehensive way that will allow them to develop 21st century skills, soft skills, empathy, compassion, and all aspects deemed necessary to form a human holistically.
As in any situation, crisis also brings opportunity. One of the positive aspects of the pandemic is that it redefined the role of the teacher – and technology – in a world experiencing lockdown. The complex role of teachers is highly appreciated and seen as a skilled and essential job by a large majority of the world’s population. And rightly so, as teachers are the most relevant aspect of student learning.
Schools, teachers and parents needed to quickly adapt and be flexible and creative to dive in uncharted waters; to switch from learning in school to learning online. Schools realised the essential role of teachers and supported them to work online with tech equipment and training, because they became the new school from home. Even when private international schools in Mexico and Latin America were experiencing economic strain, most schools focused on prioritising human value. Schools developed strategies to maintain their staff without reducing salaries, and financial plans to protect and support families.
Both families and educational professionals also realised how much being together in school was something we took for granted. In Mexico, schools were closed for 18 months. We have accomplished a lot in these months, and we are still working on closing the gaps caused by three disrupted school years.
Worldwide, schools and education professionals have learned what was essential for our students and how flexible, adaptable and resilient we could be. We have learned that humans need to develop social-emotional skills to survive and be healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally, not only learn core academics.
Education is so much more than just learning academic concepts. Schools and teachers not only offer academic knowledge, but they also have a relevant role in their students’ social and emotional development by listening attentively to them, comforting them, mentoring them and offering selfless guidance to form students with principles, character and responsibility so that they are productive and ethical global citizens.
Children develop healthy social-emotional skills from positive and nurturing role models and these skills help students accept and adapt to any challenges, risks or threats. In Mexico and Latin American countries, the culture is nurturing, caring, social and openly affectionate. During the pandemic we realised that it was extremely important for teachers to promote and fortify bonds with their students, to help them cope with being confined and limited from socialising. Now more than ever, across the globe, social and emotional skills have been given the same relevance as academics, because they are vital for human development.
Adaptability and resilience have become survival tools in the pandemic context, and this is why educators need to integrate social and emotional learning into the curriculum as a daily practise. We need to focus much more on how students are feeling and how we can connect emotionally, in school and online. It is essential to keep focus on social-emotional skills and student health, to build a sense of community, be responsible for yourself and others, and to promote student autonomy and learning skills.
As well as redefining the teacher’s role as an essential professional, humanity placed technology for education at another level. Several platforms allowed the continuity of education, from one day to another, during online learning and substituted the traditional classroom. We have learned to switch from the physical classroom to the virtual one, back and forth, and it has now become a part of our practise as educators, in Mexico, Latin America and the world.
It has become clear, however, that technology can never replace teachers. Technology is meant to support schools, teachers, and students. We need to continue providing tech training for all educators, high-stakes testing, and change evaluation models. In the future, there will be an increase in different models of learning, which educators need to learn and address. In addition, there will also be an increase in digital education materials that schools need to provide.
For the past months, educators have learned and collected important data to better handle a crisis in the future. We learned that Preschool and Kindergarten students have the hardest challenge regarding online learning, because their development is affected by lack of play and activities to develop motor, language, social, reading and writing skills; nonetheless, we observed that these young students, as well as Primary students, developed self-help skills and a sense of autonomy. We also observed that students need more choice in Secondary and High School for how they learn, and many schools explored the possibility of online global learning platforms, which allow for increased student choice. Of course, these students still need supervision and guidance, but they are old enough to know what works best for them and how they learn.
International schools across the world learned that, regardless of the grade level, some students loved online learning and some students desperately needed in-person education. Online students and teachers have found comforting the possibility to join class from different settings and we have seen schools allowing for more mobility. Students and teachers can move around to different cities or countries and still have a classroom community.
Overall, the pandemic crisis has opened a window to re-think the future of education. Evidently, online learning will continue to be part of the process, and this will lead us to discuss new educational methodologies. As mentioned before, technology can never replace human contact, but we can foresee that the regular classroom in most private schools in developing countries will have more tech resources. In these countries, it will be necessary to promote the creation of public policies so that public schools can also have access to resources and technology. It seems that college education has already started a transformation and students are starting to opt for online higher education.
Without a doubt, the Covid crisis has revolutionised the educational system and we will see its effects in the near future.
About the Author:
Monica Almanza was born in Mexico City and lived her early years in New York, USA. She has worked in the world of education since she was 18 years old, when she taught a group of children after school. Since she was a young girl, she discovered that her calling and mission was teaching, sharing with her disabled brother everything she learned at school. She has a BA in Preschool Education and a BA in Law, and she studied MA programmes in Law and Bioethics, and in Special Education. After experiencing teaching in K1-G12, she concluded that her passion was in Early Childhood education. She has worked in international schools in Mexico City, as a Class Teacher and in various leadership positions. She currently holds the positions of Director of Kindergarten at Winpenny School Mexico City, where she has worked for 8 years. Monica conducts herself with a high level of commitment, ethics, confidentiality, and a genuine interest in ensuring the well-being of her students, parents, and teachers.