This week, I’m chatting with Samira Bello. Samira is a teacher of a mixed-age class of 3 and 4-year-olds at International School of Prague. She’s been teaching online for the past five weeks since the Czech Republic announced a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. She expects to continue teaching online for the rest of the school year.
In our conversation, we discuss how Samira’s life has changed since the pandemic started. She shares her experience with young kids and their parents. We finish up with a discussion of hopes and Samira shares some encouragement for listeners.
Transcript of the Conversation
Conversation Between Damianne and Samira
Damianne: [00:00:00] Thank you for listening to this episode of Changes BIG and small. This is Damianne, your host as we explore what makes change exhilarating. Each week, I share research or interview guests to help us make changes in our own lives. This week. I’m interviewing Samira Bello. Samira is a teacher at International school of Prague. She teaches a mixed class of three and four year olds. Welcome Samira.
Samira: [00:00:34] Thank you, Damianne.
Damianne: [00:00:36] To get started, can you tell us where are you from?
Samira: [00:00:40] So I’m originally from Ghana. I was born in Ghana. I grew up in Ghana.
Damianne: [00:00:45] How long have you worked at International school of Prague?
Samira: [00:00:49] 10 years now. I’m beginning actually my 11th year next this summer probably.
Damianne: [00:00:54] Wow. Exciting. How are you feeling today?
Samira: [00:00:58] I feel exhausted because I’ve been looking on my screen from morning till now.
Damianne: [00:01:04] What keeps you on your screen all day?
Samira: [00:01:07] Because of the pandemic, I have to teach my kids online; teaching three-year-olds online. You have to be the silliest teacher in the world to keep them engaged.
Damianne: [00:01:18] What does a typical day look like for you during this pandemic?
Samira: [00:01:23] So on a typical day, I plan to keep to my routines. I wake up early, read my book, have a shower start class at nine, and I have the whole class. Then later, I have one on one with kids teaching them individually or in groups. Then after contact with the kids, I have to actually review their work to see the plans that I posted, kids that understand the exercises or the learning engagements that I put on there. So that’s what I do.
Damianne: [00:01:52] Where do you post this work?
Samira: [00:01:55] I send the lesson plan to them, through Google docs, but the kids post their work usually on Seesaw.
Damianne: [00:02:02] So for those who don’t know, Seesaw is an app which is available on Android and iOS, I believe, that allows kids to take photos and create recordings of themselves or items so that they can share and annotate their work that way. When did you start this online teaching?
Samira: [00:02:23] I’m in my fifth week right now and I was hoping that the second week of May we will be going back to school. But unfortunately, things doesn’t look that way. So I will do this until summer.
Damianne: [00:02:35] Wow. Five weeks. And what has that transition been like from going to school every day and having, how many students do you have?
Samira: [00:02:44] I have 16 right now.
Damianne: [00:02:47] So from being at school and interacting with 16 students, and also you would typically have a teacher assistant with you, to going into an online environment. How many kids typically participate in your online class when it’s the whole class?
Samira: [00:03:04] Since I have the whole class meet twice a day, the morning and read aloud, usually read aloud, I try to get everybody participating. That means you share what you like about the story or you share something, an experience you’ve had similar to the character. But during morning meetings, I think few kids participate.
Damianne: [00:03:23] So you have fewer kids participating in the morning than in the afternoon.
Samira: [00:03:27] Yeah.
Damianne: [00:03:28] From your perspective, what does this mean for parents? Are parents involved in the classes at all since you’re talking about three and four year olds who need some sort of monitoring, I guess?
Samira: [00:03:41] Definitely. I mean, our kids cannot learn online without the parents because they have to read all the things that we post and parents at the beginning with frazzled a little and were sending emails, wanting to talk to you, wanted to know more things. And we know parents as well as teachers can take care of kids, right? When it comes to teaching your own child, you need the skill, you need the balance to be a parent and also put on the teacher’s hat. So the parents were actually finding it, and some still do find it, difficult, even in this fifth week.
Damianne: [00:04:17] What’s been the most challenging thing for you in this transition?
Samira: [00:04:25] I think advising parents not to teach their children the traditional way. We use the Reggio approach, and so we want children to explore materials, explore the learning first, trying to convince them; that’s been really hard.
Damianne: [00:04:39] I guess people tend to teach in the way that they were taught unless they’ve had some training or to teach the things that they know, right? And so parents are in this position of having kids at home and doing what they think is best, which may be a bit contradictory or different than what you would typically do in your classroom. What about in your personal life? So you were teaching five days a week, and presumably on the weekends you would have a different type of life. How has this pandemic affected the other areas in your life?
Samira: [00:05:12] Actually, it has affected me tremendously because I am teaching and I’m also studying online, so I have to split between two screens, my teaching screen and then switch again to my study life. So teaching online, you have to gather materials, things that you teach kids in the classroom in five minutes, I have to create videos, edit the video before posting it. And all these things, it’s exhausting. It doesn’t even give me a chance to, to even go out on the weekends to do things that I love doing, running or meeting friends. So it’s been really hard balancing these two balls together.
Damianne: [00:05:51] You mentioned meeting friends on the weekend. How are things in Prague, in terms of social isolation?
Samira: [00:05:56] You can meet meet a friend; if you are in two, it’s okay. They just lifted the ban, how people can group, not groups more than five though. So I was thinking just going for a walk with a friend and keep the distance of two meters away, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Damianne: [00:06:13] It sounds like this is possibly a very stressful time or it could be a very stressful time. The transition from teaching face to face to teaching online has created extra work and extra challenges? Are there any upsides to the this pandemic or to how your life has changed during this pandemic?
Samira: [00:06:37] I will say I’m getting more sleep than I usually do cause I don’t have to travel to work. I can wake up as late as possible and start class. And it’s also helped me to learn a lot of skills. Using computer skills or any technological skills, meeting all the kids online, like the Zoom meetings that I have for the kids has also been an it positive thing for me. And cooking actually, cooking every day. Oh, I’m glad I can cook for myself now and not just eat some crackers or cheese and yogurt and survive on those.
Damianne: [00:07:14] That’s an interesting thing because you mentioned how exhausted you are, but you also mentioned that you have more time for cooking and sleeping. Could you describe what this exhaustion is?
Samira: [00:07:26] I think the exhaustion is from looking on the screen all the time and not turning away. Sometimes I have headaches and I still have to continue because I need to post these plans before the next day, and even if I take a break from my work screen, I have to reply to friends on WhatsApp. I’m switching from one screen to another screen and there’s no breaks. The only break I have is taking a paper book.
Damianne: [00:07:53] What’s your hope for the changes that you will have experienced or that your kids from your classroom will have experienced when we’ve gone through this time.
Samira: [00:08:05] My hope is that they’ll understand humanity better because they keep talking about it and asking why. Yeah, three and four year olds, they don’t even understand why we can’t meet. They think you should come to their home, even for play dates and stuff. So I’m hoping that they will understand humanity and the social consequences that occurs on humans if we don’t follow the right rules or directions.
Damianne: [00:08:31] Now let’s go to the future. Let’s travel 10 years from now. When you think back at this time, what do you hope will have changed? What do you hope you remember?
Samira: [00:08:45] I’ll remember talking to little kids online, which I thought it was impossible for them to even sit still and listen. And I thought I’ll see bellies or I’ll see kids rolling up and down, but not yet. So that’s something I will look at and appreciate and I also will look back and appreciate the time that they missed each other and they wanted to talk. When we come together, the kids just want to talk to each other and show them what they’ve been doing. That shows that the relationship we created at school still exist within them. I’m hoping that they keep that till 10 years ago, if they meet each other. Okay.
Damianne: [00:09:25] And for you on a personal level?
Samira: [00:09:27] On my personal level, 10 years. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe to be extra careful or to plan, learn more tech skills. So then when situations like this happen, I will be able to juggle.
Damianne: [00:09:43] Have you found any ways to help people or to connect with people online?
Samira: [00:09:51] Yeah, actually it’s been great getting in touch with friends all over the world. I’m able to encourage friends. I’ll call them and ask them how they are, and I’ve noticed that some of the friends just want to talk because they’re isolated and they don’t have friends to hang out with. Honestly, I’m a gregarious person, so I, I don’t know even know how I’m surviving with this.
Damianne: [00:10:16] How do you think you dealing with this time? Are you feeling okay mentally, physically, spiritually? And what has helped you to be where you are?
Samira: [00:10:27] I’m trying to keep my routines as much as possible to bring some sanity into my life. And I’m a runner, so I run and I don’t like wearing mask running, so I have to wake up 5:00 AM and go running. And I feel that that has actually helped me a lot to stay sane in this insane circumstances. Spiritually, I meet with my spiritual group and we chat and we talk and we discuss about spiritual uplifting stuff as well. But to be honest, I should tell you before switching from classroom to virtual learning, I went to my classroom and I didn’t even know what to pick and bring back home. And sometimes I have to improvise the materials and it takes forever doing that. So it’s been a big learning curve for me. How to use multiple objects or things as teaching material. And improvisation has been a new skill that I’ve learned.
Damianne: [00:11:28] In the midst of all of these challenges, you can still find glimmers of exciting things happening, in terms of the things that you’re learning or the changes that you’re able to make within your teaching as well. You mentioned that you’ve been cooking quite a bit during this time and you seem to be excited about it. Can you share some of the process you’ve followed for cooking?
Samira: [00:11:52] Yeah, so the first week when the lockdown was announced in Prague, I was so frazzled that I couldn’t even go shopping and the whole two weeks I was staying at home and cooking things from my storage, from my fridge, and I didn’t know that you can cook good stuff from those things, from your storage and your fridge. I made amazing recipes and I’m writing them down. In future, I’m going to follow the same steps.
Damianne: [00:12:20] Can you share one of your favorite things that you made during that time with us?
Samira: [00:12:25] Okay. So once I had beetroot and carrot and I had feta cheese in the fridge and I had quinoa in my storage. I fancied pasta, but I had no pasta or anything, rice. I cooked my quinoa, I cooked my beetroot and carrot, no salt. I ran out of salt. No onion, no tomato. I just put on my feta cheese and it tasted right. I’m going to cook that again.
Damianne: [00:12:54] That’s great. As we end our conversation today, you did mention that you’ve been reading some paper books. Do you have any book recommendations?
Samira: [00:13:06] It’s a very old book. I’m a reading an Agatha Christie book. It’s over 50 stories in the book, and it’s those kind of stories that you want to read and you don’t sleep at night and that’s great.
Damianne: [00:13:24] It sounds like you’re reading things for fun.
Samira: [00:13:26] Yeah.
Damianne: [00:13:27] Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me today as we end our conversation. Is there anything else you would like to add.
Samira: [00:13:35] I want to tell everybody, if you are single and young, don’t let this isolation make you feel sad. Find opportunities to make this bright. If you are a teacher, you can do it. Everybody can do it. And if you are a mother, you’re struggling, it’s okay. Do your best as you can and leave the rest up to nature… .
Damianne: [00:13:59] God or whatever you believe in. Thank you for those beautiful words to end. Have a nice day.
Samira: [00:14:06] Thank you for having me.
Damianne: [00:14:10] This is the first in a series of episodes where I will be interviewing people to find out what the experience is during the time of the current virus pandemic. I hope that you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode with Samira. Please share this episode or any of the past ones you enjoyed listening to on Changes BIG and small. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and access show notes for this episode and all other episodes at changesbigandsmall.com. As always, remember that change begins with one small step. Have a great day. Everyone.