Getting back into the classroom after Covid-19

With many TEFL teachers still teaching English online due to Covid-19, some parts of the world are already cautiously moving back into the classroom. In Vietnam, where Fouad Lakbir, a full-time ESL teacher at IH Apollo English in Ho Chi Minh City, is based, normality is slowly resuming and teachers and students are returning to the classroom.

We asked Fouad about his experience during lockdown, how it felt to go back to school and what measures are now introduced to keep students, teachers and school staff safe.

When did you go back to school?

I remember when our manager broke the news to us that classes would be resumed. I gave a big sigh given the pressure we were under during the lockdown and the school closure and the quick transition to online teaching. We went back to school on the 6th of May.  

How did it feel going back? 

It was a deep sigh of relief going back to that beautiful human interaction that often impacts the lives of both teachers and students in many positive ways. Many of my colleagues started to gradually regain the normal rhythm of their personal and professional life. The government, along with the ministry of education, have put precautionary measures in all schools and public places to ensure that people are safe. Even if it was not a complete back-to-normal so to speak, people still feel the positive impact the re-opening of public places on their lives. 

Do you feel everything has gone back to normal in your country? And in your teaching class?

Well, I think here in Vietnam everything is back normal. Schools, malls, parks, restaurants, coffee shops have all got back to normal. Yet, all people are called upon here to carry on taking the same safety measures such as wearing face masks, using hand sanitisers, checking their temperature in all public places, filling in information about their health on a government website, and other measures. Thanks to the relentless and joint efforts of the Vietnamese government with all its ministries, Vietnam has not reported any cases at this moment. 

What precautions did you have to take as a teacher? And your students?

Given the gravity of the situation, our school has taken all the necessary safety measures to make a safe come-back for our students. We keep a distance between students. They sit 1 metre away from each other, no physical contact, no hi-fives with each other or the teacher, their temperature is checked on a daily basis, masks are given out, hand-sanitisers have been put in each class, and Covid-19 preventive measures signs are in every class to constantly remind students and teachers to stay safe.

It is a well-deserved victory and a hard won battle that Vietnam has gone into to keep its citizens safe. First, we re-opened primary, secondary and IELTS classes, and later on kindergarten students were given the go-ahead to get back to their classes. It was a gradual re-opening plan which has successfully and effectively been implemented nation-wide. 

What advice would you like to give to teachers who are about to or will shortly go back to teaching face-to-face?

Hope springs eternal as the saying goes. No matter how long this lasts, its end depends on all of us. I would say that here in Vietnam, people believed that the situation would be worse because of the geographical proximity between Vietnam and China, but guess what? It all came to an end.

Stay strong, stay safe, and get ready to get back to normal. I choose to look at the sunny side of every situation, and the pandemic is no exception. It's a fact that the pandemic has affected people's and teachers' lives, but in my context, I prefer to see it as a blessing in disguise. I learned new skills, experimented with new tools and platforms, and finished two IH Online Teacher Training Institute online courses. It was not that bad after all.

The advice I want to pass on is: stay positive, keep your spirits up, and remember 'prevention is better than cure'. 

What do you think is the most valuable lesson this lockdown has taught you as a teacher? 

Actually, as I mentioned above, for me it was not a bad experience. The lockdown has taught me to not fall into the trap of despair or hopelessness. I stayed positive all the way through until the victory against the pandemic was announced in Vietnam. It's taught me that no matter what, life goes on, and the hands of time are ticking forward. I used my time productively during the lockdown. It's taught me to adapt to any situation, and I managed to quickly adapt to the transitioning from face-to-face to online classes. I think the most valuable lesson I have learned is to be ready to adapt to change. 

Is there anything else you would like to tell your colleagues around the world?

No matter how enormous the damage the pandemic has done, it will never match the loss of a human life. Stay safe.