Forward and into the Fray

Before I begin, I want to preface by saying that I am so very, very grateful to have a job during this pandemic. Many of my counterparts at other international and public schools in China found themselves at a loss without work or considerably slashed pay as the virus has raged on, and I’m very lucky my school listened as its staff banded together to fight and plead for our livelihood. 


Work the past few months has seen very few moments of joy. In fact, it’s been more of a mentally and emotionally draining slog. Man, remember when I was supposed to go back on February 13?! I can’t believe two months have flown by since my last post.  Online teaching has been running full course since then (Week 12!!!) despite many hiccups and complaints by Chinese students, parents, and Chinese and foreign staff. Weekly updates have kept me in a weirdly anxious, perpetual-seeming state of suspense. I’ve really come to  value the saying, “no news is good news.” 

I’m three weeks in now with being required to host “live”online classes. It was and still remains a messy ordeal: imagine, all of China logging in at once (along with their peers and teachers stranded across the globe) and trying to talk to each other. The connectivity problems are comical at this point. 

There’s no standardization or how-to guides on what materials are best suited to use. Every school seems to be doing their own thing. While my department uses Zoom, others use DingTalk (to the detriment of frustrated foriegn staff who don’t speak Chinese). 

One of the few days connection held for my Fundamental English class.

On a side note, I’ve really come to detest Zoom for long-distance learning. My seventh graders had such a hard time connecting to/hearing/seeing each other the first day that I called it off in favor of recording videos and holding an open forum for them to speak and take notes on Wechat since they’re my largest class.

My other two live classes on Zoom remain required, despite my complaints of having to waste precious time most days with interruptions from kids being bumped off Zoom (among numerous other issues). I do partially blame some connection problems on the fact that I’m across the ocean, but even teachers in-country are having issues, too.  

You say Good Night, I say Good Morning

“Live” teaching from afar has me and others stuck on the other side of the globe working through odd hours of the night. My whole sleep schedule has drastically shifted to accommodate these new hours. Let me tell you, waking up after 1pm does not feel good. Most days, it feels like I spend every waking hour stuck in a cycle of prepping, recording, grading – then frantically shoveling dinner in my face and chugging coffee or a rockstar to help be more upbeat and bubbly as the first adorable rounds of “Ah, gooda morning Missess Staph-nee” trickle in.

My classes, thankfully, start at 9pm my time – I know of others who start their classes at 11pm and one girl who has to teach at 2:30 in the morning!! I can’t say I blame her for being livid. I would be too, considering how utterly draining my Zoom sessions are.Thank goodness I had the prescience to bring some of my textbooks with me over break as some teachers can’t even get to theirs. I now regret complaining last month about just having to make and grade worksheets. What I’d give to go back to that!! 

“Do not stay up late.” Yeah, nice thought.

Now that China’s on its five-day Labor Day weekend, I FINALLY feel like I have a day to breathe before I try to catch up on grading assignments. It’s funny, in China “holidays” don’t really feel like free days as we’re required to work extra weekend days to make up the missing work days. A Chinese colleague explained to me that the “Chinese are just so hardworking, not lazy,” yet I can’t help feeling like this defeats the purpose of a holiday. I was initially worried, however, that we wouldn’t even get days off during this epidemic as the last national holiday, Tomb Sweeping Day, was disregarded, but thank goodness May labor holiday wasn’t. 

It’s hard to say what’ll happen these next few months. I’m on the verge of giving up hope of returning to Beijing to finish the semester out. No word yet on how midterms will go or what to do about our Visa and resident permit extensions, but there’s rumors floating about that China won’t let foreigners in until September or later. My guess is that they’ll gradually open the doors to people in countries that have Covid-19 contained.

As it stands, my ninth graders are set to go back to school on May 11th. It sounds like it’s going to be a lot of work making sure they stay away from each other and keep everything sanitized. I’m also nervous for them as our area in Beijing, Chaoyang, is supposedly the only remaining “high risk” area in China for the virus. If I had a kid, I would not want to risk it, but I hear some parents are desperate for their kids to go to school while others are opposed. All students and staff, though, are required to report in not only their temperature, but also that of anyone living with them for the next two weeks. If the return of the ninth graders goes smoothly, I expect they are hoping the rest of the students will follow. I’m a bit worried my schedule will have to shift even more, but what happens remains to be seen.

I owe a huge shout-out to my husband, Mark, for putting up with me during this crisis:

To man who has kept me fed and sane, 

You’ve had a lot on your plate these past few months, and somehow manage to always have a well of patience and hugs set aside for me. You have had to deal with our mangled sleep schedules because of my work hours (even though you tell me you work better at night anyways). You always seem to know when I need another cup of coffee or a word of encouragement and are not fazed by my bouts of exhausted crying that happen more and more frequently. You remind me repeatedly to take time for myself, and that staying in a town I don’t like isn’t so bad when it’s with someone you love. You make sure I’m fed and warm while my mind focuses on how best to explain complicated figurative passages to non-native English speakers. You brave the grocery store to make sure we’re stocked for the next two weeks. You gently tell me that everyone’s suffering and trying to do the best they can.

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you, but I’m forever grateful to have you in my life. 

❤ Love always, Steph

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