When schools closed in February 2020, I definitely didn’t think that I'd still be teaching remotely one year later.
Yet this is mine and every teachers’ reality here in Kuwait – although it should be noted that schools catering for SEND students opened in December 2020 for those who wish to attend in person.
But for the rest of us the anniversary is fast approaching.
Coronavirus: Rapid action to close schools
Kuwait was the first country in the region to close schools and implement strict safety measures, such as airport closure and a lockdown, as a rapid response to curtailing the spread of coronavirus.
This action undoubtedly saved many lives and is to be applauded.
But that does not mean it hasn't been hard.
After all, moving abroad is a challenging experience at all times, but to live through these restrictions in a new country, with a young family, six months into my first ever stint as an international teacher, was something else.
I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy.
It is a challenge to keep even the most ardent of learners engaged for such a long time. Their school has been whittled down from a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem of learning to a cold, lifeless computer screen for months on end.
There are many wonderful and interactive edtech options available to change things up, but they cannot replicate the classroom environment. A teacher can gauge learning so much better when in the same room as the students.
A frown from a student will tell me that they don’t get it and, likewise, their face lighting up tells me they did; these student idiosyncrasies are difficult to pick up when teaching online.
But the uncertainty that came with the pandemic meant schools had to quickly adapt to the introduction and use of online platforms.
Getting to grips with online learning
ICT for learning was far from commonplace in pre-Covid-19 Kuwait, so credit to the amazing work by teachers and schools to train and self-teach in the use of online applications.
There was not much guidance and good practice out there for how to effectively deliver online lessons, so I started with prerecorded lessons, thinking that it would be a polished delivery of subject content.
However, I quickly realised that trying to perfect the prerecorded "lesson" meant I moved away from what made me the teacher I am to more of a public service announcer.
Moving to live lessons meant interaction was possible to allow a shift in gear or a diversion from the lesson, depending on student understanding. But, most importantly, teacher-student relationships could be maintained; normality in abnormal times.
Back to my old job
Despite these positives, though, it is hard for me not to find all this computer-based work somewhat ironic, as I was adamant I would avoid an office-based career and just watch the world go by.
Before moving into teaching, I used to manufacture viral vectors for gene therapy – growing cells and purifying the medicinal product to be safe for injection – an area of work where I made an immediate and powerful impact to lives, something teachers do on a daily basis.
The irony is that part of the job required me to mask up and don a boiler suit.
Now I find myself alone in my classroom with limited interaction with fellow teachers or pupils, screen fatigue and snapping at my mask every time I hear footsteps.
If you find yourself in this same situation, I recommend you get yourself a ball to throw and kick around periodically during the school day or recreate Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic music video (just ensure you stop recording and turn off the webcam).
But whatever your respite from the world of remote teaching and lockdown life, the most important thing is that we teachers are showing up and still teaching.
One thing we’ve all seen and read about this year is the tremendous amount of resilience demonstrated by teachers all over the world. Whether we are asked to teach online-only, a form of hybrid learning or in-person, we are always ready to answer the call.
But we hope and pray not to be in this situation next year.
Dr Naqash Raja is a Chemistry Teacher in Kuwait. He tweets @DrNaqashRaja