When I was told to conduct online classes for my students, I was taken aback. As a person who has a shy personality and someone who always avoided video calls or video conferences through all means in the past, this announcement felt like a cruel bombshell. Due to my anxious temperament or irritable bowel syndrome, I always experience bouts of diarrhea during challenging times. On normal schooling days, I always have minor diarrhea before heading to work. This has turned into my normal routine that doesn’t cause much frustration. I have been telling myself that at least, my body is doing its work after each of my food intake. Secretly, I prefer diarrhea to constipation. This brings back memories of my first few weeks in UTAR as a tutor who was already handling lecture classes. Yes, I used to have diarrhea before almost every lecture class. Thankfully, my stage fright has diminished considerably over the years despite the fact that my public speaking skills still need polishing.
In the first few weeks of online teaching, my regular bouts of diarrhea had intensified with me visiting the bathroom a few times before each class. Thankfully, I was on time for my classes as I make it a point to wake up earlier and have some time to calm down before each class, be it as a teacher or just a meeting host.
After a few classes, I can feel that my anxiety has dropped down and I feel easier in coping emotionally with all the classes. At first, I felt that I needed so much energy to pull myself together for each online teaching session. Though I was always available for my online teaching role, it felt like a great mental test. Counting down to the last day of Movement Control Order, deep down in my heart, I hope that all this shall pass soon. I’m happy to tell that now, online teaching feels more natural for me. I guess I am forming my new habits in adapting to this nationwide lockdown.
Due to the physical distance in conducting online classes, I have unknowingly trained to be more expressive in terms of facial expressions, intonation and gestures, which I wasn’t good at previously. In my face-to-face classes on normal schooling days, I have the privilege of being nearby to catch their attention either through words , music or physical touch, assistance from other teachers, a whiteboard to pen on, attractive flashcards, a helpful radio or video projector, class activities, role-play, hands-on artwork sessions and others. Now, my teaching is limited within a Zoom meeting room with whatever functions it has. That’s why I have no choice but to be as expressive as possible while showing my face to the kids online.
I am deeply grateful for the gurus who have crossed my path and taught me these face-to-face communication skills. Despite scoring high marks for these related test papers or assignments, I was always hesitant to put this knowledge into practice. There was a time when I received accolades for my impromptu speech about Facebook and also an informational speech that featured Justine Bieber’s poster by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Yet, when we were given a second chance to speak publicly again, I was sneaking away stealthily for a hidden seat among the crowd, praying that my name wouldn’t be called. And despite having the chance to teach public speaking and negotiation, the knowledge was still stifled to a certain extent due to my adamancy to stay within my comfort zone when it was time for socializing or having meaningful talks.
From my experience of online teaching during this Movement Control Order, I have learned that communication is a form of beautiful arts. It’s not about saying what you would like to share, but also packaging your content in a way that suits your audience. In my case, my audience is made up of young kids, so I have to use simpler English, repetition, pictures, analogies, verbal prompts, paraphrasing and others to make them understand. This has taught me to be humble by learning from the kids what they would like to tell and if they understand my message. I keep reminding myself to listen attentively and try to see the world from their eyes. These principles that I have learned from online teaching are certainly helpful for my communication with any human being.
I hope that I can be a better communicator after this pandemic. Not only within the context of teaching, but also other formal or informal contexts. Recently, I have seen people discussing how this lockdown has spurred introverts to wish for a self-transformation inclining towards extroversion. I guess this is happening to me right now.
Now, I feel that the closest distance is not measured physically but the depth of shared understanding. Sometimes, we are just side by side but our distance is as far as the planet Venus and there isn’t much happiness and contentment in our human relationship. All this boils down to our arts of communication. It’s time to edit our script and turn to a gentler voice. The entirety of communication skills is certainly not coverable in just this blog post of mine, it requires countless lessons and immense practice. Regardless of the stage fright, it’s a good start.
Despite me lecturing to you about the importance of communication skills at length here, I am actually struggling a lot in conversing, even in daily contexts. Till now, I still feel very intimidated to share my mental health struggles, feelings, beliefs, opinions, suggestions…, unless being asked to repetitively or formally. I still have strong feeling of fear when it comes to sharing my blog write-ups with others.
As an ordinary writer, I do hope to have people reading my work, even just a few of them. I, as a human being, do hope to be understood and accepted through my writing. As seen obviously, I am pretty much a person who breathes with words. I hardly find contentment in human relationship due to my “sick” persona so I always turn my focus and energy towards my academic life and career which are my substituting sources of contentment. Luckily, I do always find such contentment to sustain me till now. Having been always moving on to the next friendship and the next without really keeping many long term contacts, I start to see the imbalance in my social life. Yes, I have grown into a cactus that requires minimal social contacts for recharging after each episode of hard work. I still feel that I need to slowly break out of the “self-protective shell” as humans are social beings. Indeed, my blog traffic is comforting but learning how to function socially out of the cyberspace is also important. I do long for real life human connection. It feels unsafe, but I allow myself unlimited time with no self-imposed expectations but the willingness and effort in opening up to my true self when the environment is conducive.
#Today, I feel a bit lethargic. Despite the occasional mess-ups with my body clock due to me taking my anti-psychotics at irregular timings, I still feel a sense of purpose and meaning during this movement control order. The last weeks were very hectic compared to my usual days due to Zoom meetings. Now that our school schedule has been simplified for our personal flexibility in making continuous self-growth and family time possible, I should have better adaptability.