When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, most of the nation’s teachers faced a challenge they’d never encountered before: teaching through a major crisis. That’s not true for teachers around the world, however.
“There are teachers from other parts of the world who have not only been teaching through the current pandemic but who also have taught in other emergency and crisis situations, such as epidemics, areas in conflict, refugee settings, and natural disasters,” said Elisheva Cohen, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for the Study of Global Change at IU Bloomington.
Cohen’s area of expertise is education in emergencies. In summer 2020, colleagues from the Title VI National Resource Centers at IU’s Hamilton-Lugar School of International Studies contacted Cohen about connecting with international teachers who could share their expertise and experiences with U.S. peers. Title VI centers are designated by the U.S. Department of Education to foster international education.
Partnering with the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, Cohen and her HLS colleagues developed a four-part webinar series called “Teaching in Times of Crisis: Learning from Educators Around the World”. Each two-hour webinar focused on a theme: teaching through the lockdown, teacher well-being and self-care, how teachers can support their students, and returning to the classroom to teach during the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
The overall goal, Cohen says, was to give U.S. teachers concrete ideas and strategies for how to navigate the challenges of educating through an emergency, but also to show the teachers they were not alone.
“The teachers attending definitely felt some global connectedness,” Cohen says. “They spoke about a sense of solidarity and the comfort of hearing experiences from other than U.S. colleagues.”
Some of the experiences described were quite moving, Cohen notes. For example, a teacher from Kenya described how she visited her students, walking from home to home to do literacy work with them. A secondary teacher from New Zealand described how nervous and scared her students were on returning to the classroom after the coronavirus shutdown, and the additional social-emotional work she needed to do with her students as a result.
Not only did the webinar series build a global network for the U.S. teachers involved, it also spurred a new area of research for Cohen. In addition to a research project interviewing U.S. elementary schoolteachers about their experiences with remote learning, Cohen is now starting to explore how more teachers can build global community.
“What we’re seeing in the broader field of education in emergencies, in academics and in practice, is a breakdown of barriers between global North and global South,” Cohen says. “People are starting to recognize that emergencies happen in the U.S. too. So what does that mean?”
Cohen and her colleagues hope to expand the Teaching in Times of Crisis webinar series during fall 2020. Videos of the summer 2020 webinar series are available on YouTube.