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Student Connection Through Isolation by Bethany Clarke

Our Secondary Drama teacher Mrs Clarke reflects on how it is to teach during a pandemic in this article, originally published in BritCham's Orient Magazine, Issue 80, February 2021. 

Bethany Clarke Mrs Bethany Clarke, Secondary Drama teacher

As a Drama teacher, the ability to connect with others is the heart of my subject. So, when the world went into lockdown, one of my biggest concerns for our pupils was the potential impact on their social wellbeing. My worries were shared worldwide, from teachers and parents alike, as we pictured generations of children emerging from behind their screens, forever destined to be hunched over and glassy eyed, fingers locked in front of them, craving the connection to a keyboard rather than their classmates.

The moment I stepped back into my studio, I realised how misplaced my anxiety had been. While it did take a while for students to settle into the uncanny routines dictated by social distancing, the impact on their empathic abilities was undeniable. In quiet moments – a nod, a smile, or a simple question prompting their classmate, who seemed upset or quiet that day - were twinkles of real understanding and kindness. In small group rehearsals, students ensured that every member felt included and encouraged to share their ideas. When working from scripts, they were independently discussing the nuanced thoughts and feelings of characters. Teenage bravado and self-conscious worries about being cool or popular seemed to fade away and in their place, inclusivity, warmth and emotional intelligence prevailed.

There have been obvious challenges to teaching and learning during the pandemic, but I do feel very privileged to be in the classroom during this renaissance of empathy, although the cause is unclear. In international schools, students are acutely aware of the world. Do they feel lucky to be at school while families abroad are still in lockdown? Has living in Singapore, a country that prioritised the safety of the community during the pandemic, influenced them to be mindful of this too? Or is it simply that they have experienced loneliness and isolation and don’t want anyone to feel that way again, even in the classroom? One thing is clear – their shared experience has allowed students to build stronger connections and develop greater empathy, and not just with their local communities.

In January, while discussing what we would like to “leave behind in 2020,” I confessed that I missed my sister. My class bowed their heads sorrowfully before adding “racism” and “climate change” to the list, putting my self-centered perspective of the year to shame. I encouraged them to add their COVID-19 experiences, but this was met with confusion. They had every right to be selfish but cared more about the problems facing strangers around the world.

So if, like me, you were worried about the implications that lockdown would have on the social development of young people, hopefully this puts your mind at ease. They have shown great resilience, fostering their emotional intelligence and connections to others despite isolation because, in their words, “there’s bigger things to worry about, Miss.”