The Spirit of AISA

 The Algiers airport closed in February. Fortunately, new AISA teachers caught a repatriation flight in August, along with 3 returning staff

By Elijah Petersen, Middle School, American International School of Algiers (AIS-Algiers)

I think we can all agree that 2020 feels like the longest century on record. In the millenia since Covid-19 crashed into our lives, we, as educators have had to consistently evolve to meet the needs of our students. While it seems like eons since life resembled anything close to normal, that doesn’t mean teachers around the world haven’t tried everything in their bag of tricks to make one thing learning consistent.

From researching how to Zoom across cyberspace, to downloading add-ons for more interactive power points, to getting used to wearing button-down shirts with sweatpants, teachers will try almost anything for their students. Hey, flexibility is the name of the game, right? But what happens when flexibility turns into contortion? We here at AIS-Algiers got a chance to find out when we were tasked to teach virtually with no internet.

No internet? What is this, the ancient times of the early 90’s? No, it’s exam time. See, in a battle as old as time two mortal enemies, logic and bureaucracy, faced off during Algeria’s Baccalaureate (BAC) exams. Several countries often consider shutting down communication apps during these exams to prevent students from cheating on their tests. Here, the government decided the deftest approach was to throttle the internet for the whole week. They reduced bandwidth and shut down all communication apps, like zoom and WhatsApp.

While professionals in other fields, when faced with such a daunting task, would throw up their hands in exasperation and quit, or curl up in the fetal position and bawl their eyes out, we are teachers…and we don’t give up. Just like in A League of Their Own, where Tom Hanks’ character yells out, “There’s no crying in baseball!” you might say, “There’s no crying in teaching!” You’d be wrong, however. There’s A LOT of crying in teaching but that’s for a different article.

Anyway, we here at AISA rolled up our sleeves, put our heads together (at an acceptable distance), and met the challenge straight on. What could have been deemed “The Lost Week” actually turned out to be not only productive, but a chance to reinforce what makes our little school so special. Like any good teacher, we differentiated our approach depending on grade level and student ability. We added to that the times when the internet DID work (before 8, 12-2, and after 5), along with where our students were located.

Due to travel restrictions, some of us have students in far-flung time zones and so we had to adjust our hours accordingly. This meant that students were having their morning meetings at 9PM or that teachers got up and began teaching at 5AM. Some of us had lady luck on our side and actually found little bubbles of time when the internet was behaving long enough to have meetings via Google Meet. While others, using electronic blackmagic, conjured up the great technologies of our ancestors and used landline telephones to talk with our students who, I might add, were baffled at our ability to speak with each other without WiFi. It was a teachable moment as well as a humbling reminder that time slows down for no one.

While I know that none of us at AISA would like this sort of thing to become a regular occurrence, it was a reminder that no matter how you slice it, technology is just a tool. Good teaching goes beyond websites, apps, or beach-themed green-screen backdrops. Teaching is as much an art as it is a skill, and technology is just one gadget in the toolkit of educators.

At the end of “The Week of the BAC,” views of Algiers and the Mediterranean softening the stress

Elijah and his wife Evan celebrating

With a strong administrator at the helm, along with a group of scrappy, motivated teachers, we showed our community and each other that, even offline, quality virtual learning is possible.

Our thanks to Elijah for sharing this inspiring story. We wish the AISA community a school year full of the creativity, resilience, and spirit they’ve already shown! Learn more about the school at aisalgiers.org.

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