Our School in Lockdown

Abe’s sudden announcement of school closure for the first 2 weeks of March threw our school into turmoil.     Abe’s announcement came on the Thursday night.   All public schools would close from the following Tuesday for 2 weeks.    We mirrored the public policy.   We held lessons until Monday evening and then closed.    Interestingly, our students self isolated before the lockdown.   Our lessons were sparsely attended.  


Because Abe’s announcement was so sudden, we were not prepared.   We had no plan to go online.    In fact, I wanted to avoid online at all costs.   Number 1 reason:  our lessons are not geared for online.   In class, kids work in pairs or groups of 3 while a teacher monitors.    Online is by it’s nature teacher led.     Secondly,  in the long run, we can't compete with online.    At physical schools, our competition are the other schools in biking distance.    Online, our competition is every English speaker in the world.    There are so many choices and most are a lot cheaper.       Finally,  students might LIKE staying at home.    And when we do re - open, they won’t want to head out to our English lessons (especially on cold, rainy days).


So, we closed for 2 weeks.    We told the students we would make up one of the days off in the year (add an extra day) and discount the March fee by 1/4.   This was a mistake.   I’ve learned, never discount.    That 1/4 was vital income that we needed.   It has set us back and we still haven’t recovered.   I should have offered NO discount and said we will make up the 2 days off later on.


In this limbo, we had lots of quitters.  The first to go was a Filipino student whose Dad said (and I quote),  “Japan is too dangerous.   We are going back to the Philippines.”    Not sure if he realized this was a global pandemic that would eventual affect every country.   And that Japan might not be perfect but it does have universal medical care.    After that, most of our Chinese students quit.   Maybe with relatives in China, they were rightfully cautious.    Interestingly, the Japanese students didn’t quit.  


And unlike every other year in the spring, we had virtually no trial lessons and new students joining.    Our student numbers went down. 


We re - opened from the 3rd week of March.    Corona - style.    Students and teachers wore masks.    Windows and front door opened.    Students and teachers washed hands (thoroughly) at the beginning and end of lessons.    Students were separated, working by themselves.     Because our classrooms lack individual desks, students kneeled on the floor and used the chair seat for their desk.     Speaking activities were done with students across the room.     We disinfected before, after and between lessons.  


It wasn’t our normal lesson, but it had distinct benefits.    There was no Japanese and no messing around.      Students were more focused.    In a way, there was more student / teacher interaction as the teacher monitored, speaking to each student individually.    Because students worked on their own, the teacher could see a student’s strengths and weaknesses clearly (something that could be covered up when working in groups).    In fact, we were so impressed with these changes, that we WILL change our lessons when we eventually go back to the classroom.


This continued until April 8th.    Again, another sudden Abe announcement changed everything.    Abe announced the closing of schools from April 8th.    Public schools held their commencement ceremonies on the 7th and then were to shut until the end of Golden Week.    So, we followed suit.    We closed 3 schools (of 4) and took 90% of students online.    I put aside my reservations about going online and realized that we HAD to go online if we were to survive.   


The 1 school that stay opened would be open from 16:00 to 20:00 on weekdays and 9:00 to 13:00 on weekends for the 10% of students (from any school) that didn’t want to go online.    After a week, we closed that school also.    We couldn’t risk the health of our students, our teachers and their families.     



I’ll talk more about our online experience in the next blog.   


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