Gülbin Özdemir Altıgöz is a teacher of English who teaches young learners at a public primary school in Turkey. She has been working as an English teacher for almost ten years. She has also worked as a Research & Development Departments member at District/Provincial Directorates of National Education in Turkey. She is a TESOL Advanced Practitioner, a Certified Microsoft Innovative Educator, a Certified Community Storyteller, and a Project Coordinator. Last year, she was nominated for the Dedicated Teacher Award from Cambridge University Press. She is passionate about calligraphy and poem writing.
Teacher wellbeing has been a vital target for the world of education for years; however, the Covid-19 crisis has led to unforeseen consequences and affected all components of the education system. Significant cracks have begun to appear in the education system. The schools were temporarily closed, distance education became compulsory, and technological devices suppressed the education. In brief, the education systems were not ready for this radical scene. Even though that pandemic put teachers under extra stress, they played a fundamental role and worked hard with endless effort. Teachers also put in extra time and did their best to ‘teach’ their students. Their dedication has often been appreciated; however, they have encountered challenges, too!
Within this two-sided process, teacher well-being has gained more importance than ever. Protecting their mental and physical health has become crucial. Teachers have begun different options. Some teachers went for professional development opportunities to enhance their careers in technology by taking online courses, participating in webinars, joining online networking teams, etc. Some teachers looked for peaceful places and serenity. They started new hobbies such as fishing and gardening. Some went for virtual exchanges and looked for different ways of collaboration and solidarity. They met their colleagues online and shared common concerns, similar stories and scenarios, and best practices for common professional problems. Personally, I may honestly say that I am one of those who prefer to find new paths for cooperation. Thus, Transatlantic Educators Dialogue Program has helped me contribute, protect and improve my well-being as a teacher.
TED is a unique program sponsored by the European Union Centre and College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Educators in the United States and Europe get together to share and talk about shared experiences on educational topics such as educational policies, immigration in education, use of technology, student and parental involvement, C-19 impacts on education, etc. It is free of charge and provides European and American educators with a fantastic opportunity to network with transatlantic counterparts, build bridges of culture, enhance international understanding and awareness, and foster global connections.
Participants of the 2022 cohort are from Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, the UK, and different regions of the U.S. For about 4 months, we met over Zoom. During the meetings, we were divided into international groups of five. Each group discussed a different topic and had separate meetings and calls to work and prepare a presentation. Groups introduced their topics, and group members presented a common final work with certain unique touches of their own countries. This was a wonderful mosaic! We had two intersessions and suggested additional topics that were not included in the official topic list. We voted, and we also discussed these extra topics, as well. Before and after the meetings, we continued our communication via official social media groups. In the end, professional collaborations turned into remarkable friendships.
This experience has enriched my professional development and well-being. I realised that I was not the only one who suffered from burnout, which was unrelated to my conditions. Second, regular meetings have helped me reflect on my teaching. Lastly, I realised that global cooperation is very inspirational and pleasant.
Consequently, this unique journey has shown me that virtual exchanges can positively affect teachers’ well-being and provide them with opportunities to get motivated, inspired and encouraged to keep up with their fantastic work!