After three years of teaching visual arts at a Belgian teachers’ college, followed by several fixed term positions at secondary and primary schools, Jacobs moved to New Zealand in 2012 to be with her partner in Dunedin.
“In Dunedin, I found my chances of finding job as a visual arts teacher were not very high, and my partner encouraged me to offer languages as I speak French and Spanish,” Jacobs explains.
When Jacobs finally gained her teacher’s registration, she taught French at Columba College for one year, and later worked as a design teacher.
“This first year was a great start for me to build up teaching experience in New Zealand, and a network … the year after I decided to enrol into the Teacher Professional Development Languages course and during this I learned a lot about Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) and pedagogy for Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching (iCLT).
When Jacobs saw the VLNP role advertised, she knew it was an opportunity she could pass up – she wanted a long-term role; and liked the new challenge of teaching online.
Last year, Jacobs taught French, while this year she is also teaching Spanish, Italian and visual arts online, and she is thriving.
“Online is not bound to one place and I keep in contact with people from all over New Zealand,” she says.
“The Internet is an exciting medium to discover and it surprises me every day, what tools and websites are available for us to learn with and learn from.”
Engaging with students online, and retaining their interest has been a concern for Jacobs, and last year she was not able to engage each student to the extent she wanted to.
“So I did some research and I came across the five-stage model of Gilly Salmon, designed to enhance student engagement and retain student interest specifically in online courses.”
Jacobs now applies the model to her VLNP classes, spending the first few lessons getting all students on board, doing activities to get to know each other and making sure they all have easy access while also educating them about the online platforms VLPN uses like ZOOM, WeLearn and Google Classroom.
Once the students feel they can easily participate in and navigate the online learning environment, they feel more independent and confident and this has led to greater engagement.
Other ways Jacobs keeps the students engaged is by giving them opportunities to create their own material for lessons; and she also tries to connect with students’ interests and integrates those into the programme.
“In general, comics, animals, sports, culture, songs and online games tick the boxes – but again, each class is different.
“The Italian class I have are mostly Year 8 students and they have a great interest in culture, architecture, sports and cars, so I gave them a task to make slides about what interests them the most about Italy and present this to class.
“This was really interesting and the students taught each other about the Colosseum, Ferrari, Italian football teams, Venice – the engagement was very high.”
After her years of teaching, Jacobs has concluded that her task as a teacher is to be a person who creates an environment where students get opportunities to take charge of their own learning.
“This can happen because I can step back when I feel the students are ready to do this and then I act like a coach rather than a teacher passing on the knowledge.”
However, not all students and class-groups can do this, so Jacobs remains adaptable, helping via email and staying online after class to help these individuals, and says the interaction with students is higher in the online learning environment than it is in the physical classroom.
While she enjoys online teaching, she does find technical issues a challenge when they arise.
“The Internet connection can be really slow in one school but not in the other, and this means we lose some synchronicity in class.
“I then have to come up with solutions on the spot and still try to keep the students engaged and get through the lesson - this is not always easy, and I am still experimenting with ways of coping with this.”
Students and teachers must overcome these challenges together, she adds, and the students must think about what to do if suddenly the battery of their iPad is flat, or they cannot hear her.
“To my surprise most primary school students are more computer savvy then me, so I learn a lot from my students when it comes to computers and technology.”
Jacobs’ role is an extremely rewarding one, where she can “ignite new passions in some students to learn languages and visual arts”, and she encourages them to explore and dream.
“Some of them will maybe go other places, like me – the students are intrigued about me living in another country, and speaking different languages.
“It makes them realise these things are possible, if they want them one day.”