The hall of residence is not only an institution that enables the adolescent to live and meet physiological needs, but it is an institution that guides, develops and helps the adolescent in all possible areas in his key period of life, i.e. the period of transitioning into adulthood. The path leading to this goal, however, is often far from easy. It is accompanied by turbulent dynamics – both ups and downs, successes and failures. Although the path is strenuous for an adolescent who eventually has to overcome it on his own, the educator can help him on this path. The educator is not only the person standing by his side, but he is also professionally qualified for it. In this paper, we will present the role of the educator in the hall of residence, many types and ways of help that the educator and the hall of residence offer to students during the transition from adolescence to adulthood and how educators at the Lizika Jančar Hall of Residence helped students overcome difficulties during COVID-19.
Keywords: the role of the educator, hall of residence, COVID-19.
The hall of residence is an integral part of upbringing and education and has three basic functions (Starkl, 1999):
- effective and successful upbringing and education,
- housing and food (accommodation) for students studying outside their place of residence,
- health care and safety of students.
The main task of the residence hall educator is to monitor the student from the beginning to the end of his stay in the hall of residence, to live and work with the student, to lead the student to the best possible learning outcomes through cooperation and positive incentives (Starkl, 1999, p. 27).
Educational work demands the whole-person approach and includes: giving and receiving, criticism and self-criticism, joy and care, responsibility and discipline, trust, pedagogical optimism (Rosič, 1996).
The educator in the hall of residence appears in three roles (Pšunder, 1998):
- Service role: with regard to his work he is responsible to the director, he must comply with the law and regulations.
- Professional role: he must act in accordance with his profession and pedagogical-psychological knowledge; he must constantly upgrade his knowledge and professionally develop; he is responsible for his actions to students and their parents.
- Human role: the educator must be humane, objective, trustworthy, tolerant, understanding and responsible to himself according to his own behavior.
The educator is thus a co-creator of the student’s personality, the one who represents objective requirements and duties, who knows and takes into account the student’s developmental characteristics, and must also know the aspirations and interests of modern youth (Starkl, 1999).
At one point during the COVID-19 epidemic, distance learning began for all students. Students as well as the educators had to move home and work from there. The process of education changed drastically, so it had to be appropriately adapted to students’ needs. We communicated with students in multiple ways – in the form of individual conversations, meetings with a larger or smaller groups of students and in the form of learning assistance that we offered to our students. We mostly communicated with our students by phone and by Zoom and less frequently by e-mail and various other social networks, such as Google chat, Facebook Messenger etc.
Difficulties during distance learning
During the period when distance learning began for all students due to COVID-19 epidemic, we started to notice an increase in a variety of issues when dealing with our students, as we were in daily contact with them:
1. The general knowledge of students during COVID-19 declined, as did their motivation for school and studying. Being asked about the reason for the decline in their general knowledge, students explained that they lost motivation for school due to distance learning. They said that often their teachers didn’t seem to have a clue of how much is enough when it came to assignments submitted to them. In their opinion, teachers assigned way too much homework. As a result, they were often under severe pressure and sometimes they simply gave up because they weren’t able to do all the required tasks on time. Another reason for the decline in knowledge according to students was that distance learning was not as effective as learning directly in school, as students were much more focused during live classes. As for the third reason for the decline in knowledge, many students stated that they could not resist the use of social networks while working remotely and that social networks would directly affect their attention, dedication and concentration. The fourth reason they gave was the loss of motivation due to the lack of genuine social contacts with their peers, as learning in school also meant socializing with their classmates and friends.
2. Poorer grades compared to the period before COVID-19 – the decline in students’ general knowledge also meant poorer grades. However, as the students explained, despite the whole situation with the COVID-19 epidemic, teachers often didn’t demand less when it came to written and oral exams. However, the students’ grades were also poorer because most of the exams were not regular and the students ended up with too many exams at once.
3. Inability to do work experience, which caused additional frustrations and worries for students, as work experience is of key importance for vocational education students.
4. Occurrence of apathy and self-harming behavior in students
Students often had problems in relationships with family members, they missed the social contacts they had at school and at the hall of residence. Apathy among students remained present when students had already returned to the hall of residence. Students began to question the meaning of schooling, sometimes even the meaning of life. Many more problems of psychological origin were detected in students as opposed to the period before the outbreak of COVID-19. There was also an increase in self-harming behavior.
5. Due to all the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and due to a different way of life, the students shut themselves in. Therefore, educators made even more effort with regard to communication with our students, as we noticed that during COVID-19 students spent even more time on electronic devices and harmful social networks.
6. During COVID-19, students missed the freedom they had before.
Due to all the measures, students in the hall of residence socialized much less. The condition for participation in various free-time activities and projects in the hall was to comply with these measures. However, due to their nature, certain activities and projects of interest were no longer carried out.
In the following, we will describe 2 examples of good practice in regard to solving students’ difficulties during the COVID-19 epidemic.
1. PROBLEM: LEARNING DIFFICULTIES
Student attends the 2nd year of lower vocational education. He has a milder mental development disorder, which presupposes lower intellectual abilities. In addition, the student has an autism spectrum disorder, which brings additional challenges in life. Despite the provided working conditions, student didn’t participate in distance learning, and his lack of understanding of the new way of schooling and poor organizational skills only deepened his gaps in knowledge. Due to the autism spectrum disorder, the student is more introverted, so there is no peer or teacher to help him out with school. Due to unresponsiveness to distance learning, the educators in the hall were contacted by his school staff. Together with the hall’s counsellor who also offers additional professional help for the students, his educator then organized special ways of working with the student. They first focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the student and his prior knowledge in order to get to know him better and to identify his learning style. Furthermore, they focused on the organizational aspect (designing colored schedules, telephone reminders, etc.), which is very important for students with bad study habits. Learning assistance was provided to the student several times a week and for shorter periods of time due to shorter attention span of the student. The student’s performance improved with the help of the educator and he also needed less and less help. To a greater extent, he made up for the work that he missed earlier, got positive marks and successfully completed the school year.
2. PROBLEM: SELF-HARMING BEHAVIOR
During one of the virtual meetings with the students, the educator noticed in a video interview via Zoom that one of the students in his group had cuts on her hands. Since he did not want to expose the student in front of other students, he continued with the conversation as if nothing had happened. The next day, the educator contacted the student. They talked about different things as he didn’t want to confront her directly with what he saw, but he later mentioned to her that he noticed cuts on her hands in yesterday’s video interview with her. At first, the student did not want to talk about it, she visibly denied it and wanted to interrupt the conversation with excuses. However, the educator managed to keep the student on a video call and she revealed that she was experiencing distress. She said that she constantly quarreled with her parents at home, didn’t see her friends, that she had lost all motivation for school because teachers constantly assigned too much homework and that she no longer managed to get it done on time and didn’t care anymore if she failed at school. The educator then contacted the student’s class teacher to explain the whole situation and later had conversations with the school and hall counsellor and the parents. In agreement with her parents, the student began to visit a psychologist on a weekly basis. It was not just necessary, in fact, one of the cuts was so serious that the bleeding was barely stopped. Conversations helped ease her distress and stop her self-harming behavior. The student revealed the seriousness of the situation and admitted that the cuts were not always just an escape from reality and alleviation of distress, but that she was already thinking about suicide.
The work of an educator is not just about day care, as we often hear. In a way, the educator in the student hall of residence replaces the parent and thus takes full responsibility for the student. Being a good educator means and requires as much as being a good parent – it requires the right amount of just about everything.
A good educator is decisive enough, strict enough and at the same time indulgent enough, optimistic enough as well as pessimistic enough, firm enough in his views and empathetic enough. He represents authority and at the same time someone whom students can trust. In our hall of residence, we are most pleased that despite the many challenges posed by distance learning, more than 98% of students have successfully completed the school year 2020/2021 and both the students and their parents were grateful for our efforts. The data speaks for itself and shows the importance of the educator’s role in society in general and particularly during a difficult and stressful period, such as the period of COVID-19.
- Pšunder, M. (1998). Kaj bi učitelji in starši še lahko vedeli? Ljubljana: Zavod RS za šolstvo.
- Rosić, V. (1996). Odgojno-obrazovni rad u učeničkom domu. Rijeka: Sveučilište u Rijeci, Pedagoški fakultet u Rijeci – odsjek za pedagogiju.
- Starkl, D. (1999). Priročnik za vzgojitelja v dijaškem domu. Ljubljana: Zavod RS za šolstvo.