First, it must be acknowledged that what education looks like in one school in a county may not be what another school in the same county is doing, let alone state to state or country by country. That being said, the basics are generally the same:
1.For most students and educators it would be better to be in-person with easier interactions, being in-person is easier to assess understanding or ask for help;
2.We want to be safe;
3. Most students want to learn and most educators want to nurture and teach.
Second, I absolutely want to acknowledge that this has been HARD! It is hard on students, educators, families, bosses, everybody. We were all wrong answering that question five/ten/twenty years ago, “How do you see yourself in five/ten/twenty years?” This is us making the best we can of a bad situation.
Now let’s get down to it. Let me share my typical day (typical being a relative term).
5:30 make lunches and send my husband off to work
6:30 put in contacts, brush my teeth, etc
wake up daughter
7:00 wake up son & take his temperature
7:30 leave to drive son to school
7:40 sit in drop-off line at his school
7:50 having gotten through the drop-off line head to work at a different school
8:10 join middle school class.
Throughout the rest of the day, remind students to stay 6’ apart, wear their masks covering their mouth AND their nose, and teach from the front of the room at least 6’ apart or individually help side by side, not face to face.
3:05 M & W I head to another school to coach X-Country running… So many kiddos are not playing sports this year. My son isn’t playing football because he thinks it’s stupid to have all the restrictions like to play two hand touch instead of full tackles, etc.
T, Th, F I stay until 3:30 to meet with my team
4:00 arrive home, collect eggs, laundry, dinner, homework help, …
So my schedule looks pretty normal. It’s the majority of the day, the in-person in-school day that is odd:
Visitors are no longer allowed in schools. Staff and students enter the building by the door closest to their classroom to avoid being in the hallways or “public” spaces any more than necessary. (Before they even arrive, the school buses have assigned seats by families, spaced out as far as possible, or they are dropped off at school in personal vehicles. We’re too rural for most of our families to walk.) When you walk into the school building (through the door closest to where you are going), you must sign in and take your temperature & attest that you have no Covid symptoms. That same sign-in, when you sign out, will have listed all the places that you have been in the building. Walking through the building, you probably won’t see any students walking about. They stay in their classroom by pod or cohort – the same group of students stay together all day and do not mix with other pods or cohorts. It depends on the school how these cohorts are divided. Not all the rooms are in use in my school as there isn’t enough staff. Some of our teachers have joined our Virtual Academy this year, as have some of the students.
Walking in the classroom will also look different. No longer are there tables or groupings. The individual desks are spaced out as far as they can be, but at least 6’ between heads. Each desk has a taped box on the floor around their desk to show the space that the student should stay in all day – except to get up for the bathroom, trash, hand sanitizer, or outdoors. Students are no longer allowed to use the lockers outside the room, nor coat hooks and cubbies in the room, so now each student has a tote at their desk for all their supplies, and their personal belongings. The teachers and staff have spaces that they are supposed to stay in as much as possible, thereby lessening their exposure with students. However, a staff member may work beside a student up to 15 minutes a day (answering questions, offering guidance, handing out supplies) and still be within social requirements. Students can no longer help pass out papers or supplies. Students can no longer share supplies. “Hey, can I borrow a pencil?” is a thing of the past…
Adults are pretty terrible within their social groups of staying 6’ apart. How well do you think kids, who don’t really get the severity of this pandemic, how well do they stay 6’ apart? How well do they understand what 6’ actually looks like. Some days, I feel like all I say to some students is reminders to stay 6’ apart. They have gotten very good at taking a step back when I call their name and tell them to. Many students, when in a group, as soon as they hear me say their name just automatically step back now.
Students, like so many adults I see in the community, are terrible at wearing their masks appropriately. We’ve all gotten so sick and tired of reminding them 1. To wear their mask, and 2. To wear their mask covering their mouth AND nose. I get it, I don’t like wearing my mask either, but c’mon. Take your water bottle, open it, drop the mask for a moment, take a drink and a deep breath, cover back up. Not hard! We try to use humor, but by the 35th time I’ve said it by 9:30am, I don’t have a lot of humor left. “Mask up!”
That being said, masks are terrible for communicating. I used to be able to read lips with my mumblers and get the gist of what they said. Now, students and educators have to repeat themselves multiple times to be heard and understood. We’re all sick of it, but at least it builds empathy. “I know you answered me, but I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.” is also a common mantra of mine these days.
Sharing and handling things. Yeah, they still do. We spent years teaching these kids to be kind, share supplies, and hand things to each other. They have not lost that in a few months. Also, most of them genuinely like each other and want to help each other.
Is everyone trying to be safe? Well, safer anyway. More kids are washing their hands. Way more kids are using hand sanitizer. Most of the time they stay 4’+ apart. There is far less touching now (I miss the elbow bumps and high fives).
So, is it worth it?
For many students and educators it is very much worth it to be in-person in-school even with all these restrictions. Many students learn best this way. I know I teach best this way when I can see body language and clear facial expressions. The internet lag or lack, the lack of supplies and books, the lacks – all of them, are felt worse when we have virtual learning. This isn’t to say that every child suffers with virtual learning any more than all educators do. Some thrive, some have no difference, but the majority find it very frustrating and unsuccessful. I absolutely want us to stay in-person in-school, but I don’t think it is sustainable.
Our local schools, on a case by case basis, choose to send cohorts/pods, or entire schools, to be virtual based on positive Covid cases. We are extremely lucky, living in an area with a very low case count. That being said, my son’s school went virtual last week. That had me home with him instead of at work. Another teacher was out at the same time for the same reason, although a different school closure caused his absence. We need subs for us educators. We were short on subs last year, and are extremely short this year. Last week, a Special Educator covered me. That meant all of his students that he should have been working with in small groups or 1:1, didn’t receive services. Soon, enough cohorts and schools will close, plus enough staff being out with illness or Covid symptoms, that we shall not have the staff to run the schools. We have plans in place so that this time, unlike in the spring, we can easily transition into virtual learning. My son’s school did it easily and with good communication. The school I teach at, had students practice bringing home devices and completing an assignment at home.
You know what hasn’t changed? Learning. We still teach English, math, science, history, art, music, technology, PE… We still listen to the students, they still manage their time poorly (mot of them). We still collect papers covered in doodles. We still have fire drills and lock-down drills. We still serve hot lunch, we still go outside. We are the same people, keeping as much the same as we can.
We’re doing the best we can. We’re stressed that we aren’t doing it well. We’re stressed that no matter what, we won’t get back to “normal” and life will never be the same. But, the feeling of being a team, of being stuck in this together, has grown. There is less arguing (so far) between the students, and the teachers are sharing ideas and observations even more than in the past. We’re all stressed, but we’re leaning on each other a little more, and giving of ourselves a little more.
I hope this helps some of you have a glimpse of our schools today. I would love to hear what you are experiencing, let me know!