Back to School in a Pandemic

Right now the country and states are telling schools to open their doors. The economy is hurting, parents need their kids in school, and kids need to be in school... believe me, I get it. At the same time you are seeing teachers begging to be heard. We are pleading for people to ask our PROFESSIONAL opinion, listen and then act accordingly. Unfortunately, across the country that is not happening. The people making the decisions have not walked in our shoes as classroom teachers. They do not understand the minute by minute concerns we have about reopening schools, so here... let me explain. 

7:00- Kids start waiting at bus stops. The groups grow. There will be little to no adult supervision as they wait and I can only assume little to no social distancing. Which, what’s the point, they are about to get on a completely FULL bus. Will there be more busses? Will it be in the budget to add more drivers or stagger the pick up times? Will we still be sitting 2-3 students per seat and packing the busses full?

7:20- The busses (yes, more than one bus. So let's just go ahead and picture 100+ students at this time) have unloaded and the doors are opened to the school. Will we be creating lines outside so the students don't congregate? Who will be there to monitor this? Will teachers and staff need to be there before the 7:20 start time to monitor busses unloading?

7:20-7:40- Students wait in the gym before heading to class. Our gym is filled with hundreds of students sitting in tight lines. They are allowed to turn and socialize with their friends. Will this be allowed? Will they have to come straight in, spread out and sit alone? Will they head straight to their classrooms? Again, this would be teachers coming in earlier. 

If students aren’t in the gym they go to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. Our breakfast line usually serves a few hundred kids every morning. At least 6 kids sit on each bench of the cafeteria tables. By 7:40 the tables and benches are full. Will students be eating breakfast in the cafeteria? Will they take their breakfast to class to eat separate from their peers? 

(Its not even 8:00 and we have already spent 40 minutes trying to figure out how to spread kids out. This isn't looking promising...) 

7:40- The bell rings and ALL students head to class. The halls are full. It’s hard to pass through. Clumps of students stand at their lockers unloading their things. Staggering times will help fix this, but that will significantly cut back on learning time. How long will it take to get 800 kids to class when we stagger times? 

7:50- Class starts. Class sizes are between 22-28 students. The class is not physically big enough to socially distance children 6 feet or honestly even 3 feet apart at best. Once everyone is spread out and seated learning can begin. What does learning look like? Do students come the the carpet to listen to a story? But with desks separated there is no carpet. There is no close story time, everyone head back to your desk. The teacher begins reading the story, but with a mask... so forget about facial expression and stopping during the read aloud for a turn and talk is no longer realistic. Now how do we keep these kids engaged? Direct instruction from the front of the room can be a lot to sit through for a kid. Many teachers use chants, cheers, songs, and call & responses in their daily instruction. All of this requires students to project their voice, which makes spreading the virus more likely. Will this have to stop? 

The story is over and it's time to move on to stations. But wait, can kids work in partners? Can they work in small groups? Can they play a game together? Can they share the items in a station bin? Are they allowed to move around the room and sit in different spots? If not, that means more time, alone in their desk. During this time I would pull a small group, usually around 6 students to my table. It is intimate and close. Will this be allowed? 

9:00- On to specials. For specials all 100 students in the grade level walk down the hall together. We have to, of course, pass the grade level leaving specials so make that 200 bodies in the narrow school hallway. Some head to music. Will they be allowed to sing? Will instruments be allowed this year? Some head to PE to run, sweat and breath heavily. Will they be sharing balls and supplies this year? Some head to art. How is an art teacher supposed to supply 800 students with their own crayons, paint, scissors... you name it. And again, this means your child will be sitting in a room that ALL 800 kids come in contact with. So do specials teachers come to the classroom? Okay okay, so no specials. Kids, stay in your desks a little bit longer. 

10:00- Time for a class bathroom break. Walking 22 kids down the hall socially distanced means you will literally take up the entire hall. The state has recommended hallways be converted to one way hallways, but our school isn’t a circle. Do we need to go outside and walk around the building to make it to the bathroom? When we get there we will be using a restroom that was cleaned the day before. Hopefully there will be more cleaning, but we need more custodial staff members. Is that in the budget? Where is the money for that? And FOR THE LOVE there better be soap and paper towels in the bathroom. In the past, this hasn’t always been a given. 
Due to the size of my school (over 800 students) it was very difficult to find a time to take a class restroom break alone. So usually there would be at least 2 classes in the hall at this time. 46 people, standing, not social distanced in the hall. 

Now let’s talk pull out and push in services. My kids get served by speech, ESL, special ed, dyslexia, the counselor and so many other specialized services. Will they be going from room to room? Will the special ed teacher have to go into every classroom and expose themselves to 800 people every day? How will this look? 

12:00 hits- Time for recess! Again, all of the grade level heads to the playground. Can they run and play? Can they play with kids outside of their class? During this time teachers are responsible for monitoring students safety, helping to solve disagreements, and now also restrict students to specific areas of the playground? So maybe they go to recess with a mask. In Texas. With temperatures of over 90 degrees.
Okay okay, so no outdoor recess. Indoor recess. But don’t share toys, and don’t share games. 

After recess we head to lunch. But we can’t go to the lunchroom because there are too many students. So back to your desk kids. No, you can’t sit next to your friend. I’m so so sorry... I really am. 

Guess what happens after lunch. More teaching. But again, pretty much everything we have learned about the best practices of education is no longer realistic. So it means more “sit and get” instruction. More of the teacher at the front of the room talking. Probably more paper and worksheets since we can’t move around the room. I could maybe use some hands on manipulatives but I would need enough for everyone to have their own... no sharing. Again, is this in the budget? I usually switch classes in the middle of the day, but will kids be able to move from room to room? No, it's probably best for the students to only go into their one classroom instead of sharing germs in two. So the teachers will switch rooms! That just means I have to have everything I need to teach for the day on a rolling cart and be able to take it with me from class to class. It's cool... I'm totally not the hoarding teacher type who uses a million things in a lesson... nope, totally NOTTTTT me

Finally the 3:00 bell rings. 7 hours of your kids pretty much sitting in a desk all day. Remember when we said we wanted kids to get back to school? We wanted them to socialize and get back in their much needed routines. Is this what you expected? 

And now we dismiss, to more crowded hallways, crowded busses, crowded pick up lanes outside. Once all 800 kids are safely gone, teachers head back inside to clean the classrooms. I’m sure everything has to be disinfected. Are we being supplied with this? In the past we have added hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes to the school supply list, but it barely makes it to the Fall. Cleaning off every surface of everything that is touched or shared has to happen. But how? Who will be doing this? **note to self, don’t bring anything in the classroom that can’t be easily wiped down. 

On top of all of that, teachers remember to: fill in the gaps, hit all of the standards, track your students progress, differentiate, modify instruction, fill out paperwork to make sure no one falls through the cracks, grade and send home papers, integrate technology **but not too much technology, take attendance on time, get all of your PD hours, make learning fun, check to make sure students are being taken care of at home, decide which kids need food sent home, watch to make sure they are coming to school in clean clothes, make time for social and emotional teaching, solve disagreements, teach kids how to talk to each other, make time to adapt curriculum that we aren’t provided with, make sure you are diversifying your teaching because the curriculum you are given sure won’t do that, create a warm and welcoming environment for your students to come to school in, shield all of your worries and concerns because no matter how stressed I am they are the priority, love on these kids... and keep everyone safe. 

I write this novel to give you a little insight on what some teachers are thinking right now. This doesn’t even dig into the concerns about what happens when a parent sends their child to school sick, because it will happen. What to do when a teacher becomes sick, because it will happen. What to do when there aren’t substitutes, because it will happen. Have you asked yourself why teachers are worrying? Why there is so much concern? This is why! There are so many questions, so few answers, and yet we are being told to move forward, adjust, and make it happen. Teachers are rarely “set up for success” in this job. But yet we always put our head down, get to work, and get the job done because if you don’t... kids lose. We are screaming and pleading right now to not push for schools to fully re-open because KIDS WILL LOSE! Let me make this clear- WE WANT TO BE BACK IN OUR CLASSROOMS! But we want to do it safely. We want to have a solid plan. We want our questions and concerns to have answers before we walk into those classrooms.

And I'm sure there may already be answers to some of those questions. I'm hopeful that more answers are on the way. I can even admit that some of my worries are most likely irrational. I pray that one day I will look back on this post and think about how it all turned out justttttttt fine. I am not here to point fingers. I know hard decisions are being made and there is no great solution. But for one second can you step into our shoes and validate how overwhelming this all is? Can you see how frustrating it is to be an educator being told what you WILL do by someone who has never worked a day in your profession, and has zero answers or recommendations for the questions listed above? It's belittling to the nth degree.

As teachers, we can be flexible. We want to help. We want to be a part of creating solutions, not just pointing out problems. We want to get back to school and to get back to teaching. We want parents to get back to work and the economy to get back to normal. We also want to be heard and respected. We want our feelings to feel valued. So if you’re curious what the teacher you love is thinking, the one who you thanked for loving on your baby so very well every day for the 8 hours they were away from you is thinking... there you go. 
There are our worries, anxieties, stresses and concerns thrown out for you on a silver platter. 
Now, will you help us do something about it?

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