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It goes without saying that everyone is ready for things to go back to normal, but many scientists are predicting that normal may be as much as a few years away. Some cultural norms are likely to be changing or disappearing for good. The economic repercussions will stretch out with ripple effects touching everyone to some degree.

While some of that may be debatable, the long term impact the last couple of months will have on students will be seen for years to come.

Many would agree that the American education system was overdue for reform, and this has likely forced it, but students who were just learning to read or on the cusp of mastering a new math concept may have a lot of ground to recover.

Schools are an integral part of the workings of American society. There is a great push to get school doors open both for the good of children and in order for their parents to return to work.

As some states begin to ease restrictions and start opening up, teachers may begin to feel pressured to do things that are outside of their comfort zones.

Some schools are opening up for the last few weeks of school and pressuring all faculty and staff to return if at all possible.

While other schools are remaining closed, many teachers will want to return to campus to work in the classrooms.

Some teams will want to start meeting face-to-face rather than virtually.

Extra-curricular groups may call voluntary practices or rehearsals.

Or work friends may want to meet up to visit over dinner, coffee, or drinks.

It is likely that many will be perfectly fine with gathering in small groups again after being cooped up in their homes for several weeks, but not everyone will be comfortable with it, and some simply won’t be able to.

Each educator is going to have to determine what they are able to do within their own comfort zones.

Just like in a traditional school setting where each teacher approaches the management, structures, and instructional practices of their classroom in their own unique way and based upon their abilities and comfort levels, teachers are going to have to handle their return to the school setting according to what is most appropriate for them.

Take Care of Yourself

Teachers who are caring for high-risk family members or are actually high-risk themselves will need to speak up and communicate if what they are being asked to do by their school is outside of what is acceptable and safe in their particular circumstances.

It is advisable that teachers follow the proper chain of command if they are hoping to continue building long-term relationships without damaging their future at the school, but one’s health along with the health of loved ones must take precedence.

If a team lead or department head expects all members of a team to be physically present for a meeting, a teacher who is uncomfortable assembling should first try explaining respectfully why they will not be able to do so and ask for the ability to join remotely. 

If this request is not granted, it is perfectly acceptable to speak with the campus administrator, following the chain of command up through Human Resources if necessary. 

It may even require asking for a note from a primary physician.

Regardless of the hoops that have to be jumped through, caring for individual needs is completely appropriate and acceptable.

Teachers are really good at putting their students’ needs ahead of their own, but it is OK to make caring for yourself and your family first. That may not be something we are used to hearing in education circles, but it needs to become part of this new reality we are living.

Other types of unique circumstances may arise, as well.

If a school is not requiring the use of PPE, but a teacher feels like it is necessary, that teacher should go ahead and wear a mask and gloves. After the first day or two of being called out or scrutinized by some for being paranoid, it will become normal and no longer an issue.

It was uncommon in many Asian countries for people to wear masks, but after SARS ripped through that area 17 years ago, masks became commonplace. Before COVID-19, people in Asian countries had long since made them a part of many outfits and their daily lives.

In other words, it may seem weird at first, but people will get used to it. 

Many teachers in schools that have already reopened are following the protocol that those in the medical professions have been doing during the pandemic. They are removing their shoes and placing them in a bag before getting into their car and putting on a pair of sandals or driving shoes. When they get home, they are undressing or changing in the garage and putting their school clothes immediately in the washing machine. Then they are heading straight to the shower.

There may be a group carpooling to a training in which everyone seems to be OK with being in a car together. If one person is not comfortable with it, that person should be empowered to take their own vehicle and meet the rest there.

It may be difficult to have an unpopular perspective, but peer pressure should not push teachers to do things that may put themselves or those they care for at risk. Your physical and mental health is absolutely priceless and must be treated as such. 

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