In a previous post we explored how other countries are coping with reopening schools, but teachers around the globe have so many practical questions and concerns regarding the implications of reopening when there are still so many unknowns about this virus.
Many teachers feel left out as the decisions are being made by school and government officials seemingly without much thought or consideration of the safety and health of teachers or the impracticality of some of the imposed restrictions.
The goal here is not simply to list potential problems, but to give voice to the concerns many of teachers are facing and let you know that you are not the only person seeing these things.
You’re not crazy or just being paranoid.
Undoubtedly, our readers fall somewhere between the two camps of A) the whole world is over-reacting and we just need to get back to normal or B) we need to stay in lockdown as long as possible. Regardless, in order to fulfill contracts, teachers will be expected to uphold and support whatever guidelines and structures are put in place by their respective schools.
This is likely to look different from country-to-country, state-to-state, and district-to-district. In some cases, even in different schools within the same school system. The needs and issues of returning to a school setting vary greatly based upon age, socio-economics, population density, and even access to technology.
Teachers of very young children are worried about not being able to approach their students when they are hurt or upset. Bumps, bruises, and scrapes are commonplace on a primary campus, as well as tears and frustrations over encountering difficult content. In addition, separation anxiety generally experienced the first few days of the year will be heightened exponentially after these extended stays at home.
In addition, there has been a great deal of research recently that emphasizes how important physical activity (whether recess, PE, or free play) is on learning. What does this look like if students have to stay 6 feet apart?
Teachers of young students also know that the typical feel of a group of children at the beginning of a school year is similar to herding cats. The concern is that wrangling excited, wiggly children into forward-facing desks and keeping them from touching each other.
Additionally, most of early childhood education and a good part of later elementary and early jr. high education is normally done in groups and hands-on, so teachers are necessarily concerned with all of these things having to be done differently.
In the upper grades, many also find it laughable to even attempt to keep adolescents from touching. They are a very touchy group as well, whether it be rough-housing, showing affection, or gossipy whispers. Many will also be experiencing an inordinate amount of pent-up aggression surfacing from stressors at home due to possible medical and/or economic hardships families are experiencing.
Extra-curricular events are such a vital part of secondary schools. Whether students are huddled together during a game’s time-out discussing the next play, standing next to each other singing or playing an instrument on risers, or performing theatrically on stage, many students find these events to be the primary motivation to attend school. But, schools are having to consider canceling all events that require such close interactions.
And, how do teachers at any level provide personalized assistance and tutoring to individual students struggling with understanding a concept?
What About Our Safety?
Another very real and very personal concern is the health of the faculty and staff. While debate continues regarding whether children are at high risk of having life-threatening symptoms after contracting COVID-19, at a minimum they can be carriers.
Teachers and school staff who fall within the high-risk category or who have family members who do worry about returning to a job that could put them at risk. Any teacher could list off many on their campus who are over the age of 65 or are caring for aging parents, are cancer survivors, have pre-existing respiratory conditions, or are immune-compromised.
Even if parents and other community members are prevented from coming on campus, students are still interacting with them before coming to school.
And it’s not just students who could be carriers.
Teachers are expected to plan together. They stand in line waiting for the copy machine. They rush to use the faculty bathroom in between classes with no time to sanitize it in between.
Although many would probably agree that breaking up the negativity of lunch in the teacher’s lounge probably isn’t a bad thing, doesn’t eating lunch in the classroom add an entirely new set of concerns?
The Bottom Line
District leaders must make room at the table for teachers. They want to be heard, and they want to be part of the decision-making process. Most importantly, though, they have the most recent experience in the classroom.
They are the experts.
You wouldn’t ask hospital administrators to rearrange surgical suites without having the input of surgeons. You wouldn’t ask an architect to draw up plans with no communication with a builder. You have to let the experts into the room, so to speak. In fact, it may be best if you let them lead.
Yes, there are going to be problems. There will be some difficult adjustments that teachers will have to make. But, if the teachers know that their questions and opinions have been valued and given credence, they are much more likely to do what is asked of them.
Teachers are incredibly creative, constantly having to adapt lessons and assignments in the moment, and they have proven themselves to be very creative in this transition to virtual/remote learning. Some may be hesitant to speak (while others will be more than glad to do so), so consider offering ways for anonymous input, as well.
The success of your school as it transitions back into the world of the classroom may just depend on it.