Is it Safe to Return to School?

Will we ever experience ‘normal’ school again?

There is an ugly scary truth looming over my future…everyone’s future…the future of our children. Back to school time carries an entirely different meaning in the year 2020. Is it safe to return to school? Within the next few days or weeks children and staff will be returning to school amidst a global pandemic. THE SAME PANDEMIC THAT SENT STUDENTS TO 100% online in March, but now has been magically deemed ‘OK’ or ‘SAFE’ to go back to in August.

WHAT!?

I want to go back to my classrooms, but I also want to be able to safely teach ALL my students. I don’t mind having a lack of resources, buying most of my own supplies, or the small paycheck. I’m here for the kids and it forces me to think creatively. I strive off of a challenge, but even as an elementary art teacher and wife of a third grade teacher I’ll have to admit this is pretty crazy. WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT AND OUR SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS NOT GIVEN US ANY UPDATE ON WHAT IS COMING.

I’ll say it again as a member of the community, mother, and educator ‘this is scary.’

Wear masks, use hand sanitizer, social distance, wash hands, keep 6 feet apart at all times. We’ve all heard this a million times, but we all know these things aren’t going to go far especially in an elementary school setting.

If you don’t have children or have never been around them… Kids touch EVERYTHING and not just with their hands. Some children will lick and chew on anything in sight including yes you guessed it each other. It’s very common for my younger students to use glue sticks as lip balm and taste modeling dough. Elementary schools are filled with snot, vomit, urine, saliva, and ding ding ding even poop. In our building we call it a ‘code brown.’ Forget the cute back to school masks invest in the hazmat suit.

A typical school day for me involves HUNDREDS of students, multiple schools, and COUNTLESS interactions with students and adults. Let’s not forget the occasional doggy pile hug cluster. (those of you who teach kindergarten know what this is and there really is no escaping it).

I start out with prepping for about 150-180 students for the day x 5 days a week so I teach about a total of 750+students a week. I may also attend a school PL in building or across town varying from a few dozen adults. Then I’m up for arrival duty greeting roughly 100 walkers and bike riders depending on the day. These greetings are usually met with students telling me stories about their weekends or things they did the night before. We can’t forget the welcoming high fives, fist bumps, and hugs.

Then onto my first round of classes with shared materials (including the limited supplies to clean on a normal year with such as paper towel, disinfecting wipes, or a rag). I spend the morning creating art, reading to students, instructing, doing small groups, dispersing materials from busy boxes, utilizing a classroom library, and calm down stations.

My classroom is small and students sit very close to each other 4-5 to a table with classes as low as 22 to as large as 32 with integrated classes. Many students come and go between classes as well as adults.

There’s instruction and personal interactions with EVERY student in a short period of time. Art is very hands-on, but MOST learning in elementary is hands-on and done best in small groups.

If I’m lucky I have lunch while organizing materials, moving paintings, cutting paper, preparing clay etc. My afternoon is just as busy with short transitions. Students greet me with smiling grimy faces and hands after lunch/recess. They’re dragging their hands or bodies along the wall, passing hundreds of other students, some kids maybe sitting on the ground doing work or just rolling on the floor (I mean Kindergarten or 5th Grade you teacher folks get the visual). Fingers up noses, melted ice packs in places they shouldn’t be, and coughing into the abyss of the hallway.

I usually have art buddies help my younger students throughout the school year and others help me with cleaning jobs during the day. After my classes are over it’s back outside to assist hundreds of students find their way safely to their cars to go home. Here I have more stories, hugs, sometimes tears, Band Aids, wiping snot, zipping up jackets, closing book bags, reading a story they wrote, looking at a drawing the student created, helping with hats, high fives, more fist bumps, and goodbyes.

Then well after the contracted school day heading back to my room to prepare for the next day, clean up from the current day, or get ready for my other school. Not to mention getting prepared for art shows/festivals (NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN IN 2020), organizing spirit weeks, teaching an after school club, or working on fundraising events.

WHAT PART OF THIS CAN BE SOCIAL DISTANCED?

HOW CAN I TEACH IN THIS REALITY?

WHEN IS THERE TIME FOR MORE CLEANING?

THIS DOES NOT EVEN INCLUDE TRYING TO GET STUDENTS TO WEAR MASKS ALL DAY.

ARE TEACHERS GOING TO BE ABLE TO TEACH IN PERSON AND ONLINE AT THE SAME TIME?

IS IT SAFE TO RETURN TO SCHOOLS?

The answer is scary. If it was really safe for all involved I wouldn’t be writing this. ART. PE. MUSIC. would not be possible.

I love my job. I love teaching and the joy art brings my students ‘my kids’. I value a safe return to full-time in-person learning. How is there no plan weeks or days away from starting back to school?

The correct answer to “is it safe to return to school during a global pandemic,” would put all teachers out of a job or virtual until a vaccine is available. It might be the only safe solution.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or concerns about returning to school this fall. How are your school districts approaching Covid-19?

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