Sunday, August 23, 2020

Back to School: COVID Version

It was a real struggle for us to figure out whether to send the boys back to school this year.
Our options were
1) in-person learning with social distancing and extra cautionary measures in place
2) distance learning with lots of time in video conferencing
3) homeschooling.

Distance learning was going to be totally impractical and really not feasible with our family...trying to supervise three kids on Zoom for hours every day with the general chaos and noise that surrounds Benson and Maxwell? Have I mentioned how much I dislike video conferencing in general? We quickly ruled that out. 
We have done quite a bit of research about the effects of COVID-19 on children and newborns, and we had virtually no health concerns for our kids in sending them back to school. But I wasn't at all sure about putting them in an environment where they were wearing masks, staying away from their peers, and having to stay in the same desk for virtually the entire school day. It sounded more like prison than elementary school. 
I love so much about homeschooling and that was definitely my favorite option for the short-term. But Talmage was devastated about the prospect of missing his last year of elementary school, Wesley would miss out on testing for APEX and other activities, and I knew that if we took a year off it would be a struggle to get everything squared away when it was time to put them back in school. And we've already decided not to homeschool long-term, so being able to transition them back in when all this has blown over is pretty important to us.

After carefully reviewing the back-to-school plan the school sent out, e-mailing teachers about what things would look like in school, and a lot of thought and discussion, we made the decision to try sending them back and, if it was too cumbersome or difficult for the kids, we would pull them out and homeschool for the year.

So far the boys have loved school though, in spite of all the changes!
When we committed to in-person learning, the plan for the school was to only require masks at arrival and dismissal or in the hallways, but just before school started the governor encouraged all schools to require masks so they adjusted their plan to require masks more. I was really worried about how the boys would do with masks all day.
As it turns out, Lincoln only has to wear his at arrival and dismissal while Wesley and Talmage wear theirs all day with 5-minute breaks throughout the day and breaks at lunch, PE, and recess. Wesley and Talmage haven't minded wearing masks and quickly got used to wearing them all day.
Their desks are spread 6 feet apart in the classrooms and they stay in their desks for the majority of their learning time, with art, music, etc. teachers rotating between classrooms.
They eat lunch in the cafeteria once a week and eat at their desks the rest of the time.
The school has an iPad or laptop prepared for each child in case schools need to shut down, but with the vague information we've been given it seems that they won't shut down the school unless there start to be a lot of cases within the school.
It all sounds like a lot to manage to me but, like I said, the boys have seemed to love being back in school and we always have the option to pull them out and homeschool if it ends up not working out.

(Just look at that toothless grin!!!)

Their teachers have been amazing with everything they are dealing with.
Can you even imagine being a teacher right now?
A few things to consider:
-if there is a positive case in their household, they have to quarantine for a whopping 24 days. They are "generously" given 10 days of sick time related to COVID, and after that they have to take vacation time or unpaid leave.
-they now have to be the mask police and had to spend the first day of school going over health procedures and teaching kids the proper way to wash hands.
-they have to ensure their students maintain social distancing throughout the day.
-they have to manage kids who are going stir-crazy from sitting in the same desk all day long.
-they are given virtually no advance notice about what the school plans are--my next-door neighbor is a teacher and she said they find out just one day before parents!
-they have to plan the year without even knowing the school's plan for what threshold they will allow before shutting down...meaning they really don't know what to plan for, even with their in-person students.
-they have to have parent meetings on Zoom.
-they have to juggle in-person and distance learners.
-they have to worry about their own health concerns and the health and safety of those within their families while being surrounded by kids all day who pick their noses and don't cover their coughs and spread germs over every available surface.
-they have to creatively adapt to not having any shared equipment within a class.
-they no longer have periods when their classroom is empty due to a class being at art or music.
-they are dealing with lots of frustrated parents and lots of questions they have no answers to.
-and they can choose to accept everything or quit their job, but there is no long-term leave option or anything in-between.

I can't imagine how FRUSTRATING the school year must be for these teachers. And yet, at least in my kids' cases, they have responded to the challenges with positivity, enthusiasm, and creativity.
I haven't heard a single negative comment from any of my kids' teachers and I have been amazed by their creative responses to the restrictions in place.
For example, Lincoln's teacher helps wiggly 1st graders by having them switch between sitting in their chairs and sitting on their desks. Lincoln thinks it is SO cool that he gets to sit on his desk for learning!

Talmage's teacher from last year posted this on Facebook:
Unprecedented. New Normal. Impossible. Overwhelming. Unsafe. Socially Distant. Virtual. Confusing. Anxiety Inducing. Stressful. Scary.

These are all adjectives that I keep hearing, and have honestly used myself at times, when describing the upcoming school year. As can be expected, everyone has different views and opinions on how this should look. Different families have different needs. And that is okay! As a teacher, my mind is swimming with so many things. I think of a challenge this year may hold, and before I can even process a solution I think of another issue that I need to consider. But, as we are planning for this year and all of the unknowns, there is one thing I keep coming back passion behind why I am a teacher. You see, I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. It was the only thing I ever really considered. And when I've thought back on why, the answer is very clear! I wanted to be a teacher because when I was growing up, I had teachers who loved me well, invested in me, believed in me, made me feel special, and taught me way more about being a good person than they ever taught me about their respective subjects. And I always knew that doing the same thing for students some day - making them feel loved and influencing who they grow up to be - had to be one of the most rewarding things anyone could do.

So, as I have thought and thought about this year, one thing that I keep thinking is, "Oh man! This is the time for teachers to shine!" What a wonderful opportunity we have to provide some sort of consistency, love, patience, and encouragement during a time that is fraught with so many adjectives! We have the opportunity to create an environment that parents can trust if they have to/choose to have their children return in person. And we have the opportunity to help students feel loved and connected if they are learning from home.

Am I still anxious? Sure! I have my moments that I am beyond overwhelmed by all of it, but I am praying constantly that as we proceed through this year - either in person or virtually - us teachers can be used to help families remove at least a few of those adjectives during a difficult time.

That is the kind of response these teachers have given, and I have been almost moved to tears as I see all of the effort they are putting into making the school year happy and successful in spite of all the challenges.

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