Life of a Teacher, During a Pandemic
I’m here with you parents, guardians, fellow educators and support staff. I bring you my answers from the top questions I get as a teacher, living in this new reality during a global pandemic. Questions from friends, fellow parents and concerned community members. Here is my side of things, and while it may differ greatly from school to school, this really is only my opinion and collected facts from my own school. To put things into perspective, I teach in Halton, grades 7 and 8, with an approximate school population of 725. I pride myself on honesty and transparency, and I feel parents and families deserve to know what goes on at school, in classrooms, staff rooms, hallways, outdoor spaces and even during online learning. I truly believe the only way we can empathize with others and understand their choices and actions, is to hear their side, their story. So here’s my perspective.
How are the students' dispositions with return to school?
The students have proven to be resilient and happy to be back. Excited to see and be with friends, play with kids their own age, and have a break from being at home. As a mother of two, I know my own children show joy in their faces talking about their friends at school, it’s a good place for them to be social. I also know that their teachers do a FARRRR better job at teaching my kids than I do!
However, other notable observations as we enter the third month of school, students are noticeably exhausted and tired from long days with mask wearing and many rules and regulations. It can be hard to connect with them by the end of the day and keep their attention. There’s many students out there that understandably, really struggle with wearing a mask all day, and therefore do not appropriately wear it.
What does outdoor recess look like?
Classes are designated to set “zones” of play. Some of those zones might have a basketball net while other zones may just be a taped off space of pavement to play. Sometimes classes may have a ball to share amongst the class or some classes have no equipment to play with at all. For the most part, students stay within their zones, and it would be far more common to see the intermediate students venturing off into “other” zones to be with other fellow classmates. This would also be a moment in time for students to have a “mask-break”. Students at our school take their masks off before exiting the building and walk through hallways, stairwells with no mask. Teachers/support staff are to remain in masks while outside on duty.
What does indoor recess look like?
Students must remain seated at their desks, masks on. There will be one teacher/support staff that circulates classrooms, supervising anywhere from 4-6 classrooms at a time.
What’s the hardest part of being back at school as a teacher?
One of the hardest things being back at school as a teacher is managing the shift in personal mindset. Telling yourself that you have to lower your expectations, let things go, and feeling like a puppet. There have been endless amounts of decisions and regulations administered without the consent of the teachers. Raw feelings that instinctively tell you; lives are at risk, and certain protocols that make absolute zero sense for the safety of others. The expectations of teachers are to carry on like any other school day is in motion, put on a smile (behind the mask), and complete your job as required. It’s frightening, hard and heavy, and not easy. It’s hard to not instinctively lean in when you know there’s a student injured, needs a hug, or one-on-one support, but then your “safety-voice” kicks in and tells you to selfishly pull back. Lowering expectations when teachers know we just won’t cover all the curriculum required to teach. Shifting our practice to focus more on the health and happiness of our students rather than hitting all curriculum expectations or making strong mathematicians out of them. Teaching in a new way that removes all our past experiences and practices and focuses on community building, teamwork, collaboration and group work. Being creative and figuring out new ways to define our new pedagogy.
What I believe should be our focus? Keeping the students happy and safe… “teaching/educating” is a bonus. From the Board level down, this should be their message to teachers. There should be support in place for teachers to manage this new world of teaching to match these new world demands. Expectations should not be increased with no increase in support. Schools are short staffed, teachers are maxed out with extra duties, extra demands and not even their allotted preparation periods. This is outright not sustainable. Monday mornings do not seem to be getting easier, they are getting harder every week.
Do you think we should all be back to learning online?
Not at all! I think it’s mentally healthier (all Covid-details removed) for us all to be in our school building settings to learn, socialize, interact as best as we can, and in a learning environment that fosters growth and development. In speaking closely with current online teachers, they are equally stressed and maxed out. They have shared that “only the strong will survive on this learning platform”. This option is just not healthy for the majority of families. My coworker has made it her focus, while teaching online to “support, forgive and persevere through hard things”. With all that being said, I think we need to make some adaptations to our learning environments to provide safer spaces. Provide more outdoors spaces to learn, expand the large schools into community spaces. If our goal as a society is to keep kids at school, we need to do better at providing a sustainable, healthy, and safe environment for students and staff.
Do you feel safe as a teacher?
I feel as adults, it’s far easier to control our actions, such as not touching door handles, washing your hands, keeping your distance. However it’s the spread that is concerning and highly possible with the students interactions. They still touch each other, are in close proximity, forget to wash their hands, improper use of their masks etc. The level of safety as a teacher, I would say changes day by day, based on outbreak numbers, daily behaviours and ever changing protocols.
What can parents do when their child is at home for a week with the sniffles?
With new communication from Public Health, your child requires 24 hours of symptom free conditions before returning to school. These guidelines are ever changing, so be sure to look online for updated protocols. Most teachers are posting their classroom work online now, so you should be able to check-in with your child's online learning platform. In addition, compliment or instead of, your child can focus on practicing the basic skills in literacy and numeracy. There are many online websites offering free subscriptions or membership fees for language and numeracy practice such as Lalilo, Raz kids, or Dreambox, just to name a few. I have been able to reach out to my local “teacher store” and get some recommendations for ideal workbooks for both my children and their needs. Most books stores carry Ontario Curriculum based workbooks as well.
How is the mental health of the teachers?
Honestly, I would say the mental health of teachers is concerning. I was recently reading a post on “toxic positivity” in respect to teachers and their behaviours. The idea of “toxic positivity” refers to this idea that we carry on like nothing has changed, and the true nature of our wellbeing is not validated or heard... For example, the administration calls the homeroom teacher down on a Friday after school to say; “Next week your class sizes will be increasing, and you will be teaching new students, new subjects with a split class. Classes are being reshuffled in the second month of the school year to maximize the French teachers as there’s a shortage. But you shouldn’t complain because some schools have reorganized more than we have”. It seems to be consistent that teachers are being set up for failure. As soon as teachers have established some kind of routine, radical changes are thrown our way and we are left to our own device to make sense of it all and continue to protect the safety and integrity of the child...where is the support and protection of the teacher?
What is the hardest part of a teacher’s day?
My body has not felt this kind of continuous exhaustion in a very long time… maybe since the birth of my own children? Wearing a medical mask all day takes a toll on your system. My voice is strained every day from trying to articulate my words and reach the students at the far back of the classroom. It seems to be more often than not, that my day ends with a headache. This feeling that your mind is in constant motion, and cautious of following all the protocols and enforcing them. Enter the classroom, wash your hands. Wash your hands, eat snacks, wash your hands again. Put your mask back on, wear it properly, keep your distance, don’t touch each other, stay back, keep your mask on, stay in your zone, wash your hands again. I would say the whole day seems to be hard.
As a parent, how can I make sure my child does not fall behind due to COVID?
I think we have to remove this question from our level of concern. Just. do. your. best! No child will be further ahead or further behind due to the Covid times. We are all just trying to figure this out as best as we can. Focus on the mental wellbeing of your child, problem solving, self-regulation and confidence. A child cannot learn academically if their foundation is not secured and their mind happy.
What has changed in teaching?
Just about everything?! This year I do feel that I’m back to the “first years of teaching” brain. Being with intermediate students, we are really trying to limit exchanges of papers, text books, materials etc. Students submit most of their work online. Whether they are taking pictures of their work and submitting it that way or working directly from an electronic device. Trying to figure out new ways to still get the students interacting and engaged. Redefining what collaboration and group work looks like.
What procedures make no sense for the safety of students?
Every School Board is different, and even each school can have different procedures compared to the next. At our school, I find students walking out of the building for recess, with no masks on completely inconsistent. Hundreds of students walking up and down the hallways and stairwells with no mask seems counterintuitive to wearing masks all day in class? I would also have to state that the option given to students to wear any mask they wish in school is not consistent with the “medical grade” masks that all staff are required to wear. I also find it challenging that any parent can get a “medical note” to request that their competent child not wear a mask in school due to things like “asthmatic symptoms” (symptoms, not a diagnosis). I completely understand mask-wearing is a challenge for even the best of us, not to mention some of our identified students on the spectrum or other developmental reasons, and these examples are not the limit of acceptions. However, in our classroom we need to work together and all do our best to wear a mask for the safety of everyone. Students can opt to wear a shield or tube instead.
Are teachers required to provide work for their students who are forced to stay home while awaiting covid testing?
So far there has been no direction for teachers to provide students with work if they are away. While this situation may be easier for the older students to get themselves caught up by keeping in touch through their online platforms provided by their teacher. Most teachers would try to “fill them in” on what they missed or just keep moving forward as it would be quite challenging for a child to get caught up on a full week of missed school work.
What can parents do to help support teachers?
Encourage your children to follow procedures. Practice wearing masks correctly and share with them why it’s important that we are working together at this. Continue to support your child's mental well being. Most importantly, follow the guidelines on what our government is telling us to social distance and refrain from gathering. It is very clear that we need our schools to remain open in order to sustain some kind of working economy, so please do your best to keep us all safe.
Now being in your own classrooms, how comfortable would you be if you were allowed to take masks off?
It seems to be happening more often now, where students are just in need of more frequent “mask breaks”. It has proven to be quite challenging to even get certain students to keep it on. Constantly reminding the students to put their mask on, or wear it properly. I don’t think I would feel comfortable with my students taking their masks off for long periods of time indoors.
Why can’t teachers just teach in class with live recording? That way both students at home and at school can learn.
While this seems like a suitable answer, there would be heaps of paperwork behind it and so many worries of child privacy protection. Each student would have to give permission from their parents to be recorded. What if we had a student in class that their parents refused to allow recordings? (this case would be highly likely teaching in the Halton region). Would we just place this student at the back of the classroom, somehow off camera? What would happen if this child’s voice was recorded even though the parents requested they were not? Would teachers have to review recordings to ensure privacy was held? We would also have to increase our internet capabilities and insure the network would be safe and secure.
Now with all this being said, there is currently a school board in the Toronto area following this practice.
Teachers try their best to get their students to participate and interact, their voices would be heard and faces also seen. Why can’t you put the camera JUST on the teacher you ask? Well, I can tell you I personally move around the class a lot. Visual walk arounds to make sure students are on task, the use of manipulatives to demonstrate, pointing to anchor charts around the class, demonstration etc.
Why can’t outdoor education be made more available?
This is a GREAT question, and something I have been striving for in all my years of teaching. Shouldn’t every school be equipped with some kind of outdoor classroom? While I had my hand in the creation of one at my previous school, it was a huge endeavor! I was also single with no kids ha! Far more time to apply for grants, research, source local companies to donate and assist in the creation. It’s simply not in the school budget to provide this kind of outdoor experience. Teachers are always welcome to take their class outdoors on school property, however there seems to be many objections (no shade, no place to sit, angry bees in the fall etc). The best case scenario for classes would be to explore other nearby parks, forests or even large trees. However, depending on the age of the students, for example intermediate students, the adult to child ratio is 1:15. We currently can’t have parent volunteers introduced to our groups, so it’s a matter of finding a volunteer within our already short staff.
Any questions you still need answers to? I am an open book-ask me!
Want to learn more about outdoor education? Follow me over at @greenereducation on Insta and Facebook.
I must thank my fellow co-workers for their optimism and transparency, and special thanks goes to Emma Annifowose for your feedback in writing this post.
Thanks for reading,