Today marks the last Labour Day during which I will be mentally preparing myself to go back to teaching. The whole thing is surreal. It would be enough, in and of itself, to be the last of its kind, but it is also fraught with differences. When I return tomorrow, my own students will not be there. They do not attend school until the day after - Wednesday. Why? In order to ease the burden (?) on teachers, parents, I don't know who, they are staggering the arrival of students in elementary school. I can't speak for secondary school. But they completely got it very, very wrong. Instead of sending the older students, grades seven and eight, the first day, as they are more mature, can handle change better, can reasonably follow the "new normal" instructions... they are sending junior and senior kindergarten students. These are potentially three year, four year, and five year olds. You know, the little people who hug and touch and have NO CLUE what school is if they are junior kindergarten students. As well, the teachers of kindergarten students, I think, have the most complicated transition to Covid teaching. They are not allowed to have any "soft" items in their classes. That means take away any fabric, soft foam, toys, area rugs on which to gather and listen to a story, well no gathering at all actually. These little people who are usually taught to play together nicely and share are now being provided with their own space - perhaps a little desk or maybe one end of a larger table, and they will not be sharing. They will be provided with their own stash of wipeable, hard items which a teacher will be cleansing and letting sit stashed away out of view for at least 24 hours before another tiny person can handle them. The kindergarten students will mostly be arriving on buses, some will walk to school or be dropped off by a parent. In previous years, an older sibling or helpful older student would likely help to tell the tiny person that it is their turn to get off the bus, or show them where to go and what to do. Now they are on their own in a big yellow bus with no assistance, except for a bus driver who is distancing himself or herself from the children.
I'm not complaining about the rules for distancing or cleansing (although how in the world you are supposed to teach as well as wipe down surfaces and toys and make sure nobody touches anybody or shares a pretty mask or continuously washes their little hands is "challenging"), but why the least experienced, least independent students are being sent on the first day of school (no other students are coming that day) is beyond me and shows a disconnect between the decision makers and the people for whom this decision actually affects.
Regardless, these are the times we live in, whether you agree with them or not. I must play by the rules, and so my students' desks are distanced as much as possible within my room. they have large labeled zip-lock bags containing pattern blocks, base ten blocks, hundred charts, letters for making word activities, math tiles and other counters. They also each have a wipeable dry erase board and a dry erase marker labeled with their own name. There will be no sharing. They will not be working together as partners or in groups. They will be hand sanitizing frequently throughout the day. Fountains are not to be used and are, in fact, covered in large plastic bags with criss-crossed tape and signs indicating so. Students are to bring a water bottle from home and designated times are set aside to use the one bottle filling station in our school. Students can remove their masks when they are outside at recess, but they now have "zones" marked off on the play ground or yard in which they must stay, so they are not mixing with different cohorts of students. The media is filled with the wonderful notion that students will be learning outside as much as possible. Yet, nobody has told us how to do that, while following the curriculum. Shall I get an extra long extension cord so I can wheel my LCD projector and laptop out to the yard in order to show a video of an activity that we would normally have done if we were allowed to work together but now we don't have enough items in order to do the activities individually and I have to disinfect them before and after use?
I'm forgetting many other "new normal" details. It is a lot to wrap my head around, as an old goat teacher who would normally sail through the first week, drawing from years of experience and bonding with my new students, enjoying my time back with my wonderful colleagues. So, this last first day of school is filled with many emotions. Trepidation, happiness, resentment, stoicism, anger... Who knows what emotions my students will be bringing with them that first day, but we'll soon find out.
Again, this post is not about whether or not the covid risk is there, or whether or not students should be returning to school. That is for personal opinions and everybody has them. This post is about what I thought my final first day of school would be like, what I've been working toward for 30 years, what it means to be in my last year (actually half year) of teaching - a profession to which I've devoted a lifetime. The current situation has tilted my reality and it's a little tough to absorb. Everything I've known as a teacher of elementary school has changed. Something as simple as working with a student to help them out with something has changed. First day assembly won't happen. Team building activities in the classroom won't happen. Casually handing a pencil to someone who dropped theirs won't happen. I didn't make the rules, but I am expected to follow them and I will. It is surreal. I could never have predicted that this was how I was going to wrap up my career, and I know I am not alone in this, as university grads never thought they wouldn't be able to properly and formally celebrate their graduation, new mothers never thought the fathers of their babies could not be in the hospital room with them, grandparents never thought they wouldn't be able to hug and see their grandchildren, workers as grocery stores never thought they would be required to wear a mask all day long, the list goes on and on.
With perfect pathetic fallacy, the day is grey and raining and windy - fat drops are hitting my window and the leaves and branches are rustling and moaning. It is a day for curling up in front of the tv and throwing in a load of preparatory laundry and drinking red wine and eating toasted tomato sandwiches with my now ripe tomatoes (a highlight in my week!). I am allowing myself this one post to wallow and then no more.