March 13 is a day that will forever be seared into my mind as it was the last day I spent time with my students in the physical classroom. Since then, along with many dedicated teachers, I have worked tirelessly to provide meaningful learning opportunities that hopefully established a sense of “normalcy” and camaraderie online. I cherish the moments I had with my students last spring as they were a neat group of kids.
Fast forward to today, November 3. Last week, we were given word by my district that our school was among the Tier 2 Schools (not to be mixed up with the tiers used by the State of California to determine covid infection rates) which would be opening for in-person instruction on November 12. In spite of my concerns, erratic emotions, and general disbelief at having to return while cases are increasing in my school’s zip codes, I have to admit that my current administrator (he’s new to us this year, but he is certainly not new to this position as this is his 35th year in the public schools) has worked so diligently and thoughtfully on our behalf to ensure (to the best of his ability) that all teachers would feel safe when returning to in-person instruction.
Full disclosure: I am not comfortable returning to in-person instruction. Not only do I worry about my husband who has a compromised immune system, but I also worry for my own general health. The data and reports about the severity (or not) or the longevity (or not) of the symptoms are big red flags for me.
Working at a Title I school, I am sensitive to the needs of our most vulnerable students. I have heard too many heart-breaking stories about their homelife and the day-to-day struggles that many of their parents face. I know that many of my students do not have their own devices let alone reliable Internet connectivity. The push to close the digital access gap is real, folks. I mean, it’s been around for far too many years, but this year…the gaps are glaringly obvious. So, yes, I get that my students would benefit more if
- They were in a physical classroom so that they could receive immediate support from their teachers
- They could easily have access to two hot meals a day (breakfast and lunch)
- They could interact with their peers to develop important social skills
- They had reliable access to technology devices and the Internet
- They had a safe place to be while their parents worked
- They knew an adult was readily available if they needed help
- They had the opportunity to be with their friends and make new ones
Yes, I realize that this is but a short list of benefits for my students.
But, I also know that more than 50% of our parents do not want their child to return to in-person instruction at this time. In fact, today I found out that more parents and students are opting to continue with the distance learning option out of concern about their health and safety.
So why are we going back to in-person instruction at this time? Well, it’s certainly not because the students will receive more instructional time (in fact, they are going to receive less instructional time than if we had stayed with the fully distance learning model). It’s also not because returning to in-person instruction will give students the opportunity to develop social skills–how is that possible with wearing masks and maintaining six-feet a part at all times? Students are not going to eating lunch together, they are not going to hanging out after school with their friends, they are not going to be engaging in many of social celebrations and activities that we used to have pre-March 13.
In fact, what awaits our students are desks measured six-feet a part or tables with a plexiglass shield down the middle. Their expressions are going to be hidden behind masks which they have to wear the entire time while on campus. Our students have to abide by one-way hallways. No short-cuts allowed. They are limited on what they can do during the passing period as it’s no longer about hanging out with friends in the quad. Students are going to still be served lunch, but it’s grab-and-go. No socializing over food for them.
No club activities.
No after school sports.
No enrichment programs such as robotics or photography.
Oh, and did I mention that they will have reduced instructional minutes with their teachers?
So, I guess I’m not seeing the overall benefit to returning to in-person instruction at this time especially when taking into account the added stress of possibly contracting the virus with the increased number of contact between people. This is not only a concern of mine, but for my students as well (yes, I have surveyed them multiple times so far this year).
I am a career educator. This is my 26th year in the classroom. I love my students. I love my colleagues. And I love teaching. But in light of the limitations we have to work with at this time, I do not see how the benefits outweigh the costs of returning to in-person instruction in six days.
Someone needs to get me off this roller coaster called 2020.