One of the biggest questions that many of our nation’s leaders, administrators, teachers, and parents are grappling is school amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Should students return to an in-person learning environment, stay at home and learn remotely, or participate in a hybrid of both? Many state leaders are making these critical decisions. The Washington Post and Schar School of Policy and Government surveyed 1,018 American parents in July with children in grades K-12. The survey found that 44% of parents want “a mix of in-person and online instruction” while 39% of parents want “all online instruction.”
Only 19% of parents surveyed preferred “all in-person classes.” The study also pinpointed top parental concerns on the return to school. Eighty percent of parents are concerned with teachers and family members getting sick due to in-person classes, but 60% also said they’re concerned with their kids falling behind in their studies.
It’s pretty clear that most parents don’t want their kids to fall behind by missing on that personal learning experience that in-school settings can provide, but parents also don’t want to jeopardize teachers’ or their family members’ health. And teachers are just as every bit concerned with how to protect themselves and their students.
What Some Teachers Are Saying About Returning to School
A number of teachers across the U.S. voiced their concerns in interviews and even through protests about the return to school. CNN writer Dakin Andone interviewed teachers at the beginning of the semester. Maunel Rustin, a history teacher in Pasadena, Ca., asked, “What if a teacher has to quarantine? Does the class have to quarantine as well? Will they learn at home?...Would the teacher be paid?”
One common experience that most teachers have with new Kindergarteners is their first-day fears: “You can’t hold a kindergartener's hand or give them a hug when they’re crying the first day...How do you build relationships and community when you’re trying to keep everything at a distance for life safety?” one teacher said.
Brain Galvin, the Chief Academic Officer of Varsity Tutors, had this to share directly with us on whether he believed that schools could reopen safely:
“Given what we know about hotspots and common activities that lead to COVID transmission—indoor spaces; coughing, sneezing, close talking—it’s quite likely that lots of schools will need to confront the reality that their best-laid safety plans may be insufficient. Young kids learn social skills by roughhousing; they learn new words and concepts by singing; their immune systems are still in rapid development so they're constantly sneezing and coughing with whatever cold is going around. There are bound to be droplets all over that room. And we all know the meaning of the term spitball because of what happens in middle and high schools—kids are going to push back on the rules.”
Many parents by now have a better understanding of what teachers go through on a weekly basis with students—they’re not always in a “learning mode,” making education challenging at times, especially when they’re distracted or influenced by their peers.
But many districts have given the green light for teachers and students to return to in-class learning. It’s essential and imperative that these teachers manage class environments and try to maintain safe spaces for themselves and their students.
5 Tips and Resources for Teachers and Students Returning to School
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces in the classroom
This is especially important for teachers of younger kids who are learning motor skills and social skills through play and imagination. Teachers need to keep supplies on hand for routinely wiping down surfaces like desks, cubby boxes, toys, books, and other areas that kids will touch.
- Encourage students to cover coughs and sneezes
While many of us adults are already accustomed to this, to prevent the spread of germs through droplets in the air, teachers need to help students establish the habit of covering their coughs and sneezes. We all know how kids are sometimes forgetful of this. Have plenty of tissues on hand just in case.
- Teach students about keeping their hands clean
An easy way to help younger students get into the habit of washing their hands is to have them sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Also have hand sanitizer ready so that they can access it when needed.
- Help students practice social distancing
Be sure that your classroom is compliant with health and safety guidelines like social distancing. Desks need to be arranged and remain properly placed, and students may need reminders for keeping their distance. Certain social activities may have to be eliminated to help keep both students and teachers safe, like finding a replacement for read-arounds or sharing materials for class assignments.
- Encourage parents to keep their children home if they’re sick
If a student does not feel well, has a fever, or exhibits symptoms of illness, they need to stay home. Administrators and teachers alike should discourage parents from sending their children to school when sick. And conversely, faculty should stay home if they exhibit symptoms of illness.
The Bottom Line
This is a hectic time for parents, students, teachers, and staff as preserving health is of the utmost importance. New developments are arising every day as educational officials are trying to determine solutions for a new state of normal.
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