Back to the Classroom: Challenges and Covid-19 in School Year 2021
With Covid-19 infection rates dropping and more people getting vaccinated, we find our surroundings slowly beginning to resemble normalcy. Restrictions are loosening, capacity limits are being lifted, and some states remove their mask mandate. So we are asking, What do covid-19 vaccines mean for daily life in the months ahead? Most importantly to us, schools are resuming in-person learning. When schools started implementing virtual learning in March 2020, teachers and administrative staff faced new and complex challenges. These challenges have not ended just because things are returning to pre-covid days. In fact, teachers face even more unique challenges with returning to the classroom, and Protecting Our Students (POS) is all about school safety.
It is hard enough for parents to explain to a young child that they should maintain a six-foot distance from their friends. It is even more complicated when you are a teacher in the classroom and must enforce social distancing among 20+ students. Children explore their curiosities with a hands-on approach. Many students are restless and too young to understand what boundaries mean, and we cannot modify the classroom square footage to allow for more spacing. Having to move desks around to space students out can create an awkward and cramped learning space. Reducing occupancy is a great idea, but unfortunately, many school districts face teacher shortages that do not allow for smaller class sizes. While some schools have adopted a hybrid schedule of in-person and virtual learning to reduce classroom sizes, students and teachers are still congregating in the classroom and potentially susceptible to Covid-19 and/or transmission. The time teachers spend on enforcing social distancing is time that is being taken away from actual teaching.
Many of the in-person learning conditions are the requirement that everyone, including students, wear face masks. Another challenge teachers face is making sure that every student is wearing a mask and wearing it properly. Many young students are not used to wearing a mask, especially for an extended period, considering many states’ mask mandates applied to only adults or older children. Many students are restless and love to play and fidget with whatever they can get their hands on. This can create improper mask-wearing and transmission of germs from one’s hands to their mouth and nose. While students can be loud, they can also be shy and soft-spoken. A mask makes it that much more challenging to hear what a student might be saying under the face cover.
This can make for a frustrating and delayed learning experience for everyone involved. Additional considerations for the use of masks among k12 students
While teachers and students are taking multiple measures to avoid catching and spreading Covid, transmission prevention is not 100% foolproof. There is a risk associated with a teacher coming back into the classroom to teach, more so for those of a certain age or with pre-existing health conditions. Luckily, more and more people are gaining access to the vaccine. In fact, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Prioritization of covid-19 vaccines and administration for certain educational and childcare workers has recently announced that “All COVID-19 vaccination providers are directed and required to make available and administer, as one of the currently eligible groups, COVID-19 vaccine to those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers”. While this is great news, implementation will not happen overnight. Let us not forget that some educators will not get the vaccine, which is their right but can still leave them vulnerable to catching and spreading the virus.
Some schools have resorted to limiting the amount of paper given to students due to quarantining the documents for a few days. For this reason, many students are required to bring in their school-issued laptops they were using during virtual learning. The challenge with this is that a computer needs to maintain a charge if it is in use. The average classroom will not have enough electrical outlets to sustain power for every student’s laptop. This presents a tricky game of musical chairs on who gets to use an outlet first while creating a tripping hazard of cords everywhere. Let us not forget about the students that will come to class with a dead laptop. Another concern is information and guidelines that are presented to ever-changing schools. One day educators are told to do this, only to find out a week later it was all wrong and to do it differently. It can be tiresome for an educator to enforce ever-changing rules.
We could not agree more when we would hear that teachers were underpaid, over-worked, and underappreciated before Covid. That statement is now magnified considering that the past year has been the most challenging of many teachers’ careers. Leave it up to teachers to show us what resilience, patience, and dedication are. Educators, along with front-line workers, have shined brighter than any star during the past year. Educators continue to amaze us with their ability to adapt to the new way of educating. Let us not forget to mention that educators are doing more work while getting paid the same and keeping themselves and their students safe during the pandemic. We take our hats off to every teacher, administrator, counselor, bus driver, janitor, and person affiliated with the school system. We admire you for the way you all have risen to the occasion and put our students first. POS thanks you all.