This week, our kids went back to school for the first time in five months.  They were masked up, but excited to be back in the classroom with other kids and their teachers.  I went back to school as well, as a para, and got a first-hand look at what school Covid-19 style looks like.  While the week was exciting — as the first week of school always is — it was also an eye-opening experience for me.

The passion and sense of service that I saw in the teachers and staff overwhelmed me! I began to realize all the work that has gone into getting our kids back to school.

Let me start by saying I’m always grateful to the teachers and staff that work with my children.  Teachers work hard to manage their classroom, develop appropriate curriculum, and differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of their students — no matter the class size.  They come in early and stay late.  They work in the evenings and on weekends and always greet my kiddo with a smile.

Teachers are truly amazing!

But this week, I saw a whole new level of dedication!  Covid-19 has brought about so many changes across our nation, our communities, and our way of life.  This week I saw first-hand how it has changed the face of schools. Ours is just one district. Yours might be slightly different. But the bottom line is the same: change.

Teachers have gladly stepped up to meet the demands Covid-19 has placed on them, so they can get back to working with their students.  It couldn’t have been easy.

Here’s just a short list of some of the things I saw teachers in our district handling this week:

  • I saw students arrive and dismiss on a staggered schedule to reduce crowding. This meant every teacher has kids arriving at various times for the first half hour of school.  Students repeat this at the end of the day.  This effectively eliminates up to an hour of instructional time.  Teachers must modify their instruction so that no student misses a lesson and find alternatives to fill these blocks of time.
  • Teachers had to remove anything with a soft surface that could not be disinfected easily. That meant many teachers with comfy reading chairs or flexible seating were left to purchase new items on their own and revamp their setup.
  • Teachers, staff and students had to take multiple handwashing and sanitizing breaks. Tables had to be wiped down in between working with students, and desks had to be cleaned several times per day.  Middle and high school students were sanitizing as they came in and out of classrooms, as well.
  • Teachers usually use a variety of tools to help kids learn new material, analyze information and synthesize their knowledge. These tools include partner shares and small-group discussions.  Teachers are having to find new ways to engage their students and assess their learning since close contact with other students isn’t a possibility.
  • Our elementary gym teacher has mostly moved outside and must move all the equipment in and out each day to recreate a gym experience for students.  The music and art teachers now reside on a cart and travel to each room or outdoors to teach – disinfecting all items between classes.  They bring what they can, but ultimately must modify lessons due to these logistical constraints.
  • Teachers often begin the year teaching routines, procedures and expectations. This list has grown exponentially — especially for the youngest students.  They are just getting accustomed to the idea of “school” and now teachers are having to add skills like handwashing, cleaning, and social distancing to a list of “need to knows.”
  • Our coaches now must sanitize every piece of equipment following use. Every volleyball and workout mat, not to mention all safety equipment, must be disinfected following practice.  This process keeps them at school for additional time – away from their families.
  • Did I mention masks? While some older students are handling this like champs, any kindergarten teacher around will tell you that it’s a full-time job keeping younger kids in masks… They’re too big, too tight, not covering their nose.  And teaching kids letter sounds when they can’t see your mouth and you can’t see theirs? Well, that’s a whole other issue.
  • Finally, when it is all said and done, the standard hasn’t changed for our teachers. They still have curriculum to cover and goals to meet.  Shortened days, multiple disruptions, and a focus on the physical health of our children (as well as themselves and their colleagues) doesn’t change that.

Teachers and school staff have their plates full!

They are doing more things, many of which they have never done and aren’t necessarily trained for.  And they aren’t getting paid extra for it.  Despite this, they do it and they do it all with compassion and understanding.  Our teachers are anxious, overwhelmed, and struggling with this new normal as much as we all are.  They want to serve their students and families as they have done for years, but so many new things have been put on their plate.  We are in uncharted territory and the map isn’t all that clear.

Please don’t get me wrong.  The health and physical safety of our students, teachers, and school staff is of the utmost importance.  We must help protect each other and I’m so grateful for the thought and planning that has gone into this school year.  But it has most definitely changed things.

So, whether your student is heading back to school in person or online, remember their teachers.  Show them grace, patience and understanding.  This is a whole new ballgame, even for the most experienced of teachers. Know that they are trying… trying so hard… to make this year a success for your child.  They care and are working beyond the call of duty to bring it all together.  Take time to send an email of thanks, maybe a card, a treat, or just a virtual hug. Let them know you are cheering for them, appreciate them, and realize that they are going above and beyond!

To educators and school staff both online and in-person: Thank you for keeping our kids safe and teaching them well! We see you! We are so grateful for all of you! You are simply the best!

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