For the first time in my teaching career, I have the Back to School Jitters … well, for reasons that have nothing to do with education.  Here in Arizona, we typically start school in the first week of August.  So, our experiences will hopefully provide the rest of the country, that starts much later, some insight into how things unfold and what to expect.  That’s what I hope to share with this blog post, and the series to follow.

This website is devoted to improving educational outcomes by supporting high school math teachers with curriculum, pedagogy, discourse, and mentoring.  So, this blog does not strictly align with our purposes.  This is about sharing ideas to help keep us all safe while teaching during a pandemic!  In this first blog on the topic, I’ll share with you some of my philosophies on approach this situation, and some of the practices I will implement.  I’ll follow up regularly as school kicks off to let you get a sneak-peak at what you might be facing.  If you’d like an email notification for this series, please let me know.  Send me an email and I’ll let you know when updates are made.  Click here.

The details from place to place will vary, but they’ll likely have some common principles.  Here’s how things are going down here in Arizona.  The governor said that in-person school would not start until the middle of August, but schools can open and operate in an online format until then.  From what I understand, schools will receive 95% of the funding for students participating in an online format.  That’s a significant piece of information as funding is critically short in education.  I’m sure that will vary from state to state, but how schools will be funding depending on study body population, attendance, and format, will influence the decision-makers!

My school will start in an online-only format.  At the end of August, we’ll begin with in-person classes, probably using some sort of rotating schedule where we’ll see half of the students on Monday and Thursday, the other half on Tuesday and Friday, and Wednesday will be distance learning only.  This will help keep class sizes down and allow for better social distancing practices.  But, with our current state guidelines, our state will fully fund students attending classes in this format.

In addition to these measures, the district is providing personal protection gear, is screening people as they enter the campus, delivering lunches to classrooms, and following other guidelines suggested by the state. 

Certainly, every state, and district within those states, will vary slightly.  Regardless, the school will not be as it was.  We’ll certainly have a new calling to ensure sanitation and educating students on best practices.  We’ll also have to be cognizant of our practices around other teachers, some of whom may be at high risk.  Lesson delivery, formative assessment, quizzes, collecting homework, tutoring, and small group dynamics will all be different. 

I’ll post daily updates in this blog for the first several weeks of school to try and help other teachers gain some insight into how things work, how students are behaving, and what it’s like. 

Now, I am not an alarmist, but I am of the belief that I am responsible for myself, and I take those responsibilities seriously.  I also believe that if and when things go wrong, I’ll be able to take care of whatever comes up.  In short, things will work out.  That said, this feels more like facing some military obligations than returning to the classroom!  It is easy to be overwhelmed.

A lot of questions remain about the Coronavirus, and I’m far from an expert.  My thinking is this:  I’d rather have the ability to feel I was over-prepared in hindsight, and even have someone say I was paranoid than to have regret.   

So, what can we, as teachers, control?  Here are a few ideas to start.

First off, ultimately we are all responsible for ourselves.  Our leadership teams, good or bad, cannot make the best decisions for us, individually.  Their job is to set up things as best as possible.  If you have a personal situation that makes you highly susceptible or have a concern, reach out to your school leadership.  Open communication will be very important.

Now, on the personal side, we can wear masks, gloves, and even face shields.  We can set up our rooms in a way that provides us some distance from students. 

At least for the first few weeks of school, until we better understand how COVID-19 can be spread in a school setting, it might be smart to limit how you “own the room.”  A few things I’m going to try and implement are:

One last word on educating students about the importance of safety during this pandemic.  While it is true that we don’t know exactly how this disease spreads, some common-sense best practices are sound and easy to explain.  Certainly, students will have a wide variety of views on the subject, just as their parents do.  I don’t wish to get involved in the political permeated even the pandemic approaches.  Instead, I’ll explain it like this.

“I do not wish to catch the disease, though I know that over time, I likely will.  Most likely, I will not be too gravely affected by the disease, but I might unknowingly pass on to others that might be.  It is my responsibility to take precautions for my fellow citizens, neighbors, family, and friends.  Just like I don’t believe in texting while driving because of the potential dangers it presents to others, I do not want to approach this situation with selfish disregard for the safety of others.  That’s why I am going to practice safety measures carefully and ask you to do the same.  I am asking you do to so because it might help keep my wife safe, the people at her work safe, your grandparents safe, other teachers safe, and ultimately, some of your classmates.  Let’s not be fearful, but instead, act with a focus and purpose.  Let’s take responsibility for ourselves and how our actions affect those around us.  Wearing a mask might be a pain, it gets hot, feels like it is hard to breathe, fogs up your glasses, and so on…but it is a small and temporary sacrifice to make.  It’s true, in the end, we might not have needed to wear one.  But how many times have you ridden in a car when you didn’t need your seat belt?  Probably 99.9% of the time.  And if you knew ahead of time that you would need your seatbelt before going for that ride, you’d not have gotten into the car. 

Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, being extra vigilant about sanitation, are similar to that.  By the time you realize you needed (past tense) to do those things, it is too late.”

Let me know your thoughts and concerns about returning to school in the comment section below.  If you’re particularly curious about one aspect of returning to school, let me know.  I’ll explore that and focus on it when I return and provide you with my experiences. 

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