Lessons learned from the return to school
Western Quebec teacher Letha Henry shares what it’s like to be back in class during COVID-19
As school started up, I felt a lot of different emotions.
It wasn't just that I was leaving the house for the first time in a while (I hadn't driven past our mailbox in three weeks). I also had to wrap my head around all these questions about what school was going to look like and how it would work.
- Got a story for our Point of View section? Email us with your idea.
We started well before the first day, practising new protocols, talking through each part of the day and how to do it at a distance.
Every day, I felt more confident that I and my colleagues could navigate this situation together. This also helped me as a parent to feel better about bringing my own son back.
To be honest, I was nervous for him. What would that school experience be? Would it be scary?
But I was determined to make it a positive experience and not pass our adult fears on to the students.
In the classroom, we taped up personal workspaces for each student, marking off desks in two-meter squares with walkways for teachers to pass. We call them islands, and tell the kids it is reserved just for them.
Working on our understanding of what 2 m distance looks like outside.<br>Step 1: Each S measured a 2m line -counted how many of their own steps fit in the line.<br>Step 2: Challenged to show 2m away from specific objects (using steps)<br>Step 3: Play follow the leader keeping 2m distance <a href="https://t.co/TydIm0wYWr">pic.twitter.com/TydIm0wYWr</a>—@lethajhenry
We removed the furniture — the carpet, the couch, the class library. We put together a package of materials for the day so no one has to share.
One of my students told me she likes it better having her own space with everything right where she left it. She wrote in her journal, "I wish it was like this all the time. I just wish we didn't have to socially distance."
On the first day back, it felt more like a brand new school year. I had a new group of students — because just three of my class of 18 decided to return.
In our small rural school, we have two multi-age classrooms. In my group, I have five students from kindergarten to Grade 2 — and two of them are my son and his best friend.
The first week back, many of the teachers talked about how tired we were. You have no patterns to fall back on. Everything is new, and even something like supervision in the yard requires extra vigilance.
I think some of the kids were nervous and didn't know what to expect. They'd heard lots of talk in the news.
Recess was a big learning curve. The play structures are off limits so no more tearing outside and running to the climbing wall. No more tag.
At first, that took a lot of instruction. My own son was worried about getting in trouble if he forgot to stay two metres apart. But I think now he and the others know that they get a gentle reminder and we carry on.
Instead of focusing on what is off limits, we talk about what we can do. Things like dribble your own basketball, skip rope or draw with chalk. We have a small wooded area in back, and they can space out there. We have a new game where we spin the wheel and choose a different handwashing song every time we come in, to make it a little more exciting.
No, we can't cozy up and read a book together. But we can hold up books and read them to friends from a bit farther apart.
Though my son was nervous at first to return, he was also missing his peers while at home as an only child. We explained that school can be safe if we do these new things to protect ourselves. Now, in the mornings he's dressed at 6:30 a.m. and ready to go.
Personally, though I was nervous too the first time, I realized when I got here just how much I'd missed being in the classroom. Even under these circumstances, being back here just feels like being home.
I imagine some in Ontario are disappointed that schools aren't reopening. But many teachers I know are also relieved. I understand both sides.
There are many who are scared, and who think this decision in Quebec was not timed well. I have had time to come to where I'm at today, where I'm optimistic that I can make this time great for my students. But it was a roller-coaster getting here, and I know not everyone shares my view.
I know my classroom looks nothing like what it used to.
But I think now, if you were to ask the kids about their day, they probably wouldn't even think about what's changed. They'd think about the games we played, the time we spent in the forest and the fun we had.