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The COVID Classroom: Anything But Normal

August 2, 2020

Last week, I went to my classroom to begin preparing it for teaching COVID-style.

I was fortunate enough to be able to pack up my classroom once our governor declared in April 2020 that students would not be returning in person to school for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. So, in some respects, preparing my room for pandemic teaching was rather easy since my personal possessions will remain packed away.

My desk is bare except for my roll book, my plexiglass clipboard (which may prove useful as a barrier) and my hand sanitizer.

No Kleenex on the desk since an open box of tissue could become contaminated by COVID-19.

No classroom set of books, either, so I dissembled the bookshelf to make room for socially-distanced student desks.

No need for my podium for student presentations, so I moved that further back and put my reading stool behind it. (To leave my stool in its usual place at the front of the room would have me too close to my students, who will also not be allowed to move to front of room to take turns leading the class. Too much movement; not enough space.)

The podium and stool are crowded at front of room near my projector cart and TV/DVD cart. To use projector, I need to set it up and adjust, which will put me close to my students. So, if I use it, I have to try to set up and adjust before students enter room, which is the time I need to also use to clean the room between classes.

As for the socially-distanced student desks: I usually have 29 student desks in my room. However, in order to meet the six-feet-distancing requirement (and with the only bookshelf in the room dissembled), I can fit 14 desks without blocking doorways or withoutn having to pass through the rows in order to reach my desk from the hallway entrance into my room.

In order to be creative with storing the remaining 15 desks, I first thought of simply facing them backwards between the forward-facing, socially-distanced desks. However, I know that students will try to sit in those stored desks, or prop their feet up on them. Moreover, if the unused desk surfaces are facing up, then I will need to clean all 29 desks between classes. So, I decided that I will turn the surplus desks upside down, making them stored but not an issue for students to try to utilize– and not an issue for extra, between-class sanitizing for me.

My mother offered to buy me a face shield for use at school. Although I am the teacher in my classroom, to my mother, I am her child who must attend school during a pandemic, and she is concerned.

I told her I have already purchased two face shields, and two washable masks, and two pairs of goggles. I will rely upon my school for gloves.

I also purchased three sets of scrubs to wear in lieu of my usual professional clothes. Our superintendent notified teachers that as per frequent teacher request, wearing scrubs will be allowed. (They are easy to wash.)

If and when we return in person.

Faculty was supposed to return on August 03, 2020, my 53rd birthday. However, COVID-19 cases in Louisiana are notably high, so our school board voted to delay school for four more weeks and to cut a number of holidays from the school calendar.

As of this writing, Louisiana’s positivity rate in 14 percent.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) actually has a document for school administrators in which the CDC feels it must spell out the importance of attending school in person, as though administrators are ignorant of such fundamentals (“In-person instruction may be particularly beneficial for students with additional learning needs”; “In-person classroom instruction has the added benefit for many students of interpersonal interaction between the student and the teacher and the student and peers”; “Schools are an important venue for students to receive emotional and psychological support from friends, teachers, and other staff members”).

The CDC assumes that these benefits somehow transcend pandemic reality. They do not, and the CDC should know better.

Interpersonal interaction in the school setting will be seriously curtailed during this pandemic. I cannot assist students by speaking with them in close proximity, one-on-one. I cannot assign group work without serious (stifling) restrictions. I cannot encourage any unnecessary movement.

I am limited on the materials I can use (i.e., distributing papers, and certainly not swapping or sharing papers), and I cannot offer my student the chance to take turns at the front of the room leading the class (it’s that unneccesary movement issue).

I am even limited as to my movement in my own room; in addition to separating students by six feet, I am supposed to have my own teacher area and to leave that area as little as possible.

So, no circulating around my own room.

I am the teacher, and I am supposed to limit my movement in my own classroom. Is every conversation with a student to be said loud enough for all to hear? Am I to teach without being able to walk up to my students or have them walk up to me? Apparently that is the expectation. But let’s not pretend that what I will be able to do for my students in my COVID-era classroom is remotely on par with normal teacher-student and student-student interaction.

In short, what I will be offering in my room is a form of distance learning to students who happen to be seated in a space in which they can see me and I can see them.

I am fortunate that my district will mandate masks, with individual exceptions requiring administrative clearance. However, given what I know about the spread in a restaurant in China, one with AC units much like those in my classroom, I will have to strategically seat any students excused for wearing masks so as to minimize circulation of respiratory droplets from those students. And I must tell you, even with all of us (including me) wearing masks, I am still concerned about encouraging too much talking in my enclosed classroom with its recirculating air.

I’m not sure just how “emotionally and psychologically supported” any of us will feel given that I will be masked, goggled, face-shielded, gloved, and wearing scrubs, all of which says, “I am concerned that my students will give me COVID-19,” and I will be purposely distanced from my students, who themselves will be masked and purposely-distanced from one another.

I haven’t even hit upon the oppressive absence of all of the extracurricular activities that will be shut down due to coronavirus and how every in-normal-life, casual move (walking with a friend to lunch; improptu restroom visits) can no longer be casual and must instead be planned, scheduled, and executed with unnatural attention to the ubiquitous safety protocols that will be, must be, the true center of our in-person school days.

I also haven’t discussed the fear that returning to school presents for many students and faculty.  I have had three anxiety attacks already in which my heart was notably racing at the thought of returning to school in person, and I am not prone to anxiety attacks.

In the era of COVID-19, and in a state in which the positivity rate is currently 14 percent, remote learning offers more emotional and psychological ease than does in-person learning: No masks, no goggles, no face shields, no gloves, no regimented, stifled movement, no concerns about recirculating air; no need to schedule bathroom breaks, and no ever-present, looming fear of catching, spreading– or super-spreading– COVID-19.

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16 Comments
  1. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    This is an important post. The detailed attention you have given to the changes in your classroom and customary routines differs from the casul “just open up schools” proclamations from clueless “experts” …now including the CDC and those who are ignoring the flow of information on transmission among teens and children. Your last line says it all. Thank you.

  2. Sunshine permalink

    Happy Birthday!

  3. Ellen Steigman permalink

    I teach in the same district as you do, and I’m concerned about all of the same issues. More learning likely would happen in a 100% virtual environment, especially given how the distancing and discomfort will impact every aspect of our classroom interaction.
    In addition to our very real health and safety concerns, the hybrid schedule we’ve been given has us meeting in our classrooms with students sometimes as infrequently as once a week, and there is no time allocated to meet with students virtually, unless we choose to do so either during our planning time (which I will only have two days/week according to the current schedule) or after school hours (which I will probably do).
    Despite my belief that current CDC is under the thumb of the administration, I do agree that kids need to be in school – but at what cost? As you’ve said, we are in a pandemic. Unfortunately, many are also in denial.

  4. Brilliant, Mercedes. Here’s wishing you and yours safety in the coming year!

  5. bethree5 permalink

    You should also get yourself those elastic-banded fabric over-the-shoes things we often see in hospitals. Wish I were kidding. Read a couple of articles by docs during March/ April hospital struggles who emphasized the importance of not tracking germs into your home. Floor is where those aerosolized & heavier droplets eventually land.

    • Good suggestion. In my case, I do not wear shoes in my home; I take them off at the front door. Keeps my floors cleaner.

  6. Lana Baroudi permalink

    Excellent post. I am glad we are beginning the year with remote learning in my district and truly hope we don’t pivot to a hybrid model until we really assess how safe it is.

  7. Kelly permalink

    What is bothering the hell out of me during these times is why are TEACHERS the only people in the free world that can say “we don’t feel safe enough to go back to work” yet still collect a full paycheck!!! And if you want to address unrealistic expectations than you should think how unrealistic it is to ask me, a mother of three, who works a full time job to be there to “help teach my children” when they are all in very different grades and how am I supposed to do that and work?!?! Really teachers!!! I have lost so much respect for the lazy educators of America it is just ridiculous

    • Anonymous permalink

      Kelly, my children are grown, but not long ago I was also a working mother of three students spread out in age, like you, so I understand the frustration and cannot imagine the juggling needed especially for those without close family support.(We moved a bit and it happens.)

      Imagine a full classroom of students, not robots, each with free will, interacting for hours on end in 20×20 foot room.That’s an indeterminate number of possible behaviors, problems, questions, issues, conversations, whatever. In order to establish and maintain the best interests of each while still moving forward, teachers operate “in loco parentis” which I interpret as treating your children as I would like my own to be treated. We work hard to provide a safe environment; protecting children is ingrained. Sending children into a situation where they will be exposed to this virus goes against every fiber of my body. This is the reality in my location, right now, based on the number of new daily infections per capita. I would not send my children, and I would not want yours to be exposed, either.

      Once we’ve had a few weeks of no new cases, the conversation will be much different! It is not “work” we fear, as online teaching is infinitely more challenging on our end. Right now, online is the right call for the situation. We know the dangers of putting children together in rooms with such poor air ventilation. If one is infected it will spread to others in the class, regardless of protocols. I don’t want any child, yours or mine, to have to live with the knowledge that they inadvertently spread the virus to a classmate or vulnerable family member. The risk is too great, and patience will pay off.

      Wear a mask. Stop the spread.The virus cannot replicate without a human host. Don’t be the host.

  8. I must be one of the lucky ones.

    In my school, all students are 100% cooperative and they all exhibit exceptionally high levels of maturity, responsibility, and concern for others. Thanks to our hyper-vigilance, every classroom teacher will be provided three TAs or classroom aids to oversee and enforce all Covid safety protocols. All students will be required to memorize and recite our Covid Safety pledge on a daily basis. If a child does violate a mask or distancing rule our district has a BOE approved policy requiring immediate suspension and placement into on-line only instruction. All buildings have been upgraded with a state of the art HVAC system, including negative pressurization in all classrooms. All staff will be provided with N95 masks and teacher friendly haz-mat suits will be available by request. Every room has a sink with hot water, soap and hand sanitizer while a video screen above loops a CDC how to hand wash video. Desks are spaced and equipped with plexiglass shielding; all students have promised not to draw on them. Our custodial staff has been quadrupled and provided antiseptic safety seminars to aid in desk cleaning between classes and ensure that “Deep Cleaning Wednesdays” are thorough and professional. Infrared temperature scanning bars have been installed over every entranceway and classroom door which will provide visual and audio warning alarms if a surface skin temp exceeds 100 F. A team of nurses and PAs have been provided a medical suite; 15 minute Covid tests will be available to all with follow up by our new contact tracing team.

    I hope some of you are as lucky as me!

    • How many students are in your school? Is it a specialty school, (i.e., a magnet school)?

      • Time to change the battery in your snark detector

      • There are small, selective -enrollment schools that could have your scenario as their reality. My nephews attended such schools. Also, one school in Ga. reported hacing only 4 students per class. So, your snark nis possible in some places.

  9. bethree5 permalink

    Gosh Mercedes I’m reading this for the third time in 3 days and still worrying about you.
    The thing that floors me most on this read: why in heavens name is the TEACHER responsible for dealing with the excess 15 desks? Why aren’t they just out of there on day one? Hauled away to rented storage space, e.g., eventually reimbursed by covid school-aid funds. That could have been a summer-long job for one FT janitor. Instead, you all lose a few more CF of breathing space, and have to work in a jumble. And you could end up needing a substitute because you’ve strained your back.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: My Pandemic Classroom | Diane Ravitch's blog

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