Let’s productively discuss the impossible. I know that sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but if there was ever a time for thinking outside of the box on education, This Is IT.
It isn’t just that we need to think outside the box, it’s actually that we’re trapped on the outside of the box and there isn’t really a route to take to get back inside. This is not going to be an as usual year. If I come up with a year plan for the 2020-2021 school year, it will be a work of fiction.
How can I plan for a year that is unlike anything that has ever happened before? Do I plan to be at school all year? Do I plan for spikes where I will have to do a remote classroom? How much time of my day will be spent screening students, washing hands and managing the rules of physical distancing?
Covid has changed the shape of society and we need our box model of learning to change to match the transition that the world is undertaking. The problem is that no one actually knows what shape this is all going to take. The key is that we need to be flexible.
When I say we, I don’t just mean we as educators or parents or students, I mean all of us. I mean that the old men who are running this place and holding on to all of the money need to flexibly listen to educators as we go back into the classroom and tell them what we need to teach and be safe.
Like, if we say that there is no way that 430 kids can wash their hands 7-9 times a day while maintaining social distance and some semblance of learning. Then there needs to be the flexibility to look at how to put hand washing stations in schools (preferably at least 2 on each floor).
It’s hard to think about planning for a year when I don’t even know how to safely let students walk down the halls (which are not more than 2 metres wide and will be clogged with line ups of students distanced across the entire school waiting to wash their hands.)
I almost forgot, my goal in writing this was to write myself into an optimistic perspective. In all honesty, it isn’t that I can’t find a silver lining. I’m glad that I am physically going to be seeing my students again. I am glad that I am not going to be spending my days trying to connect via a screen. I really love teaching and I really don’t love remote learning.
It isn’t that going back to school is the problem. The problem is that I feel like I’m being set up to fail. The government has laid out it's impossible outline of a plan and now schools and teachers wait for each school division to translate this plan into their perspective. Then we get to scramble around to try to fulfill what can’t actually be done. Each of us, in our little classroom spaces has to decide how we will make physical space for distancing, intellectual space for learning, emotional space for growing and social space for connection all under the umbrella of Covid terror.
In June, I measured my classroom and I know that if I take all of my furniture out of the room that my students can fit with one metre distance between them on all sides. This means that my students will be sitting on the floor on tape markers with clipboards in their laps.
This works perfectly in a weird alternative universe where students are actually robots who can sit for 6 hours at a time and never have to go pee. But, I’m pretty sure that none of the students registered in my class for next year are androids. Maybe we will have to bring back chamber pots?
While learning to control their bladders and the desire to move, I also hope that all of my students come to school with velcro shoes, that no one gets the zipper on their jacket stuck and that everyone has spent the summer learning to tie their scarves around their faces by themselves. I am supposed to stay 2 metres away from my students at all times which means that I won’t be able to help them with any of these practical needs.
Can you imagine being in a room with 20 kids and staying 2 metres away from all of them? How would you help them if they are struggling? How would you calm them? Soothe them? Redirect them? My students will be 7 -9 years old in September. That’s a great age to start lecture style teaching, right?
I know, I said I was going to write optimistically. I’m just finding it hard to do that without bridging over to a fantasy based world. If I were teaching at a school for magic then I imagine there would be lots of things that I could do to both protect and teach my students.
In this Earth based reality, the best that I can think of is to get outside as much as possible. All of my planning for next school year has so far been planning meaningful learning activities that I can do outside with my students. I am planning on meeting my students outside at the start of the day in order to avoid the congestion in the hallways. I’ve planned activities in every subject area that can be done outside. This is what I feel I can do to keep my students safe and learning. The more I can teach them outside, the more likely it is that we will all stay healthy.
I am of course aware that there are all kinds of difficulties that will arise. My last two years of classroom teaching at Greenway, my goal was to have my students outside and learning everyday, but I never managed this in December, January or February and even in other months some of our outings were extremely brief (it’s really hard to teach in the wind, even when students are not trying to social distance).
I don’t know if I have succeeded in being optimistic about the unfolding of the school year, but I am optimistic about seeing my students. I’m excited about the first novel I will read (The Twelve by Cindy Lin). I’m excited by some of the math and vocabulary building games I’m planning to play with them and I’m relieved that I will get to see them and check in with how they are doing in person everyday.
The upside to the coming school year is that it’s coming. It’s something new and fresh, it’s rebuilding our society and learning new ways of being a community. The government is going to continue to ask me to do the impossible and I’m going to continue by doing the best that I can within the confine of the things that I can control.
I can’t promise to redefine the school system, become a sanitation or a health and safety expert, but I can promise that I will do my best to teach the students who come into my classroom in the fall. I can promise that together we will form the community of room 22 and that we will learn new ways of being together. I can’t promise to do the impossible, but I can promise to do my best in an impossible situation. I think that’s all any of us can really do.