It’s August now – the month when teachers traditionally decorate their bulletin boards, prepare their lesson plans, and get ready to welcome a new group of students to their classroom.
At least that’s what happens in a normal year.
This year, of course, belongs to COVID-19. It has changed everything about life as we knew it – health, employment, even grocery shopping and how we interact with one another. And right now, there’s a huge focus on our schools. Will they open? Can they open safely, or is online learning better right now? And if schools do open, what exactly is a teacher’s role in enforcing safety measures like social distancing and the use of masks?
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Teachers, school-bus drivers, administrators and school workers will be the next category of front-line workers in the pandemic, joining health-care workers and providers of essential services. Many are worried enough to consider quitting or retiring; an Education Week Research Center poll in May surveyed nearly 2,000 educators – about half of those were teachers – on their feelings about returning to school in the fall. When asked about whether they were considering leaving teaching before the pandemic, 82 percent said “very unlikely;” yet that number fell to 61 percent after coronavirus closed the schools in the spring. And when asked if the pandemic would make them more likely to leave, 37 percent said they were “somewhat more likely to leave” and seven percent said they were “much more likely to leave.” Those who were surveyed are also worried about underlying health conditions; nearly 36 percent said they have such a health condition, and nearly 70 percent cited a loved one who does.
Another survey, conducted by the Michigan Education Association, found that nearly a fourth of educators in that state are considering leaving their jobs. A USA Today-Ipsos poll conducted online in May found that 20 percent say they are “unlikely” to return. And teachers who are mothers of their own children must balance the need to care for their students with caring for their own kids.
“Like many working parents and caregivers during this pandemic, I have struggled to balance work with child care, home schooling and keeping my family safe from COVID-19,” writes Heather Mace, a teacher-mentor in Tucson, Arizona, in a post printed in The Washington Post. “It was exhausting, stressful and ultimately unsustainable. For that reason, like many mothers, I am weighing the difficult decision of whether to opt out of the workforce when school resumes in a few weeks.
“If districts don’t address the unique needs of teachers with children, many teachers will make the tough choice to prioritize their families over their students,” Mace continues. “This means they may quit the profession precisely when we need them most.”
Mercedes Schneider is a Louisiana high school teacher with 28 years of experience who has published three books about education and is the writer of a blog called Deutsch29. On August 2, she wrote about preparing her classroom to teach during the pandemic:
“My desk is bare except for my roll book, my Plexiglas 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.”
She writes about moving her podium and reading stool farther back from her students, and notes that she’ll have to clean her 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 without having to pass through the rows in order to reach my desk from the hallway entrance into my room… 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.)”
That’s a snapshot of how two teachers are feeling right now.
If schools open, many will follow the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Considerations for Schools: Operating Schools during COVID-19.” The guidelines outline a school system that operates very differently from the past:
Whew, you say. That’s a lot. And here’s the thing: That’s not even all of it. The CDC has separate pages for cleaning and disinfection, hand-washing, face coverings, social distancing, managing stress, higher-risk populations, and more.
During this time of multiple challenges, teacher-self care is likely to go by the wayside – but that’s a mistake. Staying healthy and well is more crucial than ever. In addition to practicing COVID-19 precautions, the ability to practice self-care will have a direct impact on a teacher’s mental and physical health. Teachers looking for continuing education courses right now might consider Dominican University Online’s Teacher Self-Care series, including “Teacher Self-Care: Managing Work and Life” (two credits, EDUO 9053), “Teacher Self-Care: The Science of Gratitude” (two credits, EDUO 9052), “Teacher Self-Care: Building Social Connections and Support Systems” (two credits, EDUO 9051) and “Implementing Self-Care for Educators” (one or two credits, EDUO 9054).
And in the meantime, stay safe.
Photo credit: Ana Belen Garcia Sanchez via iStock photo