Teaching in a Pandemic

The first few days of the pandemic starting in my area (mid-March) I thought I was going to be really cool and write down something that was happening each day of the pandemic. I did not. 

Here's what I wrote for the first few days: 

March 11- NBA and NCAA suspend seasons, Houston cancels rodeo, many colleges send students home and switch to online for rest of semester 
March 12- Governor will not shut down all schools, we will close if a case is with 50 miles of us 
March 13- Governor closes all Illinois schools from March 17-30 
March 14- many chain stores are shutting down, all businesses are sending out emails on how they are cleaning and handling business, China shuts down their last temporary hospital and Coronavirus cases trickle down to 15 a day 
March 15- went to church, to buy a few more groceries, and spent two hours at school copying packets for every student for the next 10 days; Governor closes all dine-in bars and restaurants until March 30, Italy has 368 Coronavirus deaths in one day, highest total yet 

Monday, March 16th, 2020 was the last in-pereson day of our school year. One of my senior boys came and told me good-bye because we wouldn't be back for the rest of the year. I laughed. I really thought this would be a nice two week break and then we would return. 

I would make two more huge packets of review work for students to do during this lockdown/quarantine time. Illinois declared that the work we sent home could only help your grade but it couldn't hurt you. So students who did nothing received the average of the first three quarters for their final grade and those that did the work got bonus points added to that average for their final grade. Students had to do over half the packets to earn these bonus points. 

At the time, this seemed like a good plan. We weren't supposed to give out new material because how would a student teach themselves from a packet and no instruction? But by the third packet, it was a struggle to come up with material. Thank God I use a pre-made curriculum! It took a long time to pick out what to use, to put together a packet, and of course to copy them- I can't imagine how long it would take if I had to create the packet as well. 

Not having a fourth quarter was hard because that is when a lot of the most fun/memorable acitivties happen: Prom, graduation, awards ceremonies, baseball season, end of year parties, etc. I'm still very bitter about this because we had one of the best baseball teams in our school history and they didn't get to play. And then they graduated and left behind only 3 experienced players. Why couldn't this have happened in 2021 after those baseball players were already gone and we barely had a team anyway? Still grieving this. 

I did my best to still make things happen the best that I could. I mailed out awards certificates and medals. I mailed out birthday candy to students who had birthdays in March, April, and May since I wouldn't see them in person. We made graduation shirts and signs and I made gifts for my seniors and me and the guidance counselor went door to door to deliver them. We had graduation through scheduled times and limited visitors. The one thing I couldn't make happen was Prom. Also still grieving this. 

Thankfully we had made it through some other important parts of the year like volleyball, Pink Out, basketball, Spirit Week, and Homecoming before the pandemic. 

Throughout the summer, we began to meet as a team to plan for school opening in August 2020. I believe we had great representation on our team: a person from elementary, middle, and high, special ed, school nurse, guidance counselor, head janitor, principal, superintendent, school secretary, and board members. We met weekly and eventually put together a plan that was sent out to parents in July. Originally, we were planning to come back full time at full capacity with safety measures in place. The more and more we discussed the saftey measures, the more we realized there was no way to make that work.

Here is the plan we came up with: 

  • Hybrid learning with students split into 2 groups; Group A attending on Monday and Wednesday and Group B attending on Tuesday and Thursday 
  • Groups were split by school secretary, nurse, and guidance counselor, keeping siblings and families together 
  • Students who decided to be full remote were required to come to school on Fridays to take assessments 
  • Friday would be remote learning day for Group A and B while also being the day that full remote students take assessments 
  • Reduced class periods from 8 a day to 7 a day so students were dismissed at 2:20 instead of 3:00, giving teachers the time from 2:20 to 3:00 for extra plan time in addition to their normal 47 minute plan period throughout the day 
  • Full remote students could also come in and take assessments from 2:20-3:00 
  • Rerouted the pick up line and bus drop offs to be at different doors where aides were stationed to take temperatures as students entered 
  • Everyone wears masks always unless eating or drinking 
  • Since class sizes were cut in half, desks were spread out to keep students 6 feet apart as much as possible 
  • Desks are wiped by students/teachers after every class period 
  • Rooms are 'fogged' by janitors every night 
  • Students are spaced out at cafeteria tables, no going in to the gym after eating 
  • Students pick up to-go bags of breakfast as they enter the school and take it straight to their first hour classroom to eat; large trash cans stationed in the hallway for food
  • Discontinued use of lockers and students carry everything in their backpacks 
  • Limit movement in classrooms as much as possible, no group or teams, no shared supplies
  • Lunch is all in styrofoam containers instead of trays
  • Library books can't be checked out
  • All students received chrome books, ear buds, and flash drives
  • We offered a two-hour google classroom training for a $100 stipend in early August
  • Siblings sit together on the bus and every other seat, first people on go all the way to the back so people don't have to walk past other people
  • Students don't dress out for gym, team sports are only played outside with masks on
  • Students didn't play in band until maybe November after getting special masks to wear while playing instruments
  • When the bell rings, class dismissal is staggered so students can social distance in the hallway
  • Students can't leave class (for the bathroom or to the office) without first calling the office and asking for an adult escort
  • No group recess, teachers worked out their own schedules for their class to have individual recess
Overall, our plan worked really well. Several neighboring schools went back regular and just added wearing masks. They had to shut down multiple times due to positive cases. We had a total of four positive cases. One was in elementary, in group A so group A was shut down for two weeks in that grade only. We had one school secretary get it but she has very little contact with teachers or students. Then in the week before Thanksgiving we had two teachers with a positive case and the highest amount of students on quarantine (due to parents testing positive but not the kid) that we have ever had. So the week after Thanksgiving we went full remote with students at home and teachers at school. Then we came back to our hybrid schedule until Christmas break started.

The current plan is to stay hybrid until Martin Luther King Day and then both Group A and Group B coming back together four days a week. Why you may ask? I HAVE NO IDEA. The school board president seems to be pushing strongly for this but I don't know why. 

Obviously we all want to return to normal but if safety is our top priority...then I don't see how this works.

To Be Continued...

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