Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

Lalia Kerr teaches at Three Mile Plains District School.

Jennifer Henderson’s article, “The ABCs and Maybes of school reopening,” about the questions around school reopening was thoughtful but, like most examinations of the issue, lacking in attention to the issues that will arise in the younger grades.

It seems as if everyone thinks we will be just fine, but I think we are in just as deep waters as everyone else with no one throwing us a lifeline.

I’m teaching Primary/One in the fall. I’m an experienced teacher — I’ve done 10 years in Primary and 11 years in Grade 1. I know the curriculum, and I know the age group. What I don’t know is what my classroom will look like in September!

My greatest preparation strategy in any year is mentally walking through a day and seeing if it feels like it will work, anticipating the problem areas, balancing doing enough and too much (don’t want to overwhelm the little ones in their first days back, for sure) and looking for places where I can improve.

My problem is, I have trouble picturing a COVID-era classroom — because none of us have ever seen one and the plan, to me, doesn’t address the many questions I have about the day-to-day nuts and bolts. Those of us with boots on the ground need more than vague suggestions that seem to be little more than ‘do the best you can.’ I’m hoping that, before I see children in September, there will be more hard and fast information about what the day-to-day operation of a Primary classroom should involve.

Right now, this is what I’m imagining for the first days:

Our students are usually bussed. The buses arrive over a half hour or longer period of time (usually longer in the first days as they sort out bus runs and try to coax new students onto buses). So, the first children arrive, come in, and take off their masks. I’ll have ziplock bags attached to the sides of their tables into which they can put their mask, and a dishpan under their chair where they can put their lunchboxes and water bottles. One at a time (someone will be in the room to supervise) they can take their coats and backpacks to the hooks crowded together in the back corner, and hang them up.

Then they return to their chairs. Usually I’d have toys in ‘center areas’ to amuse them. Now, with no sharing, I suppose they sit in one area and ….I’m not sure. Color a picture? Play with a few math manipulatives? Have a few toys at their table?

For the early arrivers, they will be in those chairs for at least half an hour before school even starts — a long time for four year olds. As each bus arrives, the same procedure will happen for the arriving students while those sitting in seats will need strong encouragement to continue to do so. The inclination will be to hop up and go see their friends, I assume — it’s what teachers do when we have a PD session.

Children who are driven to school will need to be met at the door and walked to the classroom. I anticipate some tears as parents are told they cannot enter the building — not even for a picture.

Then the day begins. Will we sing O Canada? I think singing is discouraged as it spreads droplets. Perhaps we will just listen to O Canada in silence, like the high schoolers do. Announcements. Finally it’s time to learn.

I always started my Primary day with a couple of action songs to focus us all and get us up and moving. I guess we could still do the actions as long as we stay beside our chairs and don’t sing along. Maybe I should look for action poems instead.

Then I always took them to the meeting area to look at the schedule for the day and read a story. I guess we can do that on the Smart Board while they sit at their seats. The posted schedule can be made bigger so they can see from the far corners of the room. I can read a story from the SmartBoard, although that doesn’t really replicate the lap story environment that draws them into loving books. Still, it’s something.

At this point, some of them have been at their seats for an hour or more.

Then we do some independent reading. They will have baggies of books in their dishpans that they can take out. I will circulate and do some individual coaching. I assume I will need to wear a mask for this.

Then a letter work activity. I usually start the year with their names and do a physical unscramble with big letters. Guess I could do that if I have room at the front to space them out. We look at letters and letter sounds and how the arrangement and order of letters is important to words. Then they do a cut-and-paste activity where they unscramble the letters of the name and put it in order. I can do that successfully I think!

By that time, I think we will need to start washing hands for snack. I have a sink in my room so I can have them come up one at a time and wash. That’s going to take a while though, so I assume I’ll just let the others colour or play with the few toys I put in their dishpan. As their hands are washed they can start snack. They will need to open their own things and then put their garbage at their table. I can circulate with the garbage can after I finish supervising handwashing and have them scoop garbage into the can. If I don’t worry too much about sorting the trash at this stage, just sue me or judge me. I don’t really care.

Did you notice I didn’t mention changing shoes? If the weather is good, I’m not going to bother with shoe changes. They can just wear their outdoor shoes all day until we get a rainy day. Then we can work out where to store the shoes safely!

Recess. I assume we will be on duty most days with our own students, so I’ll take them to our designated area where they can play and actually move around. They will stay in one area of the playground under my supervision, but I bet they will be relieved to be allowed out of those chairs!!

Recess ends. We come in and sanitize hands as they come through the door. If they are wearing coats (often not needed in the first days), we will need to go one at a time to the coat hooks and hang them up. I guess after sanitizing hands they will need to stand by their chair until I can supervise them going to the coathooks.

Then we usually do math centers. Hmmmm. Not so much. Maybe a whole class math lesson. What does that look like with Primary? We can do some counting activities from their seats. They could stand up for these or have individual math materials to follow along. That is going to be interesting to figure out. I hope there’s some direction because the whole curriculum is all about interactive math learning and without sharing materials I don’t see how that can be done.

Then maybe a math worksheet. We aren’t supposed to collect these unless we can let them sit for three days without touching them. I think I’ll make name labels for them to keep at their seats. I’ll circulate with my camera and take a picture of the finished work and let them take the completed work sheet home that day.

Now the staggered recess time should be over so I could maybe take them outside again. A walk on the trail? Making numbers with sidewalk chalk on the pavement? Anything has to be better than sitting in those same seats for more time.

Then back inside to begin washing up for lunch. Same drill as recess. Someone else will supervise them as they eat and I will put on a video they can watch as they eat.

Outside time will need lots of supervision but that is the time I get a bit of a break. Taking huge breaths of air and drinking a coffee.

Well, we made it to lunch and I’m exhausted. After lunch it’s sanitize, stand at chairs, hang up coats.

Maybe an action chant. Then another story. Smartboard again. If you are in the far corner of the room, I’m sorry. This probably doesn’t seem like so much fun.

Maybe the music teacher will come into the room and do something musical. Or they might go outside for gym.

Then it’s time to get our belongings together for the end of the day. One at a time to the coathook. Get dressed at your chair. Get your mask out. Wait at your chair until your bus is called. “Love you all. We had a great day! I will see you tomorrow. Be good on the bus and leave your mask on. Give your papers to Mummy so she can see what you did today.”

How we will manage to deliver the ‘entire curriculum’ as the plan suggests with such limitations, I don’t know. And I’ve been doing this a long time.

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  1. Retired EPA here, was way ahead of the curve as far as hand washing and sanitizer. Last 5 years I worked up close with special needs kids never even had so much as the sniffles while others on staff were missing time from cold and flu
    Hand washing and sanitizer.

    1. I hope they give us a big supply of hand sanitizer and some disinfecting wipes. It would be good to be able to wipe down their tables before they eat lunch there

      1. Good read! Good luck! Medical offices have drastically changed as well. I’d recommend diluted bleach spray bottles and rags rather than disinfectant wipes or you’ll be going through thousands.

        1. We are strictly limited as to the types of cleaning products allowed but that may change. We will still need wipes for keyboards though as technology is shared

          1. I’m sure you don’t have any say in the matter but it’s odd that what works in hospitals wouldn’t be good enough for schools.

          2. There was a movement a few years ago to make sure all cleaning products were safe for use around children. I know I used bleach in a daycare setting so perhaps it will be allowed.

  2. Thank you for speaking up. It takes courage, but people need to hear what things are actually like in the classroom.

      1. It sounds impossible.

        I also noticed that you didn’t mention washing hands both before and after any time a child (or the teacher) needs to touch his/her/their mask. Isn’t that also required?

        I think teachers of younger children are going to spend all day just helping little ones wash their hands…..

        1. The little ones aren’t required to wear masks, although I will be wearing ones at time when I need to get close to them for individual help and support.

          1. I know that won’t be wearing them in class, but you did mention that they would have them on when they arrived on their buses and then again on their way home. That is the additional hand washings to which I was referring.

    1. I agree. I know we have to make it work somehow, but it’s such a discouraging way to begin a school career for the little ones. I hope we don’t create more school refusal and school anxiety.