I, like so many other educators I know and respect, are humbled and honored to be trusted with your child as a teacher. But I need you to fully understand the reality of what teachers are being asked to do so we can open school and apparently jump start the economy.
If we open up face to face, know that we will do our best to make school as normal as possible. Our staff will wear masks and face shields. But we will no doubt take a page out of the nurses’ handbook and wear buttons or safety pin pictures with our smiling faces to ease the nerves of children. Teachers will come up with the most astonishing solutions to solve problems. We will use PVC pipes to make hand sanitizer stands with foot pumps so we can get sanitizer without contact. We will reconfigure spaces. We will bring our own furniture from home to create the safest spaces in our classrooms that we can. We will use our money to buy new supplies to create and duplicate new learning stations in a hope that some sense of normal can be achieved. We will exhaust ourselves, and do our personal best to mitigate as much risk as possible.
But, I wonder if it will be enough.
In my relatively new school building we have two sinks for 150 children, if both are working, where we are supposed to be able to constantly wash our hands. The sinks are not six feet apart, so they will need a partition between them. We only have one paper towel dispenser, so we will need another one. We generally run out of paper towels by Tuesday afternoon and often do not get more until Thursday at best. There is no hot water. 150 children in our pod share a boys and a girls bathroom outside of our physical pod of classrooms with two stalls each. Though there is another restroom around the corner, if a child is using that one we are unable to properly supervise both places at once. Not every restroom has soap dispensers, let alone soap and paper towels.
We do not have the physical space, cleaning supplies, PPE, or personnel to meet all of the CDC guidelines to truly reduce the risk of spread if we open face to face. We can meet some of the guidelines, but I need you to know we will not meet all of them with the current funding and personnel we have in my building. Know that administrators and superintendents around the country are currently deciding which guidelines they can feasibly meet. Districts are working to try and meet all of the guidelines knowing there is not a sweeping set of procedures or protocols to provide a realistic way to ensure that everyone will truly be as safe as possible as many buildings have different layouts and structures. I know my district is tirelessly working to solve for so many unknowns for which I am eternally grateful.
We will not be able to tie shoes or wipe tears without considering the risk involved for ourselves or your child. We will not be able to have small groups for reading at a table without risk or share materials for group work. We will not go on field trips or have big groups playing at recess. Children will not get to go work with their friends in other classrooms or sit at a table with their peers. You will not get to pop in for lunch or to see what your child is up to on any given day. You probably won’t be allowed in the building at all.
I am not writing this to induce fear or to persuade anyone. Everyone has to decide what is best for them with the options their district is providing or that are available to their unique situations. But because we in education have done so much with so little for so long, I need you to know that before this we were stretched thin. I need you to know that “opening schools” with the current set of cards we hold will not resemble anything you recall from school.
I need you to know that this will not be normal.
This will be very different.
This will be very jarring.
This will be very uncomfortable.
This will be a massive effort to reduce as much risk as possible, while also knowing we will not all be truly safe while we are together.
We want to be back at school, trust me. But I also don’t want to tell a class that the teacher next door is no longer coming in because someone is sick and they have to stay home for 10-14 days. I do not want to get a phone call and hear that someone’s Nana is in the hospital. I do not want to tell children that one of their classmates lost a parent. And I do not want anyone else to enter my classroom and inform my students that I won’t be back.