My memories of lining all of my children up in the kitchen or front yard (Lord, Mom, Not at the Bus Stop!) for that obligatory first day of school picture are pure, misty nostalgia. These often made the Christmas card cut as well. I miss those days and the innocence we all shared. Last week, I saw the annual “first day of school” pictures for my friends’ children and one of my granddaughters on Facebook. Two or three weeks ago, I saw many of my college-aged friends posting their own back-to-school pictures. At my age, no one wants to see my own first day photo in the fall, but my colleagues and I have been back in school for four weeks now. Our students have been back for two weeks on a hybrid schedule or a virtual one. What follows are a few of my own observations; some from my teacher experience, some from watching the experiences of students, parents, and community members.
- I was wrong about having to shut down again almost immediately. My district seems to be doing a really good job of keeping the virus at bay. We are requiring masks when social distancing of six feet is not possible and we have closed gathering areas. They have also limited class sizes and we are required to disinfect the chairs and desks that were occupied at the end of each period. Our custodians are finally being recognized as the hard-working heroes they are. We stagger dismissals to and from classes to keep hallway traffic low. Bussing is available by registration. Those who didn’t register are on a waitlist. Temperatures are taken before getting on the bus or out of the car, and again several hours later. Is this enough? We’ll see, but I am encouraged.
- For students who enjoy school, the first day is exciting no matter what it looks like. Most local districts are beginning with a 100% virtual model. Most kids dressed for their pictures anyway. One or two proudly stood on their porch to commemorate their first day of virtual learning in pajamas and slippers. My parent friends on Facebook still polled their communities to see which teachers their kids’ friends had been assigned. Many posted positive reviews after the first day or week of virtual learning. True confession: I was thrilled to see many of my students come in for open house or for their first hybrid day after not seeing them since March 12. For nerds like me, the first day of school is exciting stuff.
- Everyone can wear a mask. When I saw some of the community’s most differently-abled citizens managing to wear masks despite extreme challenges to their comfort and security, I was moved. Then I got mad. We are still in pandemic mode because so many people don’t feel a responsibility to protect others from any cooties they may be carrying. I don’t enjoy a mask either, and I am aware it does not do a lot to protect me. It does, however, offer some protection to those around me should I unknowingly be infected. I won’t consider not wearing it around you and I appreciate the same in return.
- Many children and young (and some older) adults do not understand the potential consequences of ignoring health and safety recommendations. Notice I did not say ALL, because that wouldn’t be true. However, there are too many people who feel immortal or perhaps are simply naive about what is happening. It is not surprising that universities are having to shut down in-person learning when I see some of the pictures posted of the return to campus. We all have quarantine fatigue, but it wasn’t just a summer inconvenience.
- Masks are not a fashion accessory although no one appreciates a clever one more than yours truly. They are, however, supposed to remain over the nose and mouth of the wearer. Taking it off to eat means just that. Eat, then put it back on. You are no more inconvenienced than anyone else. This is where the compassion and guidance of us older folks becomes so important. We don’t let children make the family’s financial decisions, we don’t let them decide on their diets…this is for their protection. Therefore, as adults, we must kindly put our collective foot down about the responsibility we all have to keep each other as safe as possible. And remember, our children and students are watching what we DO way more than they are listening to what we SAY.
My wish for all of us is that we come out safely on the other side of this unique challenge and are better people for it. I know we can.