I'm A Teacher -- Why Hasn't Anyone Asked Me About Reopening? I Have 5 Big Questions

by Mrs. Teacher Life
Girl in a medical mask washes tables in a school class during the quarantine period
Scary Mommy and Madhourse/Getty

Everyone has an opinion about how and if schools should reopen for this coming school year. We’ve heard from the governors, the pediatricians, the parents, the education secretary, and the president. Everyone has a “study” and “research” to back up their claims, but unfortunately (as always with decisions made in education) they do not have one very important thing — experience in a classroom.

In classrooms filled to max capacity with five-year-olds who don’t even know how to blow their own noses, where the teacher:student ratio is 1:28 or in some cases even higher. Classrooms where the teachers are already begging parents for tissues, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, even in a pre-COVID world. Classrooms and hallways and bathrooms filled with teenagers who think they are invincible. School buildings with no extra rooms, without central air, where there are four sinks for over 200 students to use.

As a teacher, I do have this experience, so I have many questions about how it will be possible and safe for schools to reopen. Nobody asked me — but since many other professions are giving their opinions about reopening, I thought maybe, just maybe, (it’s a little bonkers, but hear me out) we should hear from a teacher.

Let’s discuss hand washing. If an average class size of kindergartners is 25, then it would take 8.3 minutes for them each to wash their hands for 20 seconds — not too bad you might think. That’s doable — let’s reopen! Unfortunately. that does not account for transition time between students at the sink, the student who plays in the bubbles, or splashes another student, or cuts in line, or has to be provided moral support to flush the toilet, because they are scared. It doesn’t account for the fact that only a few students will be allowed in the bathroom at a time and the teacher must monitor whose turn it is to enter and exit the bathroom, and control the hallway behavior, and send the student who just coughed to the “quarantine room” that doesn’t exist BECAUSE THERE ARE NO EXTRA ROOMS.

Where are the students in hallway waiting? In line? All together? Six feet apart? No wait, three feet is okay now. Either way, 25 children standing three feet apart is a line over 75 feet long. Who is monitoring this line? Keeping them quiet, reminding them to keep their hands to themselves?

Another thing about social distancing: Even people who are not teachers have already figured out that there is not enough room in classrooms for all students to be six feet apart. No problem, we’ll just change the guideline to three feet. But what about all of the classrooms around the country that don’t even have room to put all of their student desks three feet apart? What about the classrooms that do not have desks and have tables where students sit in groups instead? Who is providing these classrooms with new socially distant furniture? Is there a budget for this or are schools getting increased funding? LOL NO, they are getting LESS funding.

Oh okay, well maybe teachers will just buy it themselves out of their own pockets, as they do so many other supplies. Well I have bought A LOT for my classroom and students over the years, but I can not personally afford to buy them all individual desks.

Even if the kids do have individual desk spaces, do they have to stay there all day? Do the kindergartners ever get to come to the carpet area for a story (spoiler alert — it is not big enough for 25 kids to sit three feet apart). Do they ever get to do centers? Sit next to a friend and read together? Can they even share books? I think before anyone gets to answer these questions, or more likely brush them aside, they should have to try to teach 25 five year olds how to sit in a chair on the first day of school … and then get them to stay there all day every day.

So after we return to school without the equipment and ability to stay healthy and safe, and a teacher or student gets symptoms, what then? The teacher or student should stay home to avoid infecting others, right? Well, a few things to consider:

1. Many times the kids are asymptomatic so they will be spreading germs unknowingly.

2. Many kids already come to school sick, sometimes dosed with medicine to mask fevers and symptoms, because parents have to get to work. How do we monitor this?

3. The symptoms of COVID are very similar to the symptoms that young children exhibit throughout the fall, winter, and spring due to common cold or allergies. And if teachers and students really stayed home every time they had a cough or symptom, they would probably be absent more than present. So do we have to ignore certain symptoms? Please clarify which symptoms are okay.

4. Staff are likely to have increased absences due to self-monitoring symptoms. Are they going to have substitutes for their classes? Substitutes can already be extremely hard to find. If we do find a sub, what germs are they bringing in? Where have they been? If they test positive do all schools they have been subbing at have to quarantine?

5. If a teacher or student tests positive for COVID, who quarantines? The entire class? The school building? Do we use sick days for this or is it unpaid? Do we switch to remote learning during the quarantine? Who is teaching the remote learning if the teacher is unable to work due to HAVING THE COVID THAT HE/SHE CAUGHT AT SCHOOL BECAUSE WE CHANGED ALL THE HEALTH AND SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS JUST TO ACCOMMODATE PUSHING SCHOOLS TO REOPEN WITHOUT THE EQUIPMENT, SPACE, OR ABILITY TO KEEP STAFF AND STUDENTS SAFE?

Maria Symchych-Navrotska/Getty

Yeah, but students need to be in school for socialization! You are 100% correct there. Students need to interact and have human connection and learn social skills. Helping students learn to make friends, share, be kind, love learning, and become good citizens is one of the most important parts of my job. However, it’s going to be hard to interact when students have to stay apart and impossible to learn to share if they can’t touch the same supplies. And guess what? That REALLY stinks.

Everyone can agree this whole COVID situation bites the big one. Teachers WANT to get back to school … WHEN IT IS SAFE. We want to get back to seeing “our kids” in person everyday … WHEN THE CASES STOP RISING. Teaching remotely is not easy or fun. We want to get back in our classrooms … WHEN WE NO LONGER HAVE TO FEEL LIKE WE ARE RISKING OUR LIVES AND OUR FAMILIES’ LIVES TO DO SO.

We hear you, parents: Kids like school. They miss school. They learn more at school. They are annoying you at home. Teachers miss school too. We miss the kids (even though, off the record, they annoy us sometimes too)! But our top concern right now is that everyone is healthy and safe. Remote learning isn’t most people’s first choice, but it is a safer solution in the meantime, while we figure out this global health crisis. It is also hard to imagine how much learning would be taking place in the classroom anyway after they wait in their 75 foot long lines to wash their hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day.

School days are already crammed full and now we will be adding in disinfecting constantly, monitoring for symptoms, sending kids to “quarantine,” trying to get in touch with parents, dealing with masks, giving “mask breaks,” etc. We were flying by the seat of our pants to make remote learning work last spring and I think teachers across the country did a pretty darn good job! But if we would decide now to make the safe decision for teachers and students and open with remote learning in the fall, teachers could be training and preparing and planning for online education, instead of trying to open schools and then flying by the seat of our pants AGAIN to go online when it doesn’t work.

We hear you, pediatricians: Kids don’t usually get severe symptoms. They are usually asymptomatic. That is all well and good, but kids can still spread the virus to each other. They might not get sick, but they can take those germs home to their families. They can give those germs to their teachers, who can take it home to their families. Yes, we, as teachers, are used to being the sacrificial lambs. Yes, we protect our students and would take a bullet for them if necessary. We would give our lives to keep them safe when they are in our care. But I am not willing to expose myself to COVID and take COVID home to my family for the sake of having school in-person when that is completely preventable.

We hear you, governors: wE aRe hAVinG a haRd tiMe mAkiNg dEcisiONs. Yes, this is an ever-changing situation and we have all been keeping our fingers crossed, but COVID is not going away, cases are on the rise, the school year is approaching, and we need answers.

We hear you, Secretary of Education (“the first secretary of education with zero experience in public schools”): Blah, blah, blah. Please sit down.

We hear you, President: These CDC guidelines are too safe. Make them less safe and easier and cheaper to follow. Open the schools or I will cut your funding. The health and safety of this country’s children and teachers is more important than the economy. That should be obvious and not a political issue to be debated.

But what do I know? I’m just a teacher.