An Educator’s View on Returning to School In-Person

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As a school employee, I’ve been asked by many friends, families and neighbors about my feelings regarding the reopening of schools. My answer changes daily and I’m sure it will continue to evolve as we gather information concerning the virus and school reopening plans.

A month ago, the notion of a hybrid model sounded appealing. From a parent perspective, the proposal of my son going to school a few days a week was welcome. He would get to socialize a bit with his friends, connect with teachers, and receive instruction from a highly-trained teacher who knows how to engage 7-year-olds in learning.

As an educator, I liked the thought of getting to see families, teachers, and students in-person. I miss offering a hug to a caregiver after a difficult day. I miss sitting and talking with preschool teachers, helping them problem-solve and helping them include all kids in their classroom environments.  Then I thought about the me from six months ago; if I told her that a contagious virus that scientists still don’t know how to treat was sweeping through our world, she would grab my hands and urge me to not let myself or my son enter a school building. 

So Many Questions, No Straightforward Answers

We all have so many questions since Portland Public Schools and surrounding districts have announced their reopening plans. Many go unanswered. How on earth could they manage even simple tasks, such as kids going to the bathroom? Are kids really going to keep their masks on all day? What about lunch and recess? Will there be art and PE? What happens when someone at the school tests positive? How are schools going to manage those children who are high risk or who’s family member is high risk? 

Then, I started thinking about myself. My job entails traveling to different preschools, Head Starts, and private homes. Sometimes I work in up to eight different places in one day. What would happen if one of my students tested positive? What if I were to get sick? Would I be given a mask for each new place I enter? Would I change my clothes between visits, and, if so, where?? 

Given the increase in exposure, if schools go back to in-person instruction, we will not be able to see my parents in the same capacity. There are tears running down my face just thinking about it. My kids would be devastated if we could not see them, but I will not risk exposing them to COVID if I return to in-person work and/or my son goes back to in-person instruction.

Many Need In-Person School and Services

These, I understand, are the concerns of the privileged. What if I didn’t have a partner to share the weight of this pandemic? What if my child had significant special needs and really needed specialized staff in order to participate in learning? If this were the case, I don’t know where my kids would go all day. Perhaps the schools should be open for families who find themselves in this predicament. Perhaps school buildings should be open for the children and families who desperately need to attend school in their classrooms, not for families like mine who desperately want to return to some sense of normalcy.

With all these questions, I also know school is essential for so many families. When I start thinking about kids and families I have known over the years who are living on the margins, my heart breaks. There are families who are food and/or housing insecure, learning English, being abused, living with special needs, and the list goes on and on. I can’t stop thinking about those families and how much those students need the support from their school and teachers, and from the social services connected to their schools. 

What do I think school should look like this year? Honestly, I just don’t know. I hope those who are at the head of the tables use this as an opportunity to redesign education to make it inclusive for all children. Let’s talk about supporting kids outside. Yes, we live in Portland and yes, it rains. Kids would be much safer getting rained on then in an enclosed building with multiple other people. Can we use alternative spaces such as parking lots, fields, parks? I read another teacher’s opinion on this topic and she suggested meeting students in their front yards or from the car if they needed some more in-person support. Yes, I understand this all costs money and involves logistics, but I also believe we could reshape instruction to better support all of our students while also staying safe. 

So to answer the Big Question: How do I, as an educator, feel about returning to in-person instruction? Terrified. We do not have enough information to safely send all our kids, teachers and staff back into school buildings at this point in time. I yearn for the day I can see my students in-person and drop my child off at school. For now, I will continue to crave in-person instruction but advocate for virtual learning for all that can manage to do it.  I will continue to advocate for different ways to support our students who need the most help. Hopefully, my view of in-person instruction will change over the next few months as we gather more information about the virus, but for now there are too many unanswered questions for my comfort.

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