As September approaches, the end of summer is felt by everyone. For students and parents, this time of year usually involves nervous anticipation, the thrill of shopping for new school supplies, and a rush to squeeze in one last summer adventure before returning to school. For teachers, these last days mean cleaning and decorating classrooms, meeting new colleagues and parents, and planning ways to create a wonderful learning experience for their students.
This year, however, the approach of a new school semester brings with it a feeling of anxiety, uncertainty, and unease. It seems like just yesterday, students were being told to stay home, teachers were asked to transition to online classes, and in-person courses were declared unsafe and unnecessary. With the approach of September and a return to in-person classes, many teachers, parents, and students are asking; if schools weren’t safe then, how can they be now?
Am I putting myself or those I care about in harm’s way by trying to receive or provide quality education?
Over the past few months, I’ve sat down and talked with many directors, managers, and staff members at education centers, all of whom have been asking these same questions. The pressure to keep students safe weighs heavily on the shoulders of all educators. Uncertainty surrounding what the future of this pandemic will look like only adds to that weight. However, as I reflected on my own time as a student and the anxieties I faced about what the future held, I was able to share an answer that had been given to me years ago by my parents and teachers. I was taught that the future doesn’t have to be scary, that the worst-case scenario isn’t a certainty, and most importantly, I was taught to focus on the present choices I could control, rather than stressing over a distant future that I couldn’t.
So what choices can we control in the here and now? What actions can educators take today to ensure a safe and healthy tomorrow for the next generation?
For starters, wear a mask, and teach your students to do the same. As a society, we value caring for one another and looking after those who are disadvantaged or need help. By wearing a mask, students and teachers can protect each other and each other’s families from contracting COVID-19 and relieve the anxiety many may feel entering a classroom.
Secondly, maintain physical distance and respect boundaries, or wear proper protection (face shields, eye protection, etc.) when this is not possible. Consent and boundaries are values we encourage in those around us and hope to instill in our children. What better way to teach children how to respect boundaries than to teach one another to respect a two-meter personal space? Institutions can also help with this by creating clear rules for room capacity, limiting the need for direct interactions between staff and students, creating strict circles for students, and encouraging remote communication wherever possible.
Lastly, teachers and administrative staff can embody the values of cleanliness and good hygiene. It’s been said that cleanliness is close to godliness, and cleanliness gaps in our cleaning and personal hygiene have never been in sharper focus. Students and staff can promote cleanliness by encouraging and practicing regular hand hygiene, adhering to proper handwashing methods, and ensuring thorough and regular cleaning, especially of shared spaces.
In a time where the future is uncertain, every choice we make matters. It’s important to look to our leaders to provide direction and hope for the days to come. More importantly, we must look to ourselves to be the change we want to see and to inspire others to take similar steps. By working together and looking out for one another, we can make the 2020-2021 school year the most unique, and the most uniquely amazing, year ever.