There have been ups and downs this year. Still, I can honestly say that having the opportunity to see my students each day, even if it’s only the top half of their face, makes me appreciate that I have the most incredible job in the world. Our children have done well considering the challenges faced as a result of COVID-19, but they still crave games together, working together, and collaborating in their work. They are behind academically, yet educators understand the critical role schools play in protecting our children’s mental health. That is as much of a priority to us as physical safety.
Even though I have just 23 students, we cramped into a portable with less than 2 feet between desks. Furthermore, I have a student who is not required to wear a mask and cannot use sanitizer. These sorts of exemptions are challenging to manage as I worry about other students and my own family getting sick. Additionally, occasional teachers are also understandably reluctant to accept jobs that further increase their risk, resulting in added stress to my colleagues who must fill in if I need to be absent or am ill.
As I begin yet another science unit, I try to find ways to make students' experiences interactive. It is nearly impossible to develop these activities due to the need to adhere to our current safety protocols. Educator workload has increased while student engagement has become more challenging without the "hands-on" learning opportunities that often hook students into the curriculum.
Group work is non-existent. Students are rarely able to discuss in small groups, solve a problem with their peers, or simply have an opportunity to ask for help from an elbow partner. When I conference with small groups of students, I am only allowed two at a time while ensuring physical distancing, which is less than half of what a typical small group would have looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic. What used to take me a day now takes me two, meaning less time to individualized instruction for my students.
I keep reminding myself that “this too shall end,” but I just wish we had seen some support from our Minister of Education. School staff have been finding out from a press conference that we will be moving to online learning with two days’ notice. There is a lack of support and follow-through for the many promises made by this government. Whether it’s asymptomatic testing, more public health nurses or more custodial hours for a school, educators face constant uphill battles resulting from situations outside of our classrooms, all of which make it more challenging to do our jobs.
Despite these challenges, my students are resilient and will look back on this year as a blip. My colleagues are amazing and dedicated. I am so proud to be an educator and consider myself lucky to be working with such an amazing group of people.