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The Back-to-School Dilemma: A Teacher's Perspective

by Sara Cohn

I’m in a complicated, and surprisingly relatable, position when it comes to back to school planning. First and foremost, I’m a mom to two grammar school kids whose fall semester is in flux like never before. But I’m also a high school teacher, with nary a clue as to what the coronavirus has in store for my classroom. As any working parent knows, coordinating the family schedule is a mind bending experience on a good day. Now, with three undefined variables -theirs and mine - it’s more like Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This virus is warping space and time. We can’t see it, explain it, or make it stop. Try as we might, we can’t really plan for it, either.

As an educator, I have some strong professional feelings about how my particular population returns to school in the fall. As a parent of kids in the same district, those feelings are exponentially compounded, and emotional. I have been grieving my son's kindergarten year since the first whiff of trouble. Atticus’s introduction to school won't be anything like any generation before him, or after. Charlotte on the other hand will be a third grader, painfully well aware of what she’s missing out on. And as a working mom, my need to organize is kicking in. Hard. So much to navigate, yet not a roadmap or finish line in sight.

So far, science isn’t helping. Now that COVID-19 is boomeranging, all hope of ringing the school bell like in years past, is just about gone. Last week, my district did what it could to lay out possible fall scenarios for teachers, parents and, by default, teachers who are also parents. This is what those options look like now. Who’s to know what they’ll look like next week or next month.

  1. Pick up where we left off: Return to the class M-F, all day. We call this the ‘why even call it an option’ option.

  2. Hybrid Approach A: Return for half days 4x/week with Fridays for teacher prep. Hybrid Approach B: 2 full days at school, 3 at home with remote learning

  3. Go 100% remote. Also known as the nuclear option.

For me, 100% remote is my absolute worst nightmare on all levels. It may be the safest, but try as we teachers might, the academic rigor is not there. The lack of daily practice and lack of experiencing "hard things” means our students will lose their academic stamina. What about parents? “Trying to manage 3 different kids and their schooling needs is going to be so hard,” California mom Tiffany Acosta told me. “So it’ll just be checking off the “is it done” list rather than the “have they learned it” list. That’s painful for an educator like myself to hear. But it’s the reality. Some studies say these kids will catch up. And they probably will. But how long will it take? Add to that the social-emotional piece of being apart from friends and the stress on working parents who may or may not work from home and who may or may not have a job to go back to. Personally, I’ve already lined up both a babysitter, just so I can work from the living room while my kids are ‘at school in the kitchen,’ and a tutor to fill in the gaps of what my kids will learn online from my fellow teachers. For the record, my kids don't need a tutor, they don't need extra help.  You know who will need the help the most? Me.

On to the hybrids. At first blush, they seem like the most realistic and the most palatable. But both also pose their own set of problems. Kids going back and forth between home, school, and possibly daycare, dragging who knows what with them. And if the student body is split between morning and afternoon, how will all those classrooms get properly cleaned in the small window of what, not too long ago, was the mad scramble known as lunch? That hour of mayhem seems so quaint and nostalgic now.

Which brings us back to a full day of school. The option no one considers a viable option, but the one that might make the most sense. As Danville, California parent Tiffany Price says, “Parents should get to choose between full time at school, or full time at home via live videoconference. That way those who feel school is safe can send their kids back to class, and those who don’t can stay home but remain on a well-paced schedule.” Dad and doctor Jay DeLaney agrees. “I support the option of going back to class full time, with adequate precautions in place, such as frequent hand washing, masks, and an agreement by parents that if their kids show up to school, they do not have a temperature greater than 100.4 and have not had a temperature or used temperature-suppressing medication in the last 24 hours. That agreement should include that the parent warrants the child has not had any of the checklist of COVID symptoms.”

Teachers are, by necessity, a hardy bunch and 60 percent of my colleagues say they will rise to our district’s request, no matter what it is. I will as well. For now, though, my July plan to buy school clothes and school supplies is on hold. My money may have to go more to daycare and tutors to make sure my kids are getting enough phonics, Common Core math and PE.  Maybe even some art and science thrown in for good measure. Come to think of it, though, the spring of 2020 may have provided enough science education to last a lifetime.

Sara Cohn has spent 16 years in the classroom and is the mom of two: A

sweeter-than-pie 5 year old boy and a strong, smarter-than-her-mama, drama queen 8 year old daughter.


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