Started in July 2021. Posting on the eve of the new year…

[this post relates to students who do not require specialized education placement outside the general education population; I am familiar only with students who are able to be in a “gen-ed” classroom at least part of the time – – I am aware that students with significant behavioral, physical, or developmental needs do best when an in-person team of people are able to work with them daily, and that any disruptions to their routines can cause significant setbacks]

The hardest part, for families, for students, and for teachers, is the lack of clarity over whether it is safe or possible to hold classes in person, and what parameters define instruction. Families want to know they can accept employment and not have to call out because school has been canceled. Teachers want to know whether to make paper copies of materials for the lessons they will give in two weeks’ time (or next month) or if it’s better to plan for online delivery – the younger the child, the more paper copies become essential; and many older students benefit from working on paper rather than screens as well. Students want to know they are safe, they want to have friends, and they want to have experiences that engage their growing minds.

Not all remote instruction is terrible, not all in-person instruction is valuable. The question is: how do we plan for lessons that are flexible enough for us to instantly deliver them either in-person or online?

There is always the issue of whether students have access to online instruction when the buildings are closed; which is the district’s problem to solve, one which most districts have found solutions for the majority of students. {this is where I picked up the writing on 31 Dec} It also depends on adults in the home being willing and able to help students get online, supervise work without simply doing it for the students (and make sure the 6th grader is not doing the 2nd grader’s work…), and families understanding which tasks are essential and which ones can be let go: with online instruction students should not be sitting in front of a screen or working on schoolwork longer than 1-2 hours (kindergarten) up to 5 hours (high school). Third graders – my age group, would typically be able to complete essential lessons in 3 hours or less.

We have been meeting in-person with full classrooms (students spaced 3 feet apart all day long), but with modified tasks (very little partner work with peers or teacher-led small group or 1:1 work). It works “okay” for most students, but the very students who most need the in-person instruction tend to be the same students who need what is called “proximity” and additional teacher support. I am supposed to stay 6 feet away from students this year, or work with them from behind a plexiglass screen. Obviously, the situation is not ideal…

Other issues: I teach in a building constructed in the 1970s. Not sure when (if?) the ventilation systems were updated in the last 45 years, but my room has very poor air circulation generally. This year, I keep the interior door to the hallway, as well as the exterior door and windows, open all the time unless it is so windy that papers and books won’t stay on desks or the temps in the room fall below about 65 (17 C). The students who sit closest to the exterior door are often chilled (of course I close the door for a little while when this happens) – we keep jackets and gloves ready to put on as needed, and I try to remind students to use them!

But all of this means that learning happens more slowly – and this doesn’t include the many skills and bits of knowledge that haven’t been retained from previous grades…

I will close this (rather abruptly) to remark on how different actually being in the classroom has been than I expected; and yet for different reasons about as challenging as any if us would have predicted. Making no predictions, and carrying no expectations into the new year seems to be the best policy for now.

Right now,, the only sure thing seems to be that no matter what we anticipate, reality is likely to surprise us!

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