I am a retired teacher with 35 years of experience in the elementary school system. In recent weeks I have become very aware of the extreme angst that many of my former colleagues feel about returning to full-time classroom teaching during a pandemic. I know that they will not do their best teaching if they are feeling stressed, and their students may mirror that stress. I understand their fear.
On the other hand, I am also grandmother to a grandchild entering kindergarten and another entering Grade 2. I desperately want my grandchildren to experience a regular routine and daily instruction in a classroom of their peers during the upcoming school year. I want them to bond with their teachers in that special way that tends to happen at the elementary level.
How can these points of view be reconciled in everyone’s best interest? I think the best overall solution is the following:
Keep most aspects of the current plan, but for the first four to six weeks, divide each elementary class in half, with half attending in the morning and the other half attending in the afternoon. This plan immediately alleviates concerns about social distancing, yet allows the students to get into a routine of daily instruction. Each half-class could have a short recess break but there would be no need for lunch to be eaten at school.
Although each group would have fewer hours of instruction a day than usual, the smaller groups would facilitate the learning of new routines and allow teachers to get to know their new students more quickly. Everyone would get to settle in, and get familiar with the COVID rules and routines in a safe and less anxious way.
If students were divided alphabetically, for example A to M in the morning, and N to Z in the afternoon, then students from the same family could attend school at the same time. Teachers could focus their instruction on core academic skills and ask parents to focus on their child’s physical activity.
When this initial settling-in period is over, if the overall provincial “curve” of COVID cases remains flattened, individual school districts could determine if they are ready to return to full-time instruction. Districts experiencing local outbreaks might stay the course, while the majority would likely move to full-time attendance.
In the best of times, the beginning of a new school year is fraught with numerous complications and challenges. The approach I’ve outlined allows for a more measured, relaxed and safe introduction to a new way of doing things that may be with us for many months, or even years.
I will be sending this suggestion to Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix and B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming, and I hope they will seriously consider this option.
Janet Granger, Port Coquitlam