It has been quite some time since I have written a column. I am still teaching a combined first and second grade class, but has it ever changed. Let’s take a trip back to March 2020. (Yeah, I know. I really don’t want to repeat any of 2020, either.)
I remember hearing on Wednesday the governor might close the schools. The following day it was officially announced that at the end of the school day, Monday, Mar. 16, schools in Ohio would be closed. The staff met with our tech guru and resident saint, Rich Hadden, and discussed our technical options. On Monday we sent our students off with their supplies. Being extremely naïve I thought we’d be back in school in two or three weeks, tops. Each teacher worked out her educational plan. Some teachers opted for Zoom meetings or Face time with their students. Others posted assignments on Google Classroom and had their students do the lessons electronically. I opted to record videos for the classes I taught. After the children left on Monday I worked until 11:00 p.m. attempting to record classes. Note the term “attempting”. I took me longer to record the classes than it would have to visit each student separately for individual instruction! (OK, I’m exaggerating a wee bit…but not much!) I would have felt sorry for myself, except Rich stayed until 1:00 a.m. trying to get everyone’s classes posted. Did I mention that he’s a volunteer and really should be canonized now and not wait until he’s passed away?
As the months progressed, I discovered teaching isn’t nearly as much fun without students. Although discipline problems were at an all-time low. There were some humorous moments. When recording a class, I acted as if the students were present, making sure to mention everyone’s name at least once. I was drilling flashcards and being sure that one of my more enthusiastic students was participating at home, said, “Good job!” and called the student by name. Later his mother informed me that when I called him by name, he asked his mother if I could really see and hear him. Bless her heart she went along with it and said, “I guess so.” I was also relieved that the parents realized I was acting as if my students were present to keep their interest and not just hallucinating.
We started back to school in person on Sept. 8. Our highest priority is the safety and health of our students. To that end there have been quite a few changes around the school and in the classrooms.
If I knew a year ago what I know now, I would have liquidated all my stocks and bought into Plexiglass. I have never seen so much plexiglass in my life. It is everywhere in the school. We have plexiglass dividers in the cafeteria to ensure the safety of the students as they eat. Tables and chairs are cleaned between the two lunch groups. As much as possible siblings are seated together at lunch. Most of the students do not share lockers. Only siblings share lockers. In some classes the desks are separated by, you guessed it, plexiglass dividers. Some of the teachers opted for plexiglass shields at their desks. I did not. I got rid of my desk. Because of my class size, by removing my desk and a computer table, we were able to space the desks far enough apart to accommodate my seventeen students. I have three tables at the front of my room where students sit for instruction. These tables have plexiglass partitions, so each student has his own space. All students and staff members wear masks or shields to protect one another. I use alcohol wipes to clean off markers before allowing the students to use them. The way we are going through hand sanitizer in my room, you’d think it was our beverage of choice!
We have an online option for students who may need to be in quarantine. Rich is installing cameras in the classrooms that will allow students to access their classes in real time. My favorite part of this technology is that I don’t have to do anything except teach. Now that’s technology I can live with.
I have mentioned Rich Hadden several times. I want to give him one more shout out. He has gone above and beyond generous with his time and talent. Rich is strictly a volunteer and except for our undying gratitude receives no payment. I would also like to thank our maintenance and custodial staff, Mark Lewis and Clint Wright. They worked all summer constructing all the dividers that we requested and keeping the school sanitary.
Let’s all pray that a cure or vaccine will be discovered soon. Stay safe.
Kathy Ayette is a teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.