Starting a school year in a pandemic

School has been back in session since the end of August and it has been a quite a ride. We completed two weeks of distance learning to allow the teachers on the charter plane to properly quarantine. Hybrid learning immediately kicked into high gear. A new word in the educational lexicon, “hybrid” can cover any number of sins. Generally it describes a school with only 50% of students physically in school with 50% learning at home. My school has required us to teach this way simultaneously, in real time. The kids switch off every other day. Teachers are on campus 100% of the time.

Like thousands of teachers across the country, I scrambled to prepare take-home packets of art supplies for my students. I sent purchase lists to those abroad (I am teaching students in 5+ time zones, including one in Texas). There is only so much one can send home, even with an extremely generous budget to work with. I can’t send home acrylic paints, oil paints, massive canvases for IB diploma students.

A student cobbled together her first stretcher.

For all five of my courses, I plan and carry out at least two separate curriculums (one for in school and one for at home). Additionally, I have to send separate directions to those students abroad who do not get to attend school in person. I also have to make a video recording of every single class, download it, and post it. If you can’t follow this math (understandable), I have to plan somewhere between double to three times the lessons of a normal school year. It has been, quite simply, exhausting.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Hybrid has allowed me to see my students again, which I love. I have had access to my supplies and classroom. The kids have been particularly patient but I just wonder how long they can keep it up and what the lasting impact will be. I hope for resilience, worry about other consequences.

So what about safety? Every morning I grab my mask(s) of the day and paper daily pass which asks me questions like, have you been exposed to someone who has had COVID symptoms in the last 24 hours? Every individual who enters the school is required to turn this pass in at a station outside the school doors where security guards also take our temperature.

A mere fraction of my mask collection, many made by friends.

Once on campus, I am required to wear my mask 24/7. I sit behind plexiglass which surrounds my desk. Plexiglass also divides student tables so all of my students could fit into my classroom according to the regulations.

The Art Department was granted two sterilizers per classroom. These machines employ UV rays to decontaminate shared supplies in three minutes flat.

Since it is still unconfirmed if the virus is transferable on surfaces, this makes supply-heavy classes like art and science lab challenging. Students drop their supplies in the sterilizer as they exit the room. At the end of every class, I distribute wipes and students also wipe down their desks and chairs.

A few days ago, my school announced our upcoming return to distance learning. With cases rising in Moscow (yesterday we set a COVID world record with 12,200+ cases in one day) and a positive COVID case on campus, this is the necessary next step. As I was a close contact of the COVID case, I had to leave campus a day early and finish a 14 day quarantine. I’m due for another COVID test tomorrow (my third in as many months) but have no symptoms and feel fine. I tested positive for antibodies back in June so I do not anticipate a recurrence. For the record, I was an asymptomatic case.

All this to say, this first quarter of the school year has been like no other. Amidst all the stress and anxiety there have also been unexpected moments of grace and beauty. I try to hold onto these. When technology is unyielding, I take a deep breath. I feel like a first year teacher all over again. My family and friends have provided incredible support. Moloko provides the comic relief and is probably the most happy to have me teaching from home again.

In closing, I’m sending out love and support to teachers everywhere, fighting the good fight. We were not trained for this but, as always, we rise to the challenge and roll with it. On to the next…