Mask Up And Go In!

Today was our first day of school with kids. It went very smoothly at my school, mostly because our administrators are logistics superstars! Classes on my side of the building, with 5th and 6th grade, were at a little less than half capacity. The kids were mostly not wearing masks in the classroom, and neither were some teachers. Everyone was encouraged to wear them in the hallways, but they weren’t required to.

The big kicker was tonight…I was checking on one of my dear work friends to see how her day went. She went home and spiked a fever of 103! now I can panic! I have been around my friend plenty over the last two weeks! I always had my mask on and stayed a good distance from her. Still, this is a bit too close! She is going to get tested tomorrow. My AoA teen is insisting that I get tested tomorrow as well. The AoA kids biggest fear is that I will die while they are under 18, and they would be sent to their abuser of ten years. This fear is disabling my teen.

To add the cherry on top, today our county teachers were declared “essential workers”, which means that we now must mask up and go to work, even if we have been exposed! We are only to take a quarantine if we have symptoms. This is not going to end well, I’m afraid.

I learned this week, that our county mayor, the one who is minimizing the pandemic and refusing to encourage masks; actually sends his kids to a very small private school. They are appropriately distanced in their small classes. I was blown away at my public middle school today, seeing a room packed full of big 8th grade students! Tell me it will all just go away!

~AoA

Protection!

I went to my classroom one last time today, to get ready for Monday, the first day for kids. I couldn’t resist taking this picture of the items given to each teacher, by our school. The cleaner is some sort of “natural cleaner” from a local company. One face shield and one mask, along with a roll of paper towels, makes up my Covid protection! There is no Lysol to be found in our county, unless you just happen to be in a store the first 30 minutes within the time they shelve a new shipment.

We were given further instruction today, after one school in our county couldn’t open Monday (too many teachers with Covid or in quarantine due to exposure). We must wipe down the copy machines before using them, and wash our hands afterward. Teachers are not to eat lunch together in the teacher lounges. There is no mask mandate, and even teachers are divided over the seriousness of this virus.

This picture has circulated around social media, along with a very sad narrative about how school will be. Another teacher did a similar post, only changed her narrative to a more positive tone. The truth is, this is the protective equipment we will wear. I am still not sure how I feel about teaching little kids in this gear. I think we will all get use to it pretty quickly, but it looks surreal….dystopian…

The scenario reminds me of this show I binged on Netflix a while ago. The Earth entered a war rendering the planet dangerous for human life. Some people escaped into outer space and lived as a society. The time came when they needed to see if they could return to Earth….was it safe yet? To test it out, they sent 100 people to “test it out”.

I have had to plan with my family, how I will keep them safe when I start traveling to different schools and working in person with kids who may or may not be wearing face coverings. To start, I have put together individual supply kits for each student, consisting of a folder, composition book, supply pouch, pencils, erasers, highlighters, and post it notes. Gone are my days of shared supplies… When I get home, I will head straight for the shower. I will keep a mask with me at all times, and put it on if I am in the same room as other family members. I will only be working with a total of 7 students in person. The largest group will be three. The thing is, they will be coming to me from different classrooms, so in a sense, meeting with them will have the potential of exposing me to about 360 people! Our district really didn’t try very hard to minimize risk with pods of students or staggered schedules. I just pray that I don’t bring anything home to my parents. My dad is extremely medically fragile, and my mom is feisty but does have various health issues. My teen is worried that I will die if I get it. That is all a lot to put on my family. I wish our state would have just followed the cdc guidelines and recommendations about opening schools. Our county transmission rate is around 30, meaning the daily average over four days, is 30 positive cases per 100,000 people. The recommendation is less than 10. We are far from that mark, and we will pay the price.

~AoA

Open and Close!

School systems around us have been starting to open this week. Many are having to close and switch to all remote learning within days, due to transmission of Covid-19. A six year old child in our state died today from Covid-19. Kids are showing up to school with it. Schools in my county open in 5 days!

All of the teachers in the middle school where I work, took a tour of our school to check out each other’s rooms. I stopped to chat with a few teachers. One teacher has a class roster with 33 kids on it! The rooms in our school are barely big enough to hold that many desks…there is no way to distance them even 3 feet, much less 6 feet. Did I mention that masks are optional? I feel like our school board has lied to the community, telling people that they would make their BEST EFFORT to provide a safe environment.

The “no mask” people won. Masks are not required. The “open the schools” people won. Schools are opening for in person learning. Now I wish the bickering would stop. The experts have put forth data. The families have been given a choice. Teachers haven’t been given a voice in any of this. We are public servants, and right now that is exactly what it feels like to be a teacher. We will rise to the occasion as we always do, because we love what we do. We care about the education and general well being of our students.

~AoA

Ready to Go!

Teachers have been preparing their rooms and lessons to be ready to receive students! As the time draws near, my teacher friends with compromised health conditions grow more nervous. One of my friends is “getting her affairs in order”. My own parents are scared that I will unknowingly bring this virus home. All while one of our school nurses tells people that we all need to be around this virus so we can build up immunities. We really want to teach in person, but it is just not time. Our transmission rate is over 30 a day per 100,000 people….did I mention that our school system is one of the few that is not requiring mask wearing?

I have been working on making videos for my classes. I am starting to feel a little better about it. I think that all the time spent with my students, writing and acting out stories for recording, has helped me to feel better about being on camera. My granddaughter likes doing tik-Tok, and I don’t know that I am that confident. I must have trashed 5 videos today, trying to make just one. I have thought it would be fun to make some sock puppet friends to be with me in the videos. Then there is zoom, google meet, and Microsoft teams with the group meetings. I remember seeing things like this when I was a kid, and how wonderful it seemed to have the ability to see who was on the other end of a call!

Cute….American Girl doll zoom

Our governor spoke today with an update. One of the reporters asked a very important question. The reporter pointed out the guidelines and recommendations from the cdc, Dr. Birx, and studies that indicate that now is not the time for in person schools. The reporter asked the governor if there was some data that was being used to guide the decision for in person school. The governor had no studies regarding this. He said multiple times that child abuse reporting was down by 25%, and children receive mental health services at school. That was it….he said it repeatedly, every time he was asked about opening schools. This has prompted me to desire to go down a rabbit hole looking for any proactive or reactive actions he has taken to protect children from abuse, and make mental health services accessible. He didn’t say one word about teachers risking their health. The important thing to him seems to be that families got to choose whether to school in person or remotely. Well, teachers didn’t get that choice. We didn’t…..

To leave on a positive note, I learned today that there is a “free little library” at my church. How did I not know this? It is adorable!

~AoA

The Vote Against Masks

Everyone needs to wash their hands, because our school board voted tonight, not to require students or teachers to wear masks at school! Correct me if I’m wrong- I am not a doctor… but I thought we knew our special virus was airborne. Three school board members, the school attorney, and superintendent (he is BRAND NEW) wanted a mask mandate. On one side, there are pregnant teachers being told by their doctors, not to return to the classroom unless everyone is wearing masks. Teachers will be in and out of quarantine, and at home with Covid symptoms. On the other side are parents who don’t want their kids to have to wear a mask, and community leaders promoting their right to not wear one if they don’t want to.

I met with my teaching team at school today, and we all realize that everything may change from week to week. It won’t take long before chaos ensues. Everyone is prepared to hit the ground running in order to get as much done as possible before the schools have to shut down for in person learning. We have the data….we have the science…we have the recommendations from our president’s task force…still our school system does not bend. We are jumping right into the fire of being a national “experiment”.

I love my job, but I also love my health and the health of my family members who are living on borrowed time as it is. I am going to do my best to distance. My largest group is three kids, so that is a plus. My heart goes out to the teachers who will have mostly full classrooms. I look around my teaching world, and notice that a very large percentage of us are overweight, putting us in a risk category for more than mild symptoms. Then I look at a school board that does not have our best interest in mind. That hurts….

~AoA

Here They Come

Some kids in our state will start back to in person learning tomorrow. My county starts next week. Today was the deadline for families to register for remote learning if that is what they choose. I am very curious about how many students will be remote. We will know tomorrow.

I am looking forward to meeting with my students again, but also a little nervous for everyone. There is a big percentage of our citizens who either don’t understand the severity of the pandemic, or don’t believe it is serious. All we can do is watch and wait. Our governor and local leadership have gone against recommendations for opening….and here we are.

This week will be used for more lesson planning. I am so pleased to be able to put my lessons on Google Classroom. I made my first videos using “screencastify”. It wasn’t great. This program allows me to show my computer screen, and puts a video of me talking, in a small square. I had trouble figuring out where to put the square that wouldn’t block an important part of the screen. Then there are the aesthetics….my hair looked really frizzy…with or without glasses….I may need a little make-up. I am not a “natural” in front of a camera. Some people make it look so easy!

The AoA kids started their homeschooling year in July. AoA teen is using an online high school program. There has already been an upsetting lesson on relationships, that indicated something about race being a barrier to relationships. This rubbed AoA teen the wrong way, and they became enraged, wanting to quit the program. I offered to reach out to the company. Soon after, AoA teen told me that an email had been sent! My teen, who hates writing, wrote a passionate email about racism in educational materials.

I am very thankful that my kids had already been homeschooling prior to Covid-19. There are a lot of new “Covid homeschoolers” who are venturing into homeschooling. I am in several homeschool groups, and watch as parents get excited about buying curriculum, and making little school room areas in their homes. I don’t have the heart to shatter the fantasy. All kids don’t respond as we envision. Even sweet Little AoA has moments when she throws down her work and tantrums. Homeschooling takes a lot of PATIENCE and FLEXIBILITY. If my child isn’t in the frame of mind to do book work, we do something else. There is part of me that would love if they followed a traditional school schedule, but sometimes, I totally understand- because I rebel myself, against traditional schedules.

I will be starting into the world of tutoring next week, which I am excited about. I have a teacher friend who will be homeschooling. We are doing a barter for services. I will be meeting over zoom, for an hour a week with her two kids. I will be giving feedback, assigning work, supporting their learning, and motivating. It is much easier to do these things with other people’s children! I felt like I needed to give it a try, and figure out what exactly I can do to help. There are several specialties that I have experience with. I have successfully worked with students who have learning disabilities for over 20 years. I currently specialize in working with intellectually gifted students who struggle with anxiety/perfectionism, executive functioning challenges, and disgraphia. I set up a very basic website to share, once I feel like I am ready to take flight. It needs a little tweaking, but it is coming along.

I wish you all an enjoyable week!

~AoA

Open Them Up!

This news article came out today. Schools open for in person instruction in just one week….oh, and masks are optional. I had the pleasure of being able to participate in a teacher’s union zoom call tonight. They had a panel of doctors who have been trying to help guide the safe opening of schools. What has been recommended is that schools not open to in person learning until the county rate is less than 10 cases per 100,000 people, for 14 consecutive days. Right now, my county is at a four day average of 30 cases per 100,000 people. I feel like I can personally stay safe with my teaching assignment, but I worry for my colleagues and the kids.

I haven’t read all of these books, but I do remember reading a number of them when I was in high school. I was always fascinated by dystopian themed novels. Back then the warnings in these books seemed so unreal. There is a series on Netflix called “Black Mirror”, that continues on with very creative dystopian themes. It is not really a series I can binge, as I get too emotional watching them. I have to take it in small doses.

Enough of the distraction….back to the school issue. Teachers are more than ready to get back to work…safely. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening. Sadly, in this state, people will have to die and outrage the masses…our school systems still probably wouldn’t budge. My wish would be to have COVID-19 in schools be tracked like nursing homes are being tracked, with data made public. Without having the information, it is impossible to exercise this wonderful “choice” that we supposedly have.

Today we discussed my field, special education, and the pandemic. Many of our kids just can’t do social distancing. Many require assistance with mobility, toileting, and feeding. When we talk about opening schools, we must think of ALL students’ safety, not just non-disabled children. The “go to” answer to this is for school board members to tell parents that they can choose to do remote learning. Sadly, those with disabled children look to schools to provide very specialized services to their kids. Many parents need support, and perhaps don’t have extended family or friends who can give support. We owe it to ALL of our kids to open SAFELY! The kids trust us, the adults, to keep them safe. I just don’t see how sending them into buildings with little space for distancing, full classrooms, and no mask requirement during this level of pandemic, is some level of abusive and neglectful. My heart is so sad about what is being done….

~AoA

Pivot!

Today was the third day of professional development for teachers, pandemic style. Everyone has to have their temperature taken at the front door, and log their answers to the Covid-19 questions on a google form. Then it is each teacher to his or her classroom to log on to distanced training. I never realized how much I liked in person trainings. “Blood born Pathogens” just isn’t the same when watched alone. The buzz word for this school year is “PIVOT”. Navigating this pandemic and opening schools is analogous with an episode of FRIENDS……

My heart just aches for our students and teachers who are going to be used as “experiments” on virus transmission in schools. I was talking with another teacher today about the lack of safety minded, proactive leadership for our schools and the students who most need our support. Area churches have offered use of their buildings to provide additional space. How proactive it would be for teams of teachers to utilize these buildings by going into the poorest communities and setting up learning centers as a distancing option for families in need. There just has to be a better way besides opening up as if there is not a pandemic!

Covid-19 hits closer to my circle of people as two friends from my church small group from several years ago test positive. Both are older adults, near 70. As I settled down for the night, my throat started hurting. I am hoping that it is gone in the morning, because I don’t want to be sent home to work remotely because of it. This is a sample of how the year will “pivot”. I have never in my career, let a sore throat keep me from work unless it was accompanied by a fever. I know I am not alone in this practice. Our schools have, as long as I can remember, encouraged parents to send their kids to school with minor illnesses, as long as there was not a fever. This pandemic has us needing to change a lifetime of practice at working through illnesses.

What will tomorrow hold?

~AoA

“Good Luck Ya’ll”

Teachers in my state waited anxiously for our governor to address the state today about the opening of schools. Yesterday, Dr. Birx visited our state because our transmission rate is so high, and many of our citizens either don’t understand, or disagree with Covid-19 being real and in need of mitigation. She urged so many things in an effort to help us be able to safely open schools and return safely to the beloved Southern sports. There was a night of hope, as we began to think that just maybe our governor would take a stand toward mitigation.

At 4:00, he addressed us. I was in my car listening, as I sat in disbelief at what was being said “between the lines”. He prefaced by stating all of the students who truly need public schools in order to receive food, medical care, mental health services, and protective services. Then he spoke about CHOICE. Parents are being given the choice to either send their kids to school in person, or enroll in “remote learning”. He then referred to opening schools as an “experiment” to see what would happen to the transmission rate. Our state is one of the first to open in the country. He gave his approval for students to participate in contact sports as soon as school opens. I may just be over sensitive here, but to me this sounds like a total disregard for students who live in less than middle class homes. What gets me is that there are so many hybrid options that could be much safer than the free for all opening being pushed. No one even has to wear face coverings. We simply don’t have the space or the Human Resources to provide six feet of distance, or even three feet for that matter. Our classrooms are overcrowded as it is.

The part of the speech that was suppose to build our confidence was that the state is sending PPE to many schools. It sounded like they were going to send cleaning products and PPE for a year. I found little comfort in that. I have already been at work for two days, and there was not a cleaning product in sight! We need it now, not in a month. No one is going to sit around in a dusty and dirty room waiting on cleaners. No one will welcome students back to less than a clean and welcoming space. We bring in our own cleaning products to make sure things are clean.

On another note, I learned today that half of my students will be remote. This could be a good thing with regards to scheduling. It will make working from home legitimate in the event I end up having to quarantine. I hope that doesn’t happen, because most of my family does not social distance well.

I am not opposed to schools opening, in fact, I love teaching and being with the kids. What I am opposed to is throwing the kids with the greatest needs, into a situation that is not set up for their safety. “Choice” isn’t really a “choice” for everyone! It shines light on the inequalities that we have tried to ignore.

~AoA

Lift Off- First Day

Today was the first day back to work for teachers in my county. We all went to our rooms, and met remotely as a faculty. Three of my peers were remote from home, in quarantine due to having been exposed, or waiting for test results. Another school had an administrator test positive, and much of the faculty was quarantining at home due to exposure. We got student estimates today. It looks like each class will have 27-32 students. We don’t know yet how many of those students will choose to do remote or in person learning. Either way, the students will be assigned teachers, and have class with that teacher. We were asked to take pictures of our rooms today, so that parents would be able to see the set ups, and judge for themselves whether it is a safe situation for their children. There is not a mask requirement, so that must be taken into account when deciding. Here is my room…

I only have one student to work with at this school for this year. My room serves as my “office”, and home for all of my resources and materials. The half of my room that is not in the picture is used for storage of a learning lab that is no longer in use. I also have a table set up outside of the camera view. I serve seven different schools, and usually work out of storage rooms or large closets. Sometimes I use the school libraries as a meeting space, and on rare occasion I might have use of an actual classroom. As we like to say in special education, “ service isn’t a place.” That couldn’t be a more perfect motto for my service!

While unpacking my room today, I took a little break, and saw that Dr. Birx from the Coronovirus Task Force, was holding a conference. I heard her mention my state, then realized that she was in Nashville. Our state is now turning into a hot spot that is reaching into our rural counties (like mine). She urged everyone to wear a mask. That didn’t go over well with the community population of people who don’t believe that COVID-19 is more than a hoax. It feels like there is just nothing more to be done except to do my best to protect my family and friends, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

A children’s story comes to mind over the mask issue…

I share this story with kids every year. It has been my favorite from a very young age. The theme is timeless, and there is always a connection that can be made for any age. My students have thought of it as the “popular kids” and the others.

I noticed something today in my school that just added to my concern for our ability to follow enough of the safety guidelines to keep our kids and teachers safe. Water…..

I went to wash my hands here, and tried three sinks before I got one with a water flow. They have faucets that you have to push in repeatedly to get water. The flow only lasts for about 5 seconds if at all. We are teaching kids to wash their hands for 20 seconds. I can already imagine the cursing that might take place at these sinks outside my new room. So I will be meeting kids where they are, and helping them process frustration this year. No problem! I love a challenge.

~AoA