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

7 Hours to Re-Entry

I am as ready as I can be for the re-entry into the schools tomorrow morning. We have two weeks to work on professional development to learn some new skills and prepare for the combination of in person and remote learning. Everyone will do an on site temperature check and COVID-19 checklist upon entry to the building. We then go to our own rooms and do our training together through zoom. Maybe we can stay distanced enough to prevent an outbreak before the kids even return to school!

This is today’s graph from just my county. We are one of a few counties where masks are not mandated. Because of this, people come here from neighboring counties (with higher numbers of the virus) to shop and be entertained. Our city mayor and his wife have just recovered from COVID-19, but he is not the one with authority to mandate anything. The person with the authority believes that everyone has their rights and choice. He encourages people to “wear a mask if you’re scared”. I’m scared….

I read a scenario today that sounded about right…A virus carrying student gets on the bus to go to school (buses won’t be socially distanced or wearing masks). Now everyone within 3-6 feet of that student was exposed during the 30 minute bus ride to school. Now those kids go into the school building, and go to six different classes (or more). Now we have six classes exposed. Now contact tracing reveals that several teachers have been exposed because they did small groups with the carriers. Now those teachers all have to quarantine for 10-14 days. Like I said, I predict the schools will be closed within the first two months. There weren’t enough substitute teachers even before COVID-19. I’m sure they’ll be knocking down the doors to teach in a room where the teacher was exposed! The school back up plan of splitting classes when teachers are absent, is not suppose to be done this year.

My personal plan is to not be within 6 feet of anybody without a mask on for more than a few seconds. The hardest part for me will be trying to stay clear of my parents when I am home. I tried to get all the little jobs they needed help with, done today. I have asked them to keep a running list of things they need me to do. My mom is notorious for trying to do things she shouldn’t be doing whenever I am not home. She falls and bruises very easily. Little AoA gets really nervous, and sometimes gets a little rude with grandma for trying to do things that could lead to an accident. We are working on being more gentle in our reactions to daredevil grandma!

The morning will come all too soon….

~AoA

1 Day- Countdown to Re-entry

Teachers return to schools in one day! The students will return two weeks later. The school system is providing teachers with two weeks worth of training on distance learning. It is important to mention how it will be done. Teachers will report to their schools, do the COVID-19 check in with temperature check, and then go to their individual classrooms and participate by zoom. Well…we are learning like this, yet it is safe enough to bring roomful of kids back to school without even requiring masks?

I got to see most of the girls in Little AoA’s troop today. Most of them are choosing to do remote learning. We put together pen-pal supplies for each girl. If they write letters to some of the girls in our troop, they will earn a special “pen-pal patch”. We do our Girl Scout activities as “drive through”. We set up in the parking lot at our meeting location, and the girls stop by and pick up activities. I miss seeing them in person, but I know this won’t last forever.

My family is not happy about me starting back to work. They are all very worried about me bringing home these new germs. We have already planned that I go straight to the shower when I get home. Little AoA was upset about that, because she wants to hug me when I get home (she does not usually hug me when I get home, but thinking about NOT doing it was upsetting). Our home set up seems pretty safe for distancing. My dad mostly stays in his area of the house. I feel like I should try to isolate in my home when I start working in person with students. It isn’t a perfect solution, but I don’t think it will be long before our school system ends up having to move to all remote learning. Once our community reaches 965 active cases, it will be considered a high level of transmission. We are just about at 400 active cases right now (this does not include recovered cases). At the rate it is spreading, we will reach high spread within a month or so.

I feel like I worry about this quite a lot. The prospect of even one teacher or student experiencing the severity of Covid-19 is upsetting.

On a positive note, I am getting pretty proficient with Google Classroom. I have been putting lessons together for three classes. I have a social/emotional/mindfulness class, a Passion Project class, and another social skills class. The population I serve is the intellectually gifted. The kids I serve deal with crippling perfectionism, anxiety, executive functioning challenges, and social challenges due to asynchronous development. I have served this population for the last 4 years. Before that, I worked with kids who had a variety of mild to moderate disabilities. I did that for 15 years. My job has been both challenging and rewarding.

Stay safe!

~AoA

4 Days- Countdown to Re-entry

The countdown to return to work continues. I am a public school teacher in Middle Tennessee. Our state is quickly moving up the worldometer COVID-19 tracker. Over the course of about a week, our state moved from 17th to 14th. All of the counties in our state had to submit a “continuous learning plan” this week. This plan was to address how school will be handled this year. The plan in my county is to provide choice to parents. They can send their kids to school (masks not required), or select remote learning.

That is the meat of the plan! The individual school plans I have seen so far, call for daily temperature checks and screening questions of everyone who enters the building. We are to “encourage” hand washing, and distance kids as much as we can. Teachers are to sanitize high touch areas throughout the day. If a teacher or student has symptoms, they are sent home. I need to note here that the guidance ends with a vague statement. How long do we stay home? A student is one thing, but if a teacher is sent home, who will take the students? There is already a severe shortage of substitute teachers!

Our school board is suppose to meet tomorrow night to address some of the questions. They have already said that there won’t be answers, and that they are just opening the conversation. I am not a doctor or lawyer, but it seems that if there isn’t more to the county’s plan than this, it is not time to return all the kids to school in person. Testing and tracing is lagging here, taking 7-10 days to get test results back for Covid-19. There is no disinfectant to be found in local stores, so even if we (teachers) wanted to provide our own supplies, they can not be found! There are so many safety issues that have not been addressed, that it is embarrassing. I love my job, my schools, and the people I work with. My heart hurts to know where this is headed. I really feel like my particular job is potentially much safer than that of some of my friends.

I saw this decision guide today, and it might help some families make some decisions. As both a public school teacher and homeschooling parent, I know the struggle. While I love both, I realize that I need support for some aspects of homeschooling. It isn’t as simple as buying a cute curriculum and joyfully sitting with your child in a “homeschool” class. I wish it worked as simply as that! The best support we have found is having a tutor. I will be writing about this soon. There are private hybrid schools and co-ops that may work, depending on the students and teachers. For us, a one on one tutor is what was needed, and even with that, finding a tutor who connects well with the child is even more important than the content being taught.

I like to think that there is no need to worry. I usually let most everything roll right away without triggering anxiety. In this case, I haven’t been able to do that. I don’t want to see anyone suffer needlessly in our schools because of the reactive rather than proactive plan from our leaders.

Stay safe!

~AoA

8 Days- Countdown to Re-entry

Tension rises as the day to re-enter our public schools gets closer. While I am ready to get back to the routine of going to work and interacting with others, I am terribly afraid that it won’t be safe. I need to keep my mind sharp and critical, so that I can pull out and take the Family Leave Act at the first sign of unsafe conditions for this pandemic. I know I have the ability to do most of my work from home, as I did it in the spring. Even though CDC recommendations promote working from home if you can, I am doubtful that this will be allowed.

I took this picture today as I was leaving our WalMart parking lot. Starting this Monday, they are requiring mask wearing of all shoppers. In preparation for that, they have only one entrance open so that they can monitor who enters. They are also trying to keep the number of shoppers in the store at a lower number. They are holding a line of people waiting to get in. There is someone now stationed at the carts, disinfecting them before they are touched by shoppers.

I have been working on my Google Classroom in preparation for my students who have opted to do remote learning. Today I played with “screencastify”, which allows me to make videos and easily save them in Google Drive. I immediately learned that I need a lot of practice and maybe some makeup. Right now my face is broken out from a combination of allergies and the intense heat. If I don’t position myself and the webcam just right, I look like I am talking to the air. I feel ok about being on camera, but it is not one of my favorite things to do. I am going to play around with the background, so that my bedroom isn’t up for the world to see! Actually, Little AoA’s doll collection lives in half my room, and makes an interesting background. Anyway, I have some ideas for background that I want to play with. I found a cute little chart about how kids might think about zoom meetings. Many of the things on the list have indeed, proven to be true in my experience.

Zoom with kids is quite a fun experience!

Stay safe!

~AoA