Teachers and Pandemic Fear

The Spring "Covid" Semester of 2020 comes to a close with this last week of classes. It brings a bitter-sweet feeling as I prepare to say goodbye to my wonderful students. Like most New Yorkers they have suffered tremendously this Spring: illnesses due to the Corona virus, many losing friends and family members, and several losing their jobs. On top of that the stress of parenting and working from home simultaneously has taken an immense toll on many of my students. But they have courageously persisted, and with great determination have attended every single remote class we've had, and have completed their course work admirably. I will miss them in class but we could all do with a break from screen fatigue.

We are looking forward to summer despite knowing that it's going to be a different kind of summer, more restricting and probably with more weeks of shelter-at-home. And also hanging upon us is the cloud of uncertainty around going back to work in the Fall. Will school and college buildings reopen in New York City? Will in-person classes resume? Will we have to teach in our windowless airless classrooms? Will we have to commute on crowded subways and packed buses? Though we would love to go back to the in-person teaching and learning that is so central to early childhood education, we are also afraid to go back to work in the same way as we used to.

Most of my students are in-service or pre-service early childhood teachers in New York City. I asked 40 of them to discuss the changes that they would want to see implemented in their schools and classrooms before they felt safe enough to resume in-person teaching or safe enough to send their own children back to school. Here are some of the concerns they expressed and the changes they wished to see implemented as NYC schools consider reopening in the Fall:

Advance preparation

More research-based information about the virus – how it attacks, symptoms, treatment

Everyone (administrators, staff, teachers,children) should be tested for Covid 19 and antibodies before coming back to school.

Cities and counties need to set high standards for sanitation and hygiene in schools and classrooms and send qualified and adequately equipped people to properly clean and sanitize all schools and daycares

Make sure all classrooms are properly equipped with hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, cleaning materials, ppe for teachers, etc.

Ensure better ventilation and airflow in classrooms/centers/schools

Transportation for children and teachers should be provided so as to avoid crowded subways and buses

Won’t feel safe unless there’s a vaccine in place and after that mandatory vaccinations to be a policy

Classroom and School Procedures

A nurse should be available in schools all day for a daily temperature check

Have a clear plan of action in case of  a second wave or another outbreak occurs

Ensure adequate time and supervision for helping children use masks and hand sanitizer

Stricter stay-at-home policy for anyone who is sick

Strict enforcement of policies and hygiene protocols for hand washing (20 seconds), disinfecting classroom surfaces throughout the day, daily temperature checks

Making resources available for more sinks, sinks in hallways, more hand sanitizer, more time for kids to wash hands

Accountability for people who are cleaning the classrooms

Classroom and School Environment

Strive to socially distance

Overcrowding of classrooms is a big concern - we need smaller class sizes for social distance

Overcrowding may be addressed by having AM and PM shifts for children

Better public education about hygiene which should also be made an essential part of classroom discussions

Ensuring Trust and Well-being

There should be training procedures for children, teachers and families regarding the way we talk about the virus and how we treat each other

The pandemic brings out the positive but also the negative qualities in people and we need to ensure the emotional well-being of individuals and of the community

We need to consider how the opening of schools will affect those who cannot come back due to illness

There needs to be more efficient management and better treatment of the disease

Regaining trust in government at all levels

Most importantly, how will preschoolers play together, hug each other, comfort each other, share with each other, and do all the things that they need to do to become caring, sharing, empathetic, compassionate individuals? The saddest thoughts shared were by a couple of students who questioned their plan of becoming a teacher and whether they would ever feel comfortable enough to go back into the classroom. I despair to think that if those in power don't get it right we might lose many fine teachers to the fear of this pandemic.