I’ve been teaching summer school with masks. We can do this, but…

When I signed up to teach two weeks of summer school, there was not a pandemic.  When I thought about teaching summer school, I was sure things would have blown over by July!  And then, when it became apparent that things were not blowing over, it also seemed apparent that surely summer school would be canceled.  

But it wasn’t!  Now, you may have opinions on this but that’s not what I’m writing about.  Our state came out with policies limiting summer school options, attendance levels, etc, but allowing it.  While most schools punted on summer school, we went ahead.  Class sizes were reduced to limit classrooms to 10 or less people.  Attendance has been low.  But we are learning a lot, both academically and as we think about school going forward. Below are some lessons we are learning from summer school as we think ahead to the fall:

  • Someone needs to hold that door.  Right away, we noticed one touchpoint in our situation was students arriving and leaving.  Social distancing has students arriving and leaving in shifts.  And if no one holds the door, every student touches the same door.  We can do this, but we are going to have to work together to get the logistics right.
  • Now, more than ever, behaviors and routines will be key.  Regular lessons on hand washing and practice being distanced will be needed.  With just a little practice and reinforcement, students are washing their hands when needed without much prompting.  We can do this, but we can’t let some things slide.
  • Runny noses happen.  Everybody can have a runny nose.  Allergies or cold air conditioning can cause it.  And the heat from breathing into a mask can also cause it.  But when your nose starts running and you are wearing a mask, the results can be gross.  I’ll leave it there.  We can do this, but we are going to need solutions to clean masks when parents aren’t able to.
  • Outdoor breaks are wonderful!  Where I teach, we have an ‘arboretum’ that allows for a nice nature walk or run.  We can notice things to write about later, we can keep our distance from one another, and we can do it with our masks off.  Whew.  Fresh air!  Let’s hope we have a late start to winter.  Doing our read aloud outdoors is also a wonderful thing!  We can do this, but we are going to need to appreciate and utilize our outdoor breaks.
  • What did you say?  Get your visual aids ready, get your slide decks ready, and be patient.  The first day I was spelling something the students needed for logging into a resource.  “C,” I said.  Student: “e?”  “No, c.”  “E?”  All the while he was squinting straight at my mouth.  He was instinctively trying to see through my mask to understand me.  I’ve had similar situations where a student doesn’t speak up and I struggle to understand. We can do this, but we are going to need more visual cues for communication.
  • A little help?  Remember that time that a few students were having trouble logging in or completing a task.  You walked over and gave them some hands on help.  Or perhaps you had another student help them.  We aren’t going to be able to do that in the same way.  Anticipating these challenges and preparing supports in advance will be key!  Additionally, just knowing that when things take longer, independent pacing may be required and delays will be inevitable.  We can do this, but we are going to need to have extra patience every day!

I know we all wish things could be normal.  I will add, in the midst of all the challenges above, there are amazing moments.  Shouts of “You got it!” and “I did it!” once again fill the room.  Laughter and learning are happening.  The classroom magic may be slightly muted, but it is not gone.  And with a little forethought, I think we can recapture even more of it.  

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