On Monday, June 15th, we were allowed back into our classrooms to pack up. It was like a living time capsule. I had left my room ready to go….the date (March 12, 2020) carefully updated the day before, agendas written on the boards, the Do Now ready to go, the stacks and stacks and stacks of photocopies done for the next three weeks of Probability and Statistics, the plastic box of mechanical pencils on my desk ready to dole out to the students, never to return (where DO they go?). A laundry basket in the corner held flexible seating options, an over-the-door shoe storage scrounged from my daughter’s room held timers and a pair of “puffies” (noise-blocking headphones), manipulatives and school supplies were readily available on the thinking that provisioning the students is more important than losing ten minutes each time a kid needs to go to a locker to search for a pencil. Managing my migraines meant that I had floor lamps all over the room and clip-on lights for the dark corners; although my room was set up in a five-by-five grid of “combo” desks, the corners had a “trap table,” a trio of desks for small group work, and a lab table for mid-size groups. It was a place where students were expected to be working, yes, but not necessarily in their seats and never for lectures.
On June 15th, I dismantled my room, yes, but I also dismantled five years of building a physical classroom set up designed to bring Universal Design for Learning to life. If it can’t be sprayed or wiped or overtly disinfected, I don’t want it in my room. And it’s not just me–we appear to heard, some of us, that anyone who left “soft furnishings” in their classroom would need to remove those. No cushions, no stadium seating, no yoga balls, no “squiggle cushions.”
And how will this play out in the academics? We hear that we can’t give students paper and can’t get paper from them–they can write on paper, but have to upload it and submit it electronically, then leave the paper in the recycle bin. We have to be six feet (or three feet–it keeps changing) away from our kids (and them from each other), so there go any private conversations. I’d rather email them or Kami them or ClassKick them or WHATEVER them because once we can’t have private in-person conversations, we’re going to need to find another way to reach out to our kids, even when they are in the same room with us. Kids, middle school kids, humans, adults….pretty sure most all of us want privacy for feedback and questions and anything that makes us feel uncertain.
When I try to imagine what next year might look like, it feels like a forest of question marks. Will we be hybrid, one week with half the kids, then one week with the other half? Will we be able to return at all, as numbers climb across the US and it’s not even the holiday weekend yet? Will we return only to have to dismantle our time capsule classrooms yet again?
As I’ve been thinking about next year, I truly believe we will need to plan as though we are remote, whatever the actual description is on any given day. I think we need to have a consistent structure in place that we can implement with the kids when they are with us…and that they practice and use when they are not and when they are in the same building with us, but separated by distance and disease. I think the more seamless the transitions are between the various scenarios, the better for everyone involved. At the same time, I struggle to not lose hope in a world where we are hearing that a recommendation is for the students to be assigned seats (old school) facing front (hello, COVID) and socially distant (sigh). Familiarity should be comforting, but this is a return to practices I enjoyed leaving behind as a teacher in favor of students sprawled on the floor or perched on stools having a small group discussion with one teacher while another third of the class piled up around the lab table with me. There is nothing normal and plenty not-new about this so-called “new normal,” but there is plenty that worries me.
Thanks to my “office mates” who provide hours of entertainment….