The past 5 months have been so unreal! I can’t believe we are in August already, trying to get ready for the new 2020-2021 school year. If I have learned anything from the global pandemic and nationwide shut down, it is to accept that the future is uncertain.
School districts are all over the board in making decisions for the upcoming school year. I have seen everything from 100% in-person to 100% distance learning, and all things in between. Some teachers are already back at school for their set-up week, trying to wrap their minds around the social distancing classroom. I am just trying to think this through ahead of time. I think it is important to understand that regardless of what your district’s current policy/plan is, things could very well change quickly in the near future. As much as teachers love a well-organized planner, it is important for our own mental health that we let go of as much stress as we can.
That said, this is a great time to look at our classrooms with a critical eye towards hygiene and sanitation. It is time to declutter and set up systems for keeping surfaces and objects as clean as possible.
Here are some of the things I am thinking about as I get ready for 2020.
1. Personal Packs
One super unsanitary element of the classroom is the passing of materials and multiple touch-points on things like pencils, scissors, and desks. Even if your students have pencil boxes in their desks, materials are constantly being shared and passed around. One way to get around this is to have students carry the materials they need with them. You may have seen those cute teacher supply aprons, but children can wear them, too! Aprons with pockets for all of the constant-use supplies can eliminate cross-contamination.
2. Book Bins
A common practice is to store textbooks that are used less often, and hand them around only when a lesson is being taught
(most likely science and social studies). If you are out of room in desks, or if you use table seating, book bins can help students keep their supplies contained within their personal space. Simple, inexpensive bins from Target or the Dollar Store can hold excess textbooks, reading books, or even supplies.
Another similar idea takes its inspiration from brilliant K-1 teachers who make these over-the-chair book holders.
Social distancing guidelines recommend people stay AT LEAST 6 feet apart. Simple math tells us that that will cut our classroom capacity to 6 to 8 children max at a time. As much as your school facilities will allow, try to remove and store excess furniture, so your classroom has a spacious feel and limited surfaces to touch.
We all dread the scenario of teaching in person with masks. But physical barriers are one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of Covid-19. Enhancing your classroom design with non-porous dividers can add another level of safety for your class. Ready-made dividers can be purchased, but they are pricey. DIY dividers can be made with inexpensive materials like PVC pipe and vinyl, but are time-consuming to make. Maximize your school’s resources to make the best decision for your classroom.
At this point, I have to add my personal thoughts about teachers buying supplies for their own classrooms. I don’t know any teacher who has not done this. In my twelve years of teaching, I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on my classroom and students. Furniture, books, Clorox wipes, pencils, snacks for kids, tissues, printer paper, flexible seating, a stapler, curriculum, math manipulatives, pencil boxes…you get the picture. As the years go on, I spend less and less because I am trying to normalize NOT spending money on things that should be provided for me. I also have a family now and let me tell ya, kids are expensive! Having said that, I also understand the desire to be as safe as possible during this time, so I would never shame anyone for spending money for peace of mind. Did I buy masks, gloves, and cleaning products for my classroom this year? Yup. This is 2020, anything goes. ::::: Stepping off my soapbox :::::
What happens this year is very up in the air. Districts that start in-person may end up shutting down again if schools become a source of spreading COVID. Districts that start on-line may decide to transition back to school if transmission rates drop to acceptable levels. Whatever the case may be, understand that you got this, and we will get through this together!