Teachers express a range of emotion about returning to school

By Matthew McCully

With the minister of education’s date to reopen elementary schools and daycares quickly approaching, local teachers are still in the dark about how it will all unfold.
The Record spoke with teachers and staff members from a number of elementary schools to get a sense of how they feel about stepping back into the classroom.
To avoid repercussions, The Record agreed not to identify those who came forward.
“There was some shock, and some anger,” one teacher said, “And a lot of anxiety. There are a lot of unanswered questions. I feel like the government had no plan, just a date, and they left teachers and administrators to deal with it,” they commented.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we genuinely miss the students. This is crazy, we were taken out of school at a moment’s notice, there was no closure there. At the same time, we’re feeling a lot of anxiety, there are a lot of unknowns,” the teacher said, adding many of the colleagues they spoke to feel the same way.
According to the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) teacher, schools should remain closed until September “to give more time to better plan and organize ourselves,” they said. “The reality is you can’t keep the school closed forever, but I don’t think they gave us enough time to do it properly. Right now, we’re trying to scramble to do the best we can.”
“If the government were transparent it would have been a little easier to digest. This was an economic decision, not what’s best for the kids,” the teacher said. “When they made the announcement, they presented it as essential, especially for at-risk kids. Teachers know the at-risk kids need a lot of personal attention and one-on-one time. That’s impossible from two metres away. The focus will not be on academics,” the teacher assured.
“We’ve been extremely well supported by administrative team. They are on our side, working hard to make sure things are as safe as possible,” the teacher said, but with so many unknowns, they failed to see the benefit of bringing the kids back to school in an environment where they will spend most of the day in one room.
“Kids have an incredible amount of energy, it’s going to be difficult to manage,” they said. Under normal circumstances, schools have tools and spaces available to help kids who might feel overwhelmed.
With the safety directives from the government, there will be no gym, no cafeteria, no playing on the structures in the playground, no throwing balls, no playing tag.
“When they have no outlet, it’s going to become a problem,” the teacher said. “I think it will cause them anxiety as well.”
“The government is lending zero support. The least they could have done is provide protection,” they said, “They are throwing teachers in there and giving them nothing.”
“How do you console a five-year-old who is crying or is hurt from two meters away? Just a second Billy, let me get all my protective gear on before I come and help you stop the bleeding,” another ETSB staffer commented.
“When Roberge revealed his plan, I was boiling. I should have known he would put everything on the schools,” one teacher said.
“I love how he says everything is in place for a safe return. Call a spade a spade. The economy needs to get going.”
There will be no consistency for special needs kids, the teacher said. “Week to week, we will need to adapt to more students deciding to join us. Washing hands, walking in the hallway, using the washroom, getting off and on the bus, entering and exiting the school, and lockers are just a few of the things that we need to be very prepared to teach all students. Oh yeah, we will need to teach without getting within two meters from them. Console a sad child from two meters away. Tie their shoes from two meters away,” they said.
“I will be happy to get back this week to discuss our plan of action. Maybe I’ll sleep better if I know we can pull this off somehow,” the teacher said, but added on a personal level, there are too many red flags.
“There are so many reasons I am not sending my own daughter. The same reasons so many other teachers are not sending their kids either. That says a lot.”
Another teacher pointed out there is a lot of back and forth, but not a lot of information being shared regarding the back to school plan.
“We don’t know the procedures yet,” they said.
While the education ministry cited the mental health of the students as a motivation for their return, the teacher said that doesn’t fly. “We are taking away a lot of things that would help with mental health,” they said. “It takes away the relationship part of school,” they said.
They also pointed out the lack of a breakfast or lunch program will affect a lot of students.
“If they come back, they could be traumatised,” the teacher said, explaining that the new version of school will pale in comparison to what it was like before.
“When they play with their friends, do they get in trouble for giving their friend a high five?” the teacher asked.
After sending the government’s safety measures home to parents, the teacher said a lot of parents changed their minds about allowing their children to return to school.
“There is not a good system in place right now. The more time we had, the better it would be,” they said.
“They are just throwing things at teachers, expecting us to do it with the few resources they give us,” the teacher commented. “There’s a lack of preparation, and I find a lack of respect. We’re glorified babysitters. It’s kind of an insult to the profession.”

Published in the Monday, May 4 edition of The Record.

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