Ahead of an unprecedented first day of school amid a pandemic, teachers across the country are finding it difficult to plan for unknown timetables, class sizes, and situations. The difficulties vary from facilities in poor condition for the new health guidelines to the fact that teachers don’t know what is expected. In London, Ont., one art teacher, moved her whole classroom between two rooms to house the number of students she had with the requirements of physical distancing.
Christine Buechler, a high school art teacher, said she was anxious about what her day was going to look like, as it was completely different from what she had been doing for 29 years. She added that she only just got her schedule on Friday and still did not know what her “daily timetable” would look like. She said she taught in a rural high school that’s over 150 years old. Thus, every part of the school is different. Christine noted that her specific part of the school does not have air conditioning and has a very tiny classroom that can accommodate a maximum of 21 kids.
Buechler also noted that she required a lot of creativity from the principal and the school to work with what they had. She said they have been moving furniture, taking furniture out of classrooms, and her tiny art room was going to be used as a large supply closet to keep the art supplies in as students themselves sit in the classroom next door. She confirmed that she would be going back and forth between those two rooms to try to accommodate the social distancing, but noted social distancing was very difficult in their school.
On the other hand, Linda Kwan is organizing to teach high school English in Vancouver in these strange situations. She is “a bit anxious” even as she’s excited to see students. She said she had been chatting with her colleagues in the past few weeks about their feelings. Linda noted that some of them are downright scared. She had taught for a short time during the pandemic in June after students were permitted to return to in-person optional classes. At that time, the number of students who returned to schools was minimal. She indicated that she was afraid to put too much effort into planning without first seeing her students.
While Kwan was moving desks around could see how difficult physical distancing was going to be, her classroom was “not that small.” She said, “Our back-to-school plan is a hybrid of face to face and also remote, so this reduces our class size to a maximum of 15. But even with […] all the desks physically distanced, I could only fit 12 in there, and I was kind of having to stand close to them, to my whiteboard. I’m worried about just the congestion of the bodies and the bags and all that.”
Many teachers, particularly those in areas where a split model of remote and in-person learning is going to be used, still don’t know how many students to plan for. A good example is Deborah Buchanan-Walford, a teacher from Toronto, Ontario. She is also worried about how the rules will affect her specific students. She said, “A lot of what is said for students in high school is the same for us, which is not really the best seeing that they are adults, and they have different needs.”
Her students will combine both physical and online classes, which she says will be a bit challenging.
She added there are more complications, particularly for students with conditions that require accommodations as communal spaces of schools such as cafeterias or break rooms are not allowed in many plans. Many teachers feel let down by individual back-to-school plans as the bulk of responsibility for doing back-to-school work is now resting on their shoulders. Despite working in a different province, Kwan, like Buechler, only received her schedule last Friday. Besides, Buechler feels that Ontario’s plan came out “just too late.”