Whether you’re ready to go back into the classroom or not, it is coming for a lot of our districts around the nation. For me personally, we have been back in the classroom for about three weeks now. I had mixed emotions as an introverted teacher; I actually loved being in my house! The ability to make tea, get a snack, or get cozy in a blanket with a candle while teaching is the stuff of a homebody teacher’s dreams.
On the flipside, our extroverted teachers may be ready to get back into the classroom and are itching to see their students and other teachers. Whichever camp you reside in, here are some tips to make the transition back as seamless as possible.
Take inventory of your supplies
We now need to make sure we are all stocked up in three areas: teacher supplies, student supplies, and COVID supplies. Districts have been making sure teachers have supplies needed, but you may want to stock up on some of your must-haves now. It might sound silly, but there are definitely certain brands I like to have on-hand. I tried to stray away from my regular hand sanitizer and I ended up getting one that smelled like an extremely strong rum, or a pina colada in Cancun as my husband said.
This back-to-school checklist had some great reminders for what to bring like water bottles, mask lanyards, tissues, and the essentials like masks and sanitizing wipes. It also might be a good idea to break out any school supplies you may have been hoarding in your cabinet and allow students who come in-person the option to have their own set of supplies like a pencil, folder, paper, and highlighters. These can be kept in a nice pencil pouch with their names on them. That way, there is less contact in the classroom between students.
Teachers may need to make sure there are also ample chargers for computers, an extension cord for them, and enough spacing in between to be safely distanced. Personally, my space is small so it was difficult to imagine and arrange space for my small group of students. It took much more time taking inventory and arranging my seats and furniture than I thought.
Start meal and snack prepping
I admit that one of the perks about teaching from home was the ability to last minute find something out of my refrigerator to eat for lunch instead of having to pack it the night before. I also like to have a smoothie for breakfast so it was nice not having to prep that beforehand. My frequent go-to lunch was fried eggs in a spinach salad with fresh-squeezed lemon and olive oil with some nuts and seeds on top. It was so fresh and easy! And to top it off, I had a hot tea with fresh lemon in the afternoon. I definitely mourned my kitchen access when we returned to the building.
One thing I wish I would have been prepared to do was have at least a loose meal plan or start making meals and freezing them for my lunches. Now I have gotten into a groove of Sundays being my lunch prep and keeping it pretty simple with a huge pot of beans or lentils with some form of rotating vegetable and hard-boiled eggs. Anything that will last me almost all week, I will try it!
We Are Teachers has a list of meals by real teachers that might start to get your creative lunch juices going. Fix them now, freeze them if you can, and make your transition as smooth as you can by bringing in all your favorite snacks! That’s right, go to Costco, grab some granola bars and your favorite bag of chips or crackers and stow them away in your snack drawer at school (don’t be ashamed to admit it! I have one drawer dedicated to my snacks and possible hungry students).
Take a look at your classroom procedures
Post-Covid procedures may look a little bit different than pre-Covid. Teachers may need to revamp their procedures to reflect this. The first couple of weeks of in-person may look a little bit like the first weeks in August. Students will need refreshers on your personal classroom procedures you may always have done and also any COVID procedures you or your school plan to implement.
Those may be processes as simple as requiring students to sanitize any supplies they used in your class, having students sit in the same seats everyday to make tracking easier, having students enter and dismiss your room in a certain way, or making sure only a certain amount of students can go to the restroom at a time and arranging this with your neighbor teachers. Whatever the procedures are, the article “How to teach new classroom routines during COVID-19” recommends to model it first for students and then allow for multiple ways to learn and remember them.
You may need to plan for a day or two of activities for at-home learners if you do not have all of your students back in the building. This may look like students doing asynchronous assignments in Nearpod, Class Kick, or your Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams.
Now more than ever, empathy is needed to understand our students. According to ReadTheory’s article, Compassionate Classrooms: Why Empathy Belongs at the Center of Our Lessons and Practice, new understandings of how trauma affects the brain shows that it’s possible that for many students, experiencing empathy can have a life-changing impact both academically, emotionally, and physically. These times are unprecedented and we do not know as teachers what students have been experiencing during the pandemic personally or with their families. Being open and listening to them will show them we care and leave lasting impressions.
Things won’t be perfect and students might need time to learn how to be a student again! I certainly needed time, and still do, to feel comfortable in-person. Masks will slip down noses, students will forget their computer chargers and water bottles from home, and they may seem like they haven’t come into contact with another human besides their family and end up talking your ear off.
Let them stumble and let them chat, and most of all prepare yourself as much as you can so you can be there for your students in-person. You will be surprised at the empathy they show back to you as we all learn to be connected again.