Last Friday marked the end to what has undoubtedly been the most stressful four months of teaching and learning our province has ever seen.
That end came a bit earlier than expected, of course, thanks to the December 11th announcement from the Liberal Government. The last minute declaration that schools would be closing early and that the Christmas break would be extended was certainly a welcome bit of relief for many. Having recently returned to the classroom myself, I can attest that the daily grind of having to greet students at the door with a bottle of hand sanitizer and a constant chorus of “Pull your mask up!” was, at times, beyond wearing.
The in-school stress really ratcheted up as more and more announcements came out about schools being infected. As these became more frequent, the impetus for hand washing and mask wearing became much more emphatic. Polite requests for students to obey public health guidelines became a bit more, shall I say, direct? Considering the last few weeks of the school year were a somewhat disconcerting game of “Who’s next?”, I believe everyone working in schools can be forgiven the occasional lapse in professional patience when instructing Little Johnny for the eleventeenth hundred time that wearing his mask around his chin was counter-productive.
I make light, of course, but much in the way folks laugh at a funeral. Truly, when COVID entered the schools, the tension amongst staff was palpable. Respect and reverence for Dr. Strang aside, it is challenging to have a great deal of faith in the reassurances of a government whose leader refused to call the legislature back due to COVID concerns, while simultaneously declaring it was safe to be in classrooms. Those reassurances held even less water when it was announced that although it was ok for educational staff to share close quarters with their students, they could not gather with more than four of their colleagues at one time. The last professional development day saw professional learning groups limited to five individuals, gathered in classrooms that the day before held six times that number.
The situation was nothing if not bizarre, to be sure, but it’s hard to argue that we are not doing quite well here in our little corner of the world, COVIDly speaking. Although school infection rates were rising at the sounding of the bell, we in Atlantic Canada remain relatively healthy. Much of the credit for the success of keeping the virus contained in schools has to go to the educational staff of course, and their “Put-out-your-hands-Here’s-a-squirt-of-sanitizer-Put-your-mask-on-right-or-I-am-going-to-get-your-mom-to-come-here-and-put-it-on-for-you!” approach. From teachers to custodians to support staff to administration, the consistency has been impressive. As has been the attitude of the kids, at least for the most part. Although there a few in every school who need constant reminding, the gravity of the current situation is not lost on a majority of them.
Education workers of all stripes are, of course, breathing a collective sigh of relief as our focus turns away everyone else’s families and veers towards our own. However, even as this COVID tainted holiday season gets underway, many of us can’t help but turn a trepidatious eye towards January. With COVID cases skyrocketing out of control in other Canadian jurisdictions, the concept of walking back into school remains a relatively daunting one. Despite our success thus far, school based cases were indeed becoming more frequent as we staggered towards the break. In order to ensure that we reverse that trend, we are all going to have to behave ourselves this holiday season.
Yes, this will mean a few less visits with family and friends. Yes this means a little more on-line shopping (preferably from a local vendor). And, yes this may mean the annual ritual of packing all the kids, two dogs and a billy goat into the mini-van to see the grandfolks in Cape Breton or Halifax or Moncton may require a bit more consideration than in a normal year.
But I have seen how hard schools are working to keep everyone safe. I have seen the exhaustion wearing on my colleagues. I have heard the concern in their voices and, not to wax too poetic, have seen the fear in their eyes. I work with people who are pregnant. People who have COPD. People who suffer from any number of auto-immune diseases which makes the potential diagnosis of COVID-19 all the more terrifying.
And I have seen them meet our children everyday with compassion and concern, with laughter and patience; feigning courage that I am sure many don’t actually have so that our kids can feel safe in our schools.
Consider this as a note home from your child’s teacher, making a simple request. If we all do our part this holiday season, our schools will remain relatively safe for everyone within their walls.
And come the end of June, we will be able to hold an epic end-of-the-school-year celebration, including the grandfolks, the billy goat and all.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Stay safe.