The education sector was one of the most affected areas by the pandemic. Teachers were the closest witness of the difficulties faced by some students, that struggle to keep up with online learning, had problems accessing Internet and even suffered with mental health issues during isolation. Teachers had to quickly adapt to a different reality with new teaching methods and a lot of challenges imposed by the new reality. Suddenly the living room became the classroom, the blackboard a computer screen and isolation a reality. Keeping the attention of children and teenagers in front of a screen for hours was a difficult task.
Aschool year disrupted several times and marked by frustration and anxiety. The workload, and emotional pressure that teachers had to deal with was heavy. Now, the 2021-22 school year is upon us and we have the promise of a year a little bit more similar to what we were used to before the pandemic. Despite all the rules imposed by government and School Boards there are no guarantees that the students, teachers, and staff are safe. In this edition we interviewed a teacher, who would like to be called Jamaal, and talked about his expectations about the resume back to school and share some of his ideas and experiences about last year. He is going into the fifth year as a full-time permanent teacher and is undergrad in sociology and communications with a bachelor’s of education degree. He will be teaching grade 7/8 this upcoming year in a Toronto school. To preserve his identity, he would rather not disclose the name of the school where he works. Here are some considerations about his expectations, fears and hopes related to the upcoming days.
Milénio Stadium: The Ontario Government announced a vaccination policy for teachers and educational staff at the schools’ sector, in which either they must show a vaccination proof or be submitted to regular Covid-19 tests. What is your opinion about that policy? Do you think vaccines should be mandatory for teachers and staff?
Jamaal: My opinion on the vaccination policy is that it is good that there is the option of doing a covid test if you’re not vaccinated. I believe though maybe all teachers could be tested regularly as it is not just a virus spreading through people who are not vaccinated only. Mandatory vaccinations seemed a bit extreme but I do understand that there are certain vaccines needed to go to school but don’t think this is one of them.
MS:The back-to-school plan introduced by Ontario’s government presents several measures, including the requirement to use masks and coverings to all students, except for the kindergarten ones, distancing measures in the classrooms, and improved ventilation in 100% of schools, the vaccine policy, among others. In addition, the plan endorsed resuming all sports teams and other extracurriculars. Do you think that’s enough? As a teacher, do you feel safe to return under these conditions?
J: As a teacher, we were working through the pandemic with some schools being retrofitted for better ventilation and other schools not being so lucky. I was grateful to be in a school that was fairly new. It’s good to know that ventilation is a priority but smaller class sizes would also help reduce the spread of the virus. Some school boards like the TDSB have mandated that all students K to 12 wear a mask except for medical exemption. This policy was from last year. I think it’s a bit soon for extracurriculars but people would like to get back to normal but at what cost – our health.
MS: After a long period away from school, what are your expectations for returning to in-person classes? Are you excited, nervous?
J: Well I have been doing in-person school since January as I had classes with special needs students. I also worked from school virtually so being in the building is not new. It will just be interesting how it will be when the school will be filled with staff and students. I wouldn’t say I’m nervous just cautiously optimistic.
MS: Do you think the resume to in-person school is the right thing to do despite all the dangers imposed by the delta variant?
J: I feel with new measures in places it’s a good idea to take a chance and see how things progress. The pandemic has been hard on all people especially kids and them being in the classroom is critical for learning. They kept saying that we were in this together so now it’s up to everyone to follow the guidelines in place and stay safe. Nothing is guaranteed.
MS: Tell us a little bit about last year’s school experience. How was the online learning experience? Do you think students can benefit the same way as in-person learning? Was it harder for you as a teacher?
J: Last year was a tough year from being in-person to start then online starting January then coming back February only to have to go back to teaching online again. That was challenging. For myself it was especially hard teaching as I was doing both virtual learning with kindergarten students doing specific subject classes and doing in-person specific subject classes so it was draining but good to be outside of the house. There feels to be a bit of a disconnect when doing online learning not that it can’t be engaging but it is difficult to stay in front of a screen for so long with the content being taught at times. From a student perspective screen time is suppose to be mostly fun and some students begrudgingly dragged there feet to the screen, didn’t show up or were eventually distracted.