We asked teachers how they think reopening schools will affect students and staff. This is what they said.
Parents and teachers have eagerly awaited confirmed guidelines for schools reopening this autumn, but it seems they will have to wait even longer.
Apart from mentions of sanitation stations and Covid-19 prevention training for staff, the Department of Education has yet to circulate official back-to-school guidelines for students and teachers.
In fact, teachers are just as in the dark as everyone else and with just weeks between them and the start of the school term, they still don’t know whether learning will be conducted online, what training is required and if and how social distancing will be enforced in the classroom.
We spoke to teachers based in Dublin and asked them how they are feeling during the pandemic and what their concerns are about reopening schools.
Lack of communication
While educators said they look forward to a “return to routine” and “a bit of normality”, they are primarily worried about the lack of preparedness from the Department of Education.
“I am apprehensive about going back as the Department of Education has not set guidelines or outlined plans for reopening,” said one male teacher, “and they probably won’t until the last minute, and when or if it goes wrong it will be the teachers who the media blames.”
Another said that she is nervous about returning to work because she doesn’t know what to expect and how to prepare.
“There’s not been much guidance from the Department or the unions about what to even expect and off the back of the exam debacle I’m not expecting much,” she said.
This lack of communication has been proven with the Leaving Cert exam grading process, which eventually settled on calculated grades, and put pressure on teachers to determine results last minute.
Enforcing Social Distancing
Another major concern has been the lack of clarity regarding social distancing in the classroom.
“I’m looking forward to going back to school,” said one teacher, “but I’m afraid that social distancing wouldn’t work with large class sizes and small rooms; there is barely any room for the students to move as it is.”
Another said the rise in recent Covid-19 cases as well as lax travel restrictions should be considered.
“I am very concerned given the recent increase in cases. With foreign travel on the rise, how many of our students will have been abroad?” he asked.
“If a Dublin city centre construction site of 200 workers cannot continue with work with precautionary measures in place, what hope have schools? I am very worried about returning.”
Remote learning will most likely be a vital part of students’ education in secondary schools later this year, which opens up an entirely new way of teaching for educators to learn in a short period of time.”
“I am feeling uncertain about what way the work will be spread between online and in-face teaching and feel it would be far better to know now what our new norm will be with Covid-19 restrictions,” explained one teacher, aged 26.
“I just hope they won’t rush a full return to facilitate bringing everyone back at the cost of safety for the adults in contact with students.
“It’s hard enough for teachers to keep students focused in the classroom, so if moved online, children could struggle with engagement and motivation.”
Many teachers feel that they have not been prioritised in the media as their safety and the increased risk they will face is not frequently mentioned.
“Although I am eager to get back to some normality and routine, I am concerned about the lack of communication from the Department to teachers in regards to the coming year. In most schools it is not possible to have children socially distance in a classroom of 25+ students,” said a female teacher.
“And with students less likely to develop harmful symptoms, I think too much focus is being put on ‘getting children back to school’ and not on the effects it may have on teachers’ health.”
“The government seems more concerned with getting schools up and running to allow parents to go to work,” said another.
“It’s our job to educate children, not to be childminders and the media does not seem to get this.”
Public health concerns
Teachers also said they expect public health worries to ensue from unions as last-minute guidelines will impede their effectiveness.
“I’m not expecting school to be opened fully,” said a teacher, aged 32. “They have not been gearing up classrooms to follow public advice.
“Near the time, I’d expect unions and teachers to express major concerns for public health, and I’d say the new year will begin with remote teaching exclusively, especially for secondary teachers where timetabling is impossible.”
Hopefully, finalised guidelines will be issued soon so that teachers and schools can start readying for the restrictive circumstances ahead, and enforced safety measures will protect all parties involved, students, parents and teachers alike.
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