How teachers can prepare for back to school amid COVID-19

This September won't be the start of the school year that teachers are used to. In addition to gathering and organizing classroom supplies, preparing class lessons, and establishing a classroom calendar, now teachers have the added task of having to be ready to teach in the midst of a global health crisis.

That said, the situation in Canada appears to be improving, with national infection numbers drastically reduced since the pandemic broke loose in March. In light of this, restrictions have eased, and all provinces and territories will be adopting some form of back-to-school protocols.

But with the first day of school fast approaching, teachers are encouraged to take some steps to not only help ease the anxiety of students and ensure a safe school environment, but deal with any angst of their own.

Here are some ways that educators can prepare for the new school year in the middle of COVID-19.

Clearly communicate with families

You may have some confusion about what the school year will look like when everyone heads back to the classroom in September, as well as how things will pan out in the months ahead. But parents and students will be experiencing uncertainty as well, so any amount of communication you can have with families will help a lot.

Effective parent-teacher communication is among the more important factors involved in a successful school year, and it will be an even more crucial aspect because of the pandemic. Consider your options for communicating with parents - whether it's via email, app chat, or traditional telephone calls - and then prepare accordingly long before the first day of school arrives. Sending out letters informing parents of the communication methods that will be used can keep everyone in the loop right from the start.

The pandemic has already caused a great deal of uncertainty, which in turn causes anxiety. Communicating as often as you can with parents about what changes are being implemented and expectations placed on parents can help ease that anxiety and help everyone cope appropriately. Not only that, but keeping everyone on board with the necessary changes will also ensure a safe environment.

Come up with a plan for gradual return to school

A good chunk of Canadian parents want their kids to go back to school in September, but that doesn't mean they have zero concerns about it. According to a national survey conducted by Maru/Blue Public Opinion, 68% of respondents with children under the age of 18 want their kids to go back to school, but the majority are concerned that health and safety measures may not be adequate enough to protect students from infection.

Individual school boards are responsible for coming up with a safe return-to-school plan for September, but teachers can do their own part to help out. While some parents might be open to sending their kids back to school on the very first day, others may be a bit apprehensive. They may want to take a wait-and-see approach and let some of the dust settle first. In this case, supporting a gradual return to school may be appropriate.

As a teacher, be prepared for staggered starts among students. This will certainly not be ideal, but having a plan in place to accommodate kids who ease themselves into the classroom a few weeks after the start of the school year can ensure they won’t be lost when their own first day of school arrives.

Stay in touch with students not returning to school

While there are many parents who want to send their kids back to school full time in September, some parents will likely choose to keep them home. In the case of the latter, teachers are encouraged to stay in contact with these kids, mainly to offer support, guidance, and any resources that may help their at-home learning.

It's very possible that as the year progresses, some parents may eventually feel comfortable sending their kids back to school, depending how the situation evolves. In this case, keeping in touch will help bridge the gap between what the students have been doing at home and being ready for a classroom setting. Not only that, but maintaining contact can also help teachers check on kids, particularly those who may not have an ideal home-life situation.

Practice teacher self-care

Parents and students may be apprehensive about going back to school amid an ongoing pandemic, but teachers experience the same anxieties. As an educator stepping into an altered educational platform, it's just as important to keep yourself healthy as it is to ensure that your students are safe. Not only does that include keeping yourself physically safe from potential infection, but staying mentally and emotionally healthy, too.

As a teacher, it can be tough to stay mentally strong as you deal with various issues throughout a typical school year. But throwing a novel virus into the picture adds an entirely new level of anxiety. While you're showing your students and fellow teachers and administrators empathy, make sure that you're showing some as well.

Whether it's taking an extra break or two throughout the day, improving your nutrition, getting more exercise, or engaging in supportive networks, taking steps to care for yourself as you transition into a new world of teaching is helpful not just for you, but for your students, too.

Keeping up with children's education is obviously a priority, but it shouldn't be at the expense of mental health and social development. As a teacher, you can play a role in helping your students transition into a very different-looking looking school year and ease their anxieties to some degree. Just make sure you're taking care of yourself at the same time.

Lisa Rennie has been working as a freelance writer for over a decade, crafting unique content aimed to educate Canadian consumers. Her constant state of curiosity and incessant need to get the answers to her never-ending questions serve her well as a content writer. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys trying her hand at exciting new recipes, snuggling with her pup, and reveling in the presence of her kids.

Lisa Rennie is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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