A back-to-school like no other

On Thursday morning, someone from CBC News contacted me for a live interview later that afternoon. It was to talk about back-to-school in Quebec and concerns from a teaching perspective. It ended up being cancelled, I think Rob Ford bumped me on Thursday and something else did on Friday. These things happen.

Before they cancelled, I spent the day thinking about what I would say because this year’s back-to-school is entangled with confusion, worry, anger, fear, hope, and love. I wanted to speak with clarity.

I also asked some friends who are returning to the classroom in a few days what they would say, knowing that it would remain anonymous.

I am not the only one with such mixed feelings and I feel I need to do something with what everyone told me.

Here are some of the worries my teacher friends told me, in frantic text messages and phone calls, in between preparing for teaching in a pandemic. These are high school and elementary school teachers in the Greater Montreal area, from both the French and the English systems:

I always feel hope and love for teaching because we do what needs to be done for the children in our care. Sometimes, that is tinged with frustration and anger because it is expected of us even when our conditions are subpar – when the class sizes grow larger and the resources dwindle each year.

But this year, I am so angry that teachers are put in the position to try to make confusing and potentially dangerous policy bearable because we always put children first.

I am not returning to the classroom this year. I had returned last year after about six years away. But this year, I left for a position where I can work from home and keep my 9 year old son with me just in case. Because I am also worried about all of those things the teachers told me above. I lived all of those worries last year. So did my son. And because online learning is only being made available to a slim list of people with specific medical conditions, I will likely start homeschooling in September (Yes, in two days. And yes, I am still considering options…). It is the only solution right now that can guarantee consistency because there are so many inconsistencies with back-to-school this year. And it is sad that we will likely need to leave the system for that.

I also feel sad when I see teachers posing in their masks and face shields inside their classrooms that they are preparing for 25+ children to spend their days not wearing masks. Not social distancing. We can’t have 25 people in a SAQ at the same time …. even with masks and with social distancing!

The masks can hide the trembling smiles at least. I feel like schools are the band that plays while the Titanic sinks and this will have an impact on mental wellness. Teachers hold emotion for themselves, their colleagues, and their students. This year, the task is downright dystopic. Our government continues to insist that the best place for children is at school. But the current directives lack not only empathy but a reflection of current knowledge about this virus. The directives are inconsistent and school staff don’t have the time to make sense of them, not to mention what they are going to teach and how they are going to connect with their students who have been away from school for so long.