Teachers returning to class face sacrifice, uncertainty, and preparation

British Columbia students are back in the classroom this week, and teachers are back in class on Tuesday to prepare for their arrival in the fall amid a global pandemic.

As part of a back-to-back entry to the start of the school year, teachers spend Tuesdays and Wednesdays meeting with their Health and Safety Committee and generally learn about new guidelines that have been put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students are expected to return to school for orientation on Thursday.

The extra days are intended to help teachers prepare for teaching in learning groups, use physical spacing in common areas, learn about new handwashing and hygiene protocols, and finalize lesson plans according to revised schedules.

“We definitely wanted to have only staff and administrators in the building for the first two days, and then safely welcome students on Thursdays and Fridays,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming.

But not every teacher feels ready.

“There is a lot, I think, that we need to get to before students get here,” said Kaiga Farstad, a primary school librarian in the Surrey School District.

Kaiga Farstad is an elementary school librarian in Surrey, British Columbia (Shaun Voss / CBC)

Farstad, as a librarian, said she will likely be in contact with all students.

She said, “I will wear a mask and must stay away from children and all other adults in school at all times.”

Farstad says she will also restrict her personal bubble as the school year begins.

“I don’t want to put the elderly at risk,” she said. “My father has a history of heart problems. I don’t want it to be my fault for someone I love to get sick, with whom I usually spend a lot of time.”

Terry Moring, president of British Columbia Teachers’ Union, said teachers across the province are required to make personal sacrifices to reopen schools.

“We are seeing that school districts send messages to teachers telling them that they need to be extra careful in their personal lives, otherwise there will be repercussions at the professional level,” Moring said.

On Tuesday, the county health official, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said it was time for the entire county to step up and contract with its social departments in order to allow schools to successfully reopen.

Henry also took a move to shut down independent nightclubs and banquet halls in order to keep community transmission down.

“If we do not set our priority as a community to get children back into the school environment … then we will face negative aspects in the long run,” she said.

“We need to do everything else that we need to do in our community to focus on the importance and priority of returning children to an educational environment.”

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