Social Distancing in the Classroom: The First Week

My takeaways and suggestions after 1 full week in a socially distanced classroom.

 

I wanted to write this post to share my experiences in case you are nervous about what this school year is going to look like, with all of the changes and new expectations, like I was!

First of all, let me say that I am back in the classroom following all of my county’s guidelines and rules to keep myself, my family, and my students safe. No, I did not have a choice. I need and love my job. Yes, some teachers from my school have chosen to stay home and teach virtually, but I am a healthy, young person and I did not want to take a virtual teaching spot from a teacher who truly needs it. Now on to the information!

This is my second year teaching 4th grade after a few years teaching kindergarten. I teach departmentalized ELA. This week, I had 16 kiddos in the morning and 14 kiddos in the afternoon. I was feeling nervous about the first day like I do every year, but this year was different because I didn’t entirely know what to expect. My county had pushed back the student start day one week to give the teachers additional time to set up our classrooms. I felt prepared as far as classroom setup and materials were concerned, but how does one keep 9-and-10-year-olds separated at all times?! If you know, please DM me, because I’m still figuring it out!

Day 1: The Worst First Day Ever (slightly exaggerating here, but read on to have a better first day than I did!)

 

I don’t know about you, but during pre-plan week every year, I’ve had to look back in my previous year’s binders to remember what I did for the first week of school. The first day of school was like that, except it was small humans forgetting that they can’t shout out at me, get up and move around when they want to, or play with their phones when they think I’m not looking. I even had one child take his mask completely off and throw it in frustration when I asked him to put it back on for the tenth time in under an hour. Six months of pretty much doing whatever they want really showed.

In addition to that, I pulled my mask down a bit at one point to drink my coffee and I spilled coffee into my mask. Thankfully, I had extras but I would have been in trouble without those!

And for the icing on the cake, one of my poor boys threw up on my tables right at dismissal time, so as I’m trying to figure out where all of the kiddos need to go to get home safely, I’m also trying to direct him on how to clean himself up without touching him. He did come back to school the next day without a fever and didn’t show any signs of COVID the rest of the week, so as far as I know, it was just a fluke incident!

My mistake was having higher expectations than was reasonable, leading to feelings of discouragement and frustration. During your first day back at school, remind yourself frequently that some of your kiddos may not have had any form of structure for the past six months. Praise desired behaviors often, but also don’t be afraid to remind those “naughty pickles” what your rules and expectations are!

The one light in my day was having so much fun with the kids completing this first day “Who Am I?” mask activity! I really got to know the kids and they had such a fun time guessing who each other was!

 

Days 2 & 3: #Goals

After the struggle of day one, I knew I had to try something new so I decided to give the children a Back-To-School #goals challenge! Each day for the rest of the week, I challenged my two classes with a daily goal that fit their needs.

For example, I had several children in my morning class that I was constantly reminding to pull their masks up over their noses. Their #goal was, “I can follow the new social distancing rules by staying in my seat and keeping my mask over my mouth and nose.” My other class, however, struggled BIG TIME with calling out. So, their #goal was, “I can raise my hand if I have a question or something to share.” All of the children’s names would be on a google slide under the #goal statement. They were told that if they could follow the goal for the entire class, I would reward them with a trip to the treasure box. But if they struggled to follow the goal, I would erase their name from the Google Slide and they would have to try again the next day. And because I had the slides on my laptop, I could erase names without the other children seeing so no humiliation was involved and there was still hope that they would succeed the next day!

While some children still needed reminders, overall, my idea was successful! If your kiddos need some help remembering the new rules, make it a game! Maybe you are unable to pass out candy, but you can give out class dollars, “fancy” pencils, or offer to take the children who follow the social distancing rules outside for lunch. Instant gratification is a huge plus the first week of school!

And now that they had begun to calm down, the children and I were able to complete our Intermediate Social Distancing Social Story! I think they really enjoyed it and it gave them a chance to truly understand why masks are so important. In fact, they enjoyed it so much, they were upset when we had to finish early!

 

Days 4 & 5:

 

At this point the children and I began to get into a flow. They were generally remembering the rules and most showed effort during our final get-to-know-you activities. We began to learn how to follow the centers rotations and expectations for completing work in class. Most of the kiddos were working hard for our new mask incentives and they were doing better about staying in their seats and asking to get up.

By Friday afternoon, however, they. were. DONE. I don’t know what happened but these kiddos were ready for a weekend and after they got through with me, so was I! They seemed to forget everything they had learned during the week about classroom expectations with their constant shouting out, masks down, talking in line, and walking up to me to ask a question instead of raising their hands.

My only suggestion here is grace! Especially with the area that I teach in, a lot of these kiddos were left to their own devices during quarantine and I had to remind myself of that fact. There was one moment on Friday where I simply got on my desk, sat criss-cross, and did yoga breaths with the children for about 5 minutes. This year, more than most, is all about going with the flow and I am looking forward to a better week two!

 

 

The Takeaways:

 

Seeing children in my room again was an amazing feeling. I truly love my job and while I don’t want to get sick, I was happy to be face-to-face with kiddos instead of feeling like I’m struggling to make connections through a computer screen. If that is you right now, kudos! Distance learning was challenging and I don’t miss it!

The mask is irritating at first, especially if you make the mistake I did by wearing full face makeup the first day of school, but as long as you keep the makeup light and bring a change or two of masks just in case, you get used to it!

The little dudes will need lots of reminders the first few days of classroom expectations but they should eventually adjust! Keep your head up, your yoga breaths ready, and your treasure box full, and you will find your flow again just like I did! …sort of!

 

Have any fun stories, suggestions, or questions about the first week of school?? DM me on Instagram @MyJuniorBurgers!

 

-Ms. Burger


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