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I am a primary school teacher working in a school in Ireland. For years, I’ve taught the youngest class in the school, or the “Junior Infants” as we call them in this country.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is watching the children grow and develop throughout the school year. Four and five-year-olds never cease to amaze me with their progress from the first day of school to the last in June.
One of the most important parts of my job is my interaction with the children. Children need acknowledgement, encouragement, and praise. It sounds obvious, but positive reinforcement and feedback are so important in developing a child’s confidence and motivation in school.
As you’d guess, 2020 was hectic - utterly different to any year we’ve had before. Distance learning became the big thing - the only thing - that would help with a child’s education.
Yet, I missed the interaction of a normal classroom so much. Figuring out how I would teach the children remotely was a massive challenge. It involved trying out different apps, recording and re-recording videos and making lots of mistakes.
Of course, closing the schools was the best decision the government could have made. COVID-19 was rampant where I live in Ireland, and e-learning was a temporary solution to stop the spread. Initially, I thought it would only last a couple of weeks, at most.
I never imagined empty classrooms until the end of the school year in June. And then again, come 2021.
Still, I did and do feel more protected from the virus while working from home. As an asthmatic, I’m identified as being “at risk” in Ireland. In some ways, I’m luckier than most. Many, many people with asthma and other underlying conditions were on the front lines and couldn’t have had anywhere as near as much distance from the virus as I was allowed.
During the average school year, I’m susceptible to infections and I can catch a cold every few weeks. Classrooms are like Petri dishes. People and germs are all clustered next to one another, allowing infections to hop from person to person like fleas. However, spending days locked up inside the house means I haven’t caught any colds, and I feel much healthier and stronger than I did a year ago.
It’s time to get back to some sort of normality, and I can’t wait to get back into the classroom again. But, I’ll need to remain alert.
The virus may be on the wane, but it hasn’t gone away. So, I’m going to follow these four steps to stay as safe from COVID-19 as possible.
I need to gather as much information (and reassurance) as possible about my return to work. I have worked closely with my doctor for many years now. Together, we've found the correct combination of inhalers to control my asthma, and he's cared for me throughout many of my asthmatic episodes.
Talking to my doctor is the most sensible decision I can think of before returning to work. I want to speak to them about the possibility of wearing personal protective equipment.
That won't be as easy as it sounds. Though a mask would work, the children need to see my facial expressions as I teach. Hopefully, my doctor can suggest something that will keep me safe but won't impede my teaching.
I am very fortunate to work with a really supportive group of people. I have spoken to my employer about asthma and COVID-19. We discussed my return to work and my safety.
I need to make sure that those around me know about my condition, especially when asthma symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, are like some of the symptoms of COVID-19.
I've had various reactions from strangers when I've needed to cough in public. It's understandable, but I want to feel comfortable if I have asthma symptoms at work. If I feel anxious, the asthma symptoms get worse.
And what will make me feel more at ease? Not having to explain myself every time I have an asthma flare up.
I'll need to make a list of what I'll need to make a safe return possible. The list could contain anything from personal protective equipment to special arrangements made in the workplace.
Being alert at all times to the risk of COVID-19 is going to be a challenge. It is easy to slip back into old habits and routines. The restrictions and distancing during the pandemic have been challenging, to say the least.
That said, it's vital I remain consistent in keeping myself, the children, and my colleagues safe in our workplace. We have a big responsibility to keep standards high so that everyone will stay healthy. I think that placing signs and reminders around the school could help.
The 2021 school year will be like no other. We are living in such strange and nerve-wracking times, especially for those of us who are "at-risk". The switch from distance learning to face-to-face learning is fast approaching, and I'm looking forward to getting a sense of normality back into my life.
Most of all, I'm hoping that this "back to school" experience will be as straightforward as it would be in "normal" years. I'll be so appreciative if we ever return to how things were before.
I wish everyone safety and health their return to their workplaces and schools.