As teachers around the country prepare their students for an unusual start to another school year, we often hear the term "new normal" being thrown about. With a pandemic still looming over our heads, we feel that this normality could be just a way for us to be confined to a smaller space or stricter rules. Although science has been tackling this pandemic every day since we first heard about it, the science changes so often it's enough to make our heads spin right off our shoulders. Which end is up? What way do we go? How do we best protect ourselves? How do we protect our children?
Our "new normal" it seems cannot be to place everyone in their own protective bubble, even if that might be the best, safest, and most sterile way to do it. So, we are forced to look at different ways we can create normalcy inside and out. What does that look like for teachers? Some have chosen not to go back to their classrooms at all, relying on strictly online learning as a means to teach. Kids can check in to their online rooms, see their classmates virtually, and still get a full lesson. Some teachers have chosen to do partial online learning and partial in-classroom learning, but classrooms look a bit different than they once did.
To go back inside a classroom in this "new normal" means to space desks out instead of squishing as many students into one room as possible. Here we reflect on the many years teachers have complained (rightfully so) that their classrooms were too full, they had too many students, and it was too much on them for grading, assignments, etc. With a pandemic, it has forced classrooms to be smaller in size, some going from 30 students down to only 20. If a school can manage to create new classes per grade and hire more teachers, then the classroom size not only is safer for students, but is more manageable for teachers.
To go back inside a classroom now means sanitizing everything. Yes, it's an extra step in the day, but it will actually keep our kids less sick in the future. How many times have we heard the words "petri dish" when referring to children? Lots! They spread germs, no question. They spread diseases like the common cold, flu, pink eye, head lice, and even chicken pox. If the classrooms are being cleaned more often, if we are asking our children to remain diligent in hand-washing and using hand sanitizer, then some of these common kid colds will not be present in our schools this fall and winter.
Then there is an issue that has been debated since the very onset of the pandemic: mask wearing. Do they work? Does it even matter if I wear one? Do they protect me or someone else? Should I be forced to wear one at all times or just when I'm around others in a small space? Do I have to wear one to be outside? All of these questions have finally been answered using the latest scientific technology. What we know is that germs that are airborne spread through air particles. This means that talking to a person in close proximity to you, coughing down an aisle in a store, and yes, not sneezing into your elbow, can all produce germ particles and droplets into the air we breathe all around us. Wearing a mask helps us protect others from germs we may not even know we have.
This presents its own challenges with children inside a classroom. Children naturally fidget, so they're not about to keep their masks on properly throughout the day. They're going to trade their masks for cooler ones like they trade their lunches. They're going to take them off and forget to put them back on after lunch. They're going to drag them, throw them around, use them as slingshots, and do everything they're not supposed to do with them throughout a normal day of school. So we have to explain that this "new normal" involves wearing a mask properly, guarding it against super germs, and making sure kids understand that they are protecting their friends from getting sick like superheros. If we change our rhetoric from one of having to deal with change and do something we don't want to do, to one of being a superhero to our friends, kids will listen and adapt to this "new normal" probably much better than adults.
For us at Marine CSI, this "new normal" involves sanitizing our materials that we bring into the classrooms. Everything we can possible do has been laminated so that the materials can be wiped down and cleaned between classroom use. We have purchased even more materials so that our group size has gone from six students down to four, making it safer for kids to be around each other (with masks on). As a guest speaker to schools, we are required to wear a mask during every class discussion and activity throughout the day. We are also asking teachers to provide us with one empty classroom that we may rotate classes into, instead of us moving from class to class throughout the day. Perhaps this will be the cafeteria, but it will prevent germs from one class to infect another.
For those lessons we cannot sanitize between classes (or at all) because our materials are things like stuffed animals or nesting material, we have created a listing of all our lessons right on our program page as a PDF document. Teachers are asked to click on it and review it before contacting us to schedule a lesson, so that they are fully aware we may not be able to adhere strictly to the recommended safety guidelines for each lesson. We are doing our best to figure things out for this school year and we hope that these changes will become our "new normal" for the future success of Marine CSI.