Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons!

This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday that on Wednesday our entire school building’s schedule was going to change! Because of specialist schedules and bathroom schedules, the schedule had to be rewritten so our classes wouldn’t mix in the hallways. Luckily for us, the only thing that switched in our schedule was lunch being a whole half an hour sooner than it had been. That was wonderful news for me because I was STARVING by the time we finally got to eat. It’s crazy how much of a difference 30 minutes can make.

My students loved the change in schedule as well so it didn’t bother me too much. The only problem came when one of my students (who needs to know what’s going on at all times otherwise he has a mini melt down) couldn’t understand why our schedule changed and why we were going to lunch sooner when the clock didn’t read our “normal” time. I felt bad for the poor kid. He handled it much better however than I thought. He was able to adjust quickly by the next day.

Lunch has been one thing that has been really strange this year. For one thing, because we can’t mix with other classes, we can’t each lunch in the lunchroom with the whole grade level like normal. Because of that, we have to eat in our classrooms (gross) or outside! If there is one thing I hate, it’s the smell of a cafeteria in an elementary school. I LOVE my job but I hate lunch supervision duty. (Even if the smell wasn’t so bad, just watching some kids eat is disgusting!) When I heard that my students would be eating in the classroom, I was not too thrilled.

The first few days I tried eating inside but it was too chaotic and the smell was too much. This week, I took my students outside to eat and it was a little easier. It was a challenge to get my students to eat the first few days rather than go crazy because they were outside. I think it was hard for them to understand that we were outside to eat lunch, not play. Yesterday and today, however finally got better. They found a spot in the grass and ate their lunches like normal human beings which was a small but exciting win for me.

I did have to laugh though, because a group of my boys were yelling and pointing at something in the grass. When I asked what it was they informed me it was a dead bird…..I asked them why they didn’t move and they looked at me like I was the crazy one. I guess eating next to dead birds is the cool thing to do now…? 5th grade boys are weird.

Another small success came this week with one of my students. Last week I hinted at a story about one of my anti mask wearing students. In our district, parents were offered many options for their child this school year. They could opt in for 100% distance learning classrooms or 100% outdoor/nature based learning classrooms if they didn’t want their child to have to wear a mask. It was then stated that any family who chose to send their student back into the classroom would understand and agree to having their child wear a mask all day everyday. No exceptions.

One of my boys had a really hard time with this.

Side note: He is a really sweet boy who has ASD and ODD. He receives behavioral support services in a normal year so I had a feeling, with this crazy strange year, he would need some extra support to help him get through these first few weeks.

When I first met this student at our Welcome Back Days, he flat out refused to wear a mask. He then informed me his thoughts on mask wearing and let’s just say, they weren’t positive thoughts. During our first 30 minutes together, I didn’t get anything out of him other than his negativity towards coming back to school and having to wear a mask. I think I heard the word hate come out of his mouth at least 5 times every minute.

Because of our non-negotiable rule that if a student comes to school they must wear a mask, I knew the first day (plus) would be hard. Sure enough, day 1 started with him flat out refusing to take his mask out of his backpack. I didn’t know yet how to work with him in a way that would be productive so I had to call for some backup. Sadly, he was in my room for maybe 1/2 of the first day. I was able to have a conversation with him at lunch that day. I tried to get him to talk about anything other than masks but he was stuck on that subject all day. At one point, I asked if he’d like to wear a face shield instead. His response, “People who wear face shields look like terrorists.” Yep, so no face shield.

He was so angry and stubborn about wearing his mask on day 2 that I only had him in my classroom for 1 hour that day. I hate that! I never want a student out of my room for a long period of time even if they are having a rough behavior day. I wanted to regroup and go into this week with a fresh attitude and mindset on how to get him to be more relaxed so he could stay in our room all day.

This week, he walked in Monday morning with his mask on and that was that. It was like I was finally getting to see the real him instead of the angry irregulated boy I met last week. Granted, he still complained up and down about how much he hated masks but he kept it on. He would take it off every so often but as soon as I would ask him to put it back on, he did it no questions asked. That’s a success in my book! The best part was that by the end of this week, I finally got him to smile and laugh with me. I think we finally made a breakthrough where he feels he can trust me and knows that I’m in his court. I know we will have rough days this year but I think we’re building a relationship to help offset those rough days.

I know I’ve said this before but I have a soft spot for kids like him. It’s my more challenging students that I think about all the time even after I have them. I know that, because of past behaviors, sometimes these types of kids get a bad rap and some teachers immediately are prejudiced towards them because of that. I hate that. These kiddos need extra love, support, and understanding. They’re different, they need different things than most students in the classroom and I’m not afraid to give them what they need even if it makes my job harder. If you can build that connection and trust with those students, your “bad” days won’t be so bad. That kid will know it’s okay to have those hard moments and it won’t change how you feel about them or how you treat them.

Overall, our first official full week went pretty well. I love my class and can tell it’s going to be a great and fun year! There are a few yahoos in my room, however that might need to see the “mean Ms. Nygaard” come out if some of their choices don’t change for the better. They’re not bad kids by any means but I can tell it’s been 6 months since some of them have had any structure and discipline in their lives, thanks COVID! I’m hoping next week is just as great.

(There are talks about moving to a hybrid model soon so we’ll see what happens. If it comes sooner than not, be ready for some major teaching fails as I try to navigate teaching 2 rooms of students at the same time! Fingers crossed!)

Extra little surprise this week, one of the teachers at my old school sent me this awesome message over Facebook. One of my old students wrote about me in their weekly morning work. It’s the little things like this that make it all worth it!

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Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons! This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday … Continue reading Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Back to School COVID Style

Well here we are everyone, we made it to September. It has been a wild and stressful summer because I didn’t know if I would have a job for this school year and, even if I got a job, no one knew what it was going to look like.

I know I wasn’t alone in that boat and I know I’m still not alone.

I wanted to start by giving a little update on my crazy long wait these past few months. As I’ve said before in a previous post, I found out the last week of April my job was being cut at the end of the school year. This was completely devastating to me because I did not see this coming. I found out later that my principal didn’t even know about it until after I got the call from the superintendent. It was a mess. I was given hope, however that they would be hiring back later in the summer once the fall school year plans were finalized.

I waited and waited and waited ALL summer for them to repost my job but it never happened. In Minnesota, we were told that the governor would make an official announcement on fall plans the last week of July. Districts were going to wait to hear his plan before they finalized theirs. A week after the governor announced Minnesota’s county by county plan, I heard from my principal that they would not be hiring anyone back. I felt sick to my stomach.

While I was waiting to see if I would get a call back, I was looking for other jobs around the area but no one was hiring. I truly thought there was no hope.

I felt like there was no hope until my home district (the one I grew up in and the one I taught at my first year out of college) was planning on hiring a handful of new teachers because of new programs they were going to roll out.

Side note: This district came out with very different and creative school choices for families in order to keep enrollment high and to make sure everyone felt safe in whatever environment they would be in. Families had the choice to enroll their student in a full distance learning class, a regular in the school class, or a nature based class that is entirely outside. Because of these options, many students stayed in the district and many students enrolled in the district.

I was fortunate enough to get an interview and a job offer back at the first school I taught at 3 years ago in the town I grew up in. I will officially be teaching 5th grade this year and, as of now, I am 100% in the classroom.

Just because we get to be back in the classroom, doesn’t mean things are back to normal however. I am usually a teacher who loves grouping students and hates desks. I love having tables in my room so students can collaborate throughout the day. That is not an option this year. I have 26 students and 26 desks that are spaced strategically around my small classroom to create as much distance between students as possible. It’s crazy how much room that takes up.

Another strange thing about this year is I don’t just have 1 classroom, I have 2. If our school has to go to a hybrid model of learning, 1/2 of my class will be in 1 room while the other 1/2 of my class will be in the other. Luckily the rooms are next to each other and has a door that connects them but it will definitely be an interesting experience.

My room this year isn’t as exciting as I normally like it to be but I’ve accepted the fact that having a perfectly decorated classroom is the least of my worries. I still wanted to share some pictures of my room just in case anyone is wondering what a COVID classroom looks like in Minnesota as school begins.

We had our teacher workshop week this week and it was a very different workshop week than I’m used to. All of our staff and team meetings were centered around questions and brainstorming sessions on keeping our students safe and distanced. The weirdest thing I think we discussed this week was the idea of having scheduled bathroom breaks throughout the day so our classes don’t mix with each other. Being an intermediate teacher the past 3 years, I’m not used to taking a class bathroom break especially at certain times so that is going to be a challenge for me to get used to.

Our last day of workshop was also our first day of Welcome Back/Assessment Days. I’m used to having 2 full days of this but this year we have 3 in order to keep our families separated as much as possible. We get 30 minute time slots per family with 10 minutes built in between to clean. As nervous as I was to meet my new families and students it was easily the best thing that I’ve gotten to do since school ended last spring. I am so excited to get to work with kids in person again and meeting 8 of my new students just increased that excitement even more. It was also so refreshing to meet all of the families who were so thankful for all of the work we’ve been putting in. They were so appreciative over our efforts and were so understanding when I kept telling them that what I told them yesterday might change in a matter of days because things are changing every hour. That was definitely a highlight of my week.

It’s going to be a mess but I’ve realized that’s where everyone is at and it’s okay. We are all just doing our best and making the most of what we can. I’m just so thankful to have a job and to be able to finally teach kids in person again! I’ll be back next week to cover the first 2 days of school and all of the new challenges that will come with it including trying to talk in a mask all day.

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