Erin's Journals

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Just a thought… I must lose myself in action lest I wither in despair. [Alfred Lord Tennyson]

For The Teachers.

I posted a “breathe” meme on Facebook on the weekend and got an intriguing response from a teacher, whom I asked to write to me about her experience. This brutally honest letter from K. is Globe and Mail-worthy and I urge you to read what teachers are going through this week. It’s heartbreaking.

I am a 58 year old Designated Early Childhood Educator in a kindergarten classroom in Southern Ontario. My role, in a nutshell, is to provide developmentally age appropriate programming along side of my teaching partner, who is a certified teacher in Ontario. 

My partners and I have always worked together to create a rich learning environment for the children in our classrooms. This year, it’s more challenging due to the restrictions caused by the global pandemic. 

Your post resonated with me on many levels. I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for ten years now. I was introduced to it when my son was in Afghanistan… another stressful time in my life. And, for the last month, I’ve found myself reminding myself to breathe. I often hear myself saying it out loud… often out of the blue.  You see, for the last month or so, I’ve been hearing rumours about what my kindergarten class is going to look like. In my mind it was unfathomable. Cubbies and shelves in classrooms were being wrapped in plastic. (This has since been deemed a fire hazard by the fire department… I’m not sure if that’s a local department or by the Ontario Fire Marshall.) After hearing all this last month, I decided to send the principal at my school a text message. I copied and pasted a post I saw on Facebook. And I said “please tell me it’s not going to be this bad”. He told me it was best to wait to hear from him, but to expect the Early Learning Kindergarten Program to look very different this year. He also said he didn’t want to share too much because information was changing all the time. 

I spent last week in my classroom with my partner. Still hearing so many things on Facebook, we tried to use our common sense to set up our room. 

I purchased bins with lids so that the children would have a spot to keep their pencils, crayons, scissors and some items that we will regularly use for math and literacy. I cut out some foam squares, each child will have two dice, a ten frame, a rekenrek (tool for counting), their own individual package of Play doh, a dry erase marker and a white board. We planned to add to it over time. The rekenrek will not be allowed as we need to use string and card board to make them. (In my true fashion, I just realized I might be able to use plastic mesh canvas and gimp to make these.)

We set up our shelves with big bins of items which we were going to split up into smaller bins so that more than one child would have access to these items (toys like LEGO, etc). 

Thursday afternoon someone from “the board” came through each classroom and told us to remove things. I wasn’t in my room at the time that he came by, but my partner was. Basically he said if it wasn’t board purchased, it had to go. 

Well, I’m in a brand new kindergarten class that was created because our community is growing. Items purchased to furnish my classroom were a sand table (not allowed) and cubbies (not allowed) and these two large items are being  stored in another room. Board supplied… we have Plasticine (which along with the Play doh I doubt that we’ll be able to use). A doll and three trucks. 

Hardly enough to teach a kindergarten class! My partner and I had filled the shelves with things we’ve been collecting for years. She told him there would be nothing left.

Even the china I planned on using to teach health had to go. Erin, I came from the early years centre which is also mandated by the Ministry of Education. The Early Years Programs have been advised for many years to use real dishes as opposed to plastic toy dishes. China is perfect for this. When it breaks, it breaks into big chunks. There are some small pieces, but not shards like glass. The children learn how to play carefully, and with purpose when they use real items. Every year a piece or two breaks. It’s no big deal and other than a very tiny cut, no one has ever been hurt. I cannot tell you how special the children feel, knowing I trust them with real dishes. The china has to go, not because of the fear of it spreading Covid 19, but because of liability. Remember, this is the same Ministry who told me to use real dishes when I worked with two and three year olds. 

So, this person ended up cherry picking items that had to go then. Clip boards, gone, paper, gone (does this mean no classes can use paper?), wood, gone, stones, gone, anything porous, gone. Kindergarten programs rely on using “found materials” to teach children.  

Thursday I went home in tears… plus, as the day unfolded I could barely talk without crying. 

The principal at my school phoned me yesterday to touch base, check in and make sure I was OK. I’m pretty lucky to have that support. Not that he can change anything, but knowing that he cares and understands means a lot. 

As I sit here today I realize my tears are for mourning the loss of what we’ve worked for, that took so long to build. An amazing kindergarten program that is responsive to the needs of the children. I totally understand the reasons behind this are for safety. I get it! 

What I don’t get is this… why were we not given more guidance BEFORE we got into our classrooms? They had since March to prepare something to give us so we could go in prepared. Instead they let us set up and THEN they came in to tell us to take it out.  

Our tables are spaced apart, two children per table. Tables are roughly a metre long at the long side (they are trapezoids) but less at the short end. But once the children turn and face each other at the table they will be roughly 2.5 feet apart. But… the children in the aisles won’t even be two feet apart. This is okay apparently, but it’s not anywhere else. I fear for the safety of the children and my own. 

The children at my school (I hear this changes from board to board) are not allowed to play together with one toy without it being disinfected between use. Sooo, here’s my thought. We are all in a cramped space. Some will wear masks and some don’t, as my board hasn’t mandated masks for grade three and under. They will be breathing in the same air, they will be close, is sharing a toy, and allowing them to play together going to really increase their risk of getting Covid 19 considering the proximity? They aren’t allowed to sing or chant, indoors or out. 

They won’t see our faces. All day long I’ll be telling my kids that I’m smiling. They won’t see my lips moving. How will my English Language Learners learn how to speak English?  

I envision a classroom much like what I see on TV when I see a classroom from China. So, I have confidence that although education will look very different, for the time being this can work. But I don’t know how to deliver that program and no one is telling me how I can do this. They are all just telling me what I can’t do. Even when we teach children, we don’t tell them what we don’t want them to do, we tell them what we want them to do. Just like I did with my 18 month old grandson who was climbing on the table. Mom says, “don’t climb on the table”. I said, “we sit on the chair” and I helped him sit. Worked like a charm.  

Without my tools, I don’t know how I’m going to teach. I know I will teach my children how to breathe. I do that every year. I teach them how to sit in the moment, what their body feels like when it’s relaxed. But right now, I don’t know how I’ll teach them without singing, without paper, or sticks or craft materials. In an art experience we learn language, math, science problem solving, social skills, and so much more. 

For the last month (or longer) I’ve sat, not knowing the answers, looking for the wisdom to show me “how I can make it work”. Last week I found out much of my wisdom is no match to deal with Covid 19. 

Today, many educators are still waiting to hear if they have a job, or if they’ll be teaching on line, or if they’ll be teaching a different grade… after they’ve set up a classroom. So this week, teachers and educators such as myself, will be moving out of rooms and moving into new rooms, researching another grade’s curriculum. There will be lots of breathing but I don’t imagine it’ll be the breathing your meme depicts. 

And now, because my allergies have kicked in, I’m going to call the health unit to schedule my first Covid test… which by the way, I don’t know why it isn’t a requirement for everyone associated with the education sector to complete before schools open on Thursday. I would have thought they’d learned that from the fiasco we had with the migrant farm workers. 

This journal helped me to put down my thoughts in a more or less clear fashion. Oh, and I’m usually the most easy going, go with the flow, able to switch gears in an instant kind of person. The fact that I’m not that person right now bothers me.(?)

Thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts.

Thank YOU, K. for taking the time to put your feelings, your heartbreak, your anger and despair into words. I can speak for all who read this today – we’re sending you a huge virtual hug of support and gratitude.

I’ll be back here on Thursday with you. Be well.

Rob WhiteheadTuesday, September 8, 2020