By Beth Young
Back to School
I left off my last piece explaining how I was preparing for students returning to school. Well, since July 1st, we have had students back on campus every day with no hiccups. It’s been an interesting, and sometimes stressful and trying, time. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to share my experiences through this unprecedented time. I hope some of you may find this piece intriguing, or that it may even give comfort to teachers across the globe who are waiting to return to school semi-normally.
How did we prepare for the return of students?
There are many aspects which went into our preparation. First of all, we needed to clearly understand and adhere to the regulations and restrictions set by the government, the Office of the Basic Education Commission, and the Ministry of Education. Luckily, due to having smaller class sizes in our program, we didn’t have to split classes into two groups and work a six-day week like many government schools across Thailand have had to. However, we have had to cancel all upcoming school events, clubs, and out-of-schedule activities. The school postponed all trips indefinitely.
Before students even stepped foot on campus, we had to clean and disinfect all areas of our school buildings. Thankfully, our program only uses one building. All teachers and staff spent three days mopping floors, disinfecting, and cleaning tables, chairs, walls, windows and even ceilings! Once all items were dry, we had to assemble the classrooms in keeping with the requirements set by the MOE.
New Classroom Duties
We spaced out desks, maintaining a 1.5-2-meter distance between each student. We taped the floors to mark the exact alignment of the tables in case they moved throughout the day. Additionally, we implemented a new walking system throughout the building. This limits the number of people using different exits and stairwells.
The evening before students returned, a professional cleaning company disinfected all the corridors and stairwells again to ensure everything was extra clean! Other duties we have as teachers are our morning health checks and the building checks. These checks are where we take temperatures of students and teachers and observe them washing their hands as they enter the school campus and our buildings.
Adapting and Adjusting
Another part of our preparation meant updating our lesson plans. Many teachers had to amend their lesson plans and/or syllabus for the semester to accommodate the restrictions outlined by the MOE and OBEC. In terms of teaching art, this was frustrating. I had to rework a lot of my previous plans for this semester. I had to think of new projects and stick to materials that could be easily disinfected before and after class. Many projects I had spent months preparing for were now out of the question (for the foreseeable future).
This brings me to another part of preparing for students coming back to school: The mental preparation. It’s a scary and uneasy time; no one really knows what to expect. We’re all trying to stay afloat and do whatever we think is best. Yes, I feel disappointed that I’m unable to do all the things we had planned for this year. Despite that, I try not to allow myself to stress out too much over it. Instead, I think of this period as a challenge of my creativity, ingenuity, and resilience. I still want to deliver the best arts education possible to my students. I remind myself of my focus any time I feel that I may be getting swallowed up by self-doubt or worry.
Challenges in the Classroom
The first few days in the classroom were tough, I will admit. Students weren’t used to all of the rules and restrictions we put into place. Teachers were still getting used to the very rules they were meant to enforce, all while trying to make sure they didn’t forget anything. I taught our 8th-grade class for a double period the afternoon of the first day back; I don’t know how many times I had to stress to students to stay in their own seats, keep their masks on, and stop trying to sneak over to their friends’ desks.
In the end, I understand them. They don’t fully grasp the importance of these rules. It’s a lot of responsibility to put on children. They are adjusting to the new reality just as much as we are. While I didn’t once raise my voice with negativity in those first few days, I did have to raise my voice a lot to be heard clearly through my mask. I really had to exaggerate my enthusiasm to convey it from behind my mask.
All homeroom teachers spent the first morning presenting our new rules and regulations to our homeroom classes. Our students were made aware of what was expected. Of course, there were times when students would honestly forget some of the new rules. Sometimes, students purposely tried to push the limit to see how serious we were about social distancing. If I saw a student questioning the rules, I’d immediately stop. I’d take the time to explain to them why we took these measures and how we wanted to prevent any transmission of COVID-19 or other diseases. It’s important our students know we care about them and want to help them adjust to the ‘new normal’.
Repeat, Then Repeat Again
It was difficult having to repeat yourself (for what felt like) 30 times during a lesson. I lost count of how many times I said “keep your masks up please,” “remember, one person per table!” and “clean your hands before entering the room please.” Before the pandemic began, I used to think that cleaning art materials once or twice a day was tedious. Now, I’ve had to get used to running around disinfecting tables and individual coloured pencils between lessons. At first, I had to keep reminding myself that I couldn’t walk up to a students’ desk and help them with their shading and painting techniques. I couldn’t bend down to their level and help them with their exercises in English class. Unfortunately, I teach very hands-on. I like to move around the classroom, work alongside students during group work, and give real-life hands-on demonstrable examples.
My teaching style has changed drastically during this time. This is something I struggled with in the beginning. However, over the past few weeks, I have been able to find new resources and tools to use in my classroom I would never have found so quickly before. I have been using more digital applications to help my students to complete their assignments and projects in English and Project-Based Learning. I invested more time in creating videos, online resources, and digital media for my classes. This has really made me feel good about myself as a teacher.
I feel that I’ve been given an opportunity to try new things I may have never tried otherwise. I’m choosing to look on the bright side. Additionally, I have been able to introduce digital media into my Visual Arts subjects too, which has been exciting for students. We use Adobe Photoshop to create surrealist-inspired photography pieces, as well as use digital media to create magazines and refine research skills. With the younger students, we have been studying found objects in art and looking at ways they can create mixed-media art pieces using digital and traditional mediums and materials. It’s been a fun and somewhat experimental time in our arts classroom recently, and I look forward to what the future holds!
While we don’t know how the rest of our academic year will pan out, we are currently planning to follow the same schedule with the same requirements until Thailand’s Emergency Decree officially ends. The government have extended the Emergency Decree a number of times now, so we don’t know for sure when the government will officially allow it to end. Until then, things like masks and social distancing are a normal part of everyday life. Look out for my next piece in a month or so keeping you up to date with the situation here! What does it look like where all of you are? Are you also going back to school with students on campus or teaching online for this academic year? What has helped you all during this situation?
I’d love to hear more about what’s going on in your classrooms. I would really like to hear more about what’s happening in your classrooms. Leave comments below this post. Let’s interact!