Teaching Through a Pandemic

teach pandemic kids teachers school covid masks



“Mask over your nose, please!” –My new catchphrase, used constantly while teaching during this darn pandemic.


In my mind, the shelter-in-place order was the real “start” of the pandemic, in that, that’s when it actually became very, very real to me. The small private school I work at was fortunate enough to reopen two months after the shelter-in-place order took effect, but everything was different and everything was shrouded in fear and anxiety. 


It was always part of my job to provide a safe environment for my children, but now I was faced with the challenge of providing safety from a virus I didn’t completely understand and that everyone in the world was still learning about together. For almost an entire year, we sanitized every. single. thing. in the classroom that was touched by a child before another child could work with it. For perspective, I might mention here that I work in a Montessori environment, meaning that every single activity includes many parts, and often, numerous small objects. Imagine how we felt as we watched a child choose to work on the puzzle map of Africa—both awe (that a child of 4 years could take apart and put together all the countries in Africa) and dread (that we would shortly have to clean all the countries of Africa). We cleared an entire 6 feet or so of counterspace for children to bring their materials to after they were done with it so that it could be cleaned before being put back on the shelf.  


We constantly wiped down every table and chair and rushed to the children’s bathroom when we heard a flush, so that we could clean the toilet after each use. I began to joke that my new perfume was called Lysol Eau de Parfum and my hands were dry and chapped in July like it was the middle of winter. Health survey slips with each child’s temperature reading from that morning was their ticket into the classroom, we had air filters blasting, and I had a stash of tiny personal lotion bottles lined up on top of the cubbies to soothe their poor chapped hands from all the handwashing we made them do throughout the day. 


Now that things at school have returned closer to the way things were pre-pandemic, other details of how I felt, especially during those first several, tense months, have become hazy. Apart from the new, physically-taxing reality of endless cleaning, mentally, I was mourning the death of our old ways at school. We were doing our best to keep our environment as authentic as we could while keeping everyone safe, but I was still sad that we couldn’t give the children everything we used to. The children didn’t know any better, though (and that made me equally sad), and fared far better than we anticipated. Their ability to acclimate to this new reality (yes, every single one of my 3 to 6 year old children can keep their masks on for several hours) and their resiliency in the midst of it all, was inspiring. 


All in all, even now, even when all I can remember is how much I hated all the cleaning, I am so very grateful to have been able to continue being in the classroom with my children. It is looking like this virus is here to stay and as a teacher and parent, I have recommitted myself to guiding the children to find joy in learning and wonder in the world in the special way only children can. In a time when uncertainty had no end in sight, I looked to the children and felt hopeful again. They were going to be okay and so was I.  


--Paulina Kim, Montessori guide and Mother of one

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