What Will Our New Normal Be?
When will we go back to school?
What will the restrictions be?
Will we have to wear PPE?
How many children will be in our classes?
Will we be given more SNA’S or support teachers to help with catching up?
The answer to these questions, and many many more, is, no one knows!
What I do know is what I do NOT want to see.
I don’t want to see children segregated in boxes in the playground.
I don’t want to see a child playing alone in an Aistear corner.
I don’t want to see a child fall in the playground, who I cant pick up and help, because of social distancing.
I don’t want to see a child cry in fear coming to school because their teacher is wearing a scary mask.
But, ‘its for everyone’s benefit’ I hear you shout? While I hear what you’re saying I think we need to look at the bigger picture.
For months now we have all been segregated from each other, and for a very good reason. I think the decisions made, and the actions taken have been wise ones, and the proof is in the numbers. Well done to each and every one of us who have played our part.
Throughout all this the younger children have been absolute super heroes – each and every one of them. They have had their whole lives turned upside down. Everything that they know – their routines, the people they interact with, their friends, their surroundings – changed over night. With little explanation, that they can comprehend, that we, as adults, have struggled with at the best of times.
One day they can hug and kiss Granny and Granddad, the next day its too dangerous. One day they can help with the shopping, the next day children are not allowed in shops. One day they can go to school and see their friends and teachers, the next day its against the rules. One day they can go to the park, one day they can visit the zoo, one day they can go to the local swimming pool and the next day its all ripped from under them. And why? Because of ‘the virus’. An abstract idea, for most children, that they can’t understand. Many children are struggling in the current times. Anxious about all the sudden change that they may, or may not, understand. Many children are struggling with being socially isolated and not having the social interactions they are used to having. And of course, many children have lost their safety net, that is school. All of this will have little effect on a few, temporary effect on others but for some it will have a lasting impact. The impact that this has on our children, I believe, will be solidified by the approach we take on ‘going back to normal’, going back to school.
There is no getting away from the fact that the start of the next academic year will be like no other. It will be different, of course it will. Will there be changes? Of course. Are the changes necessary? Yes! But we need to tread carefully.
We are going to be faced with cohorts of children who have been told you can’t see your grand parents, its too dangerous in case they get the virus – oh you can see your grandparents again. You cant go into the shop because children are not welcome – oh you can come in to the shop again. You have to stay at home and not see your friends – you can play with your friends and leave the house again. Its not safe to go to school – you can go to school now – you get the picture!
We are going to be dealing with children who are going to be anxious and nervous, even more so than normal. Children who are worried they have fallen behind in their school work and aren’t ready to move into the next class. Children who are going to have separation anxiety after being at home with parents, for a lot of children, much more than normal. Children who may have lost the ability to socialise like they used to and who will find being around so many people over whelming. Looking after the children’s mental health and well being is going to have to be our number one priority.
We are going to need to nurture them and care for them and make them feel safe, even more than before. We will need to reassure them that they are ok, that school is ok, that their families are ok.
No directives have been given yet, as to the measures and practices schools will be asked to introduce, and there is no point in speculating, its not helpful. Schools can put in lots of helpful measures to try and keep people safe that will have minimal negative impact on the children’s experience of school, as we know it. We can install hand sanitisers, we can stagger start/finish and break times, we can scrap whole school gatherings such as assemblies etc, we can individualise stationery, we can introduce stricter policies on how we deal with illness in staff and children who are not well, even with minor coughs and colds, insisting on them not coming to school.
But where my passion kicks in, is when it comes to the measures I see being adopted by some countries which, I believe, will have a long lasting and seriously damaging effect on children’s social skills, their view of social connections, their self confidence, their well being, their innocence and their view of society and community, to name but a few.
Seeing images of schools where very young children are segregated into chalk boxes in playgrounds, where children sit at their desks behind measured hazard lines receiving their lessons from a teacher with a masked face, children wearing hats containing sticks in order to create distance between them and the next child….. it literally breaks my heart. This can not happen in Ireland – a country who have done it so right to this point. How is this approach helpful? What are the children learning in this environment? Why not continue to teach remotely if these are the measures that a government feel are necessary to be back in a ‘classroom’?
From what I have seen, these measures are going to develop over anxious, fearful and socially distant children, young adults and grown adults in years to come. These are children, who haven’t seen their friends or had any interactions outside their immediate circle for a very long time, and now they can finally see other people – BUT it comes with a big red scary warning! Dont touch, dont go too close, and whatever you do – don’t play with them! It is treating each child as if they are a hazard, a danger, to others. But the real danger is the stigma that this practice will leave behind.
I am no psychologist, so I could be very wrong, but this seems like a very obvious conclusion to draw. If children are healthy, and schools are taking realistic measures to keep people safe, then surely healthy children should be entitled to come back to school as normal? Coming back to school as normal will give them the message that they NEED – that it is ok! They are safe in school and that we are all here to help to guide them and nurture them and educate them as best we can, as we have always done. Is this going to mean the virus wont spread through our schools? Of course not! All we can do it try to minimise the chance of that happening BUT in a way that doesn’t negatively impact on the children. We can not allow our education system to treat every child who is healthy and able to come to school as if they are a walking time bomb, waiting to explode and infect everyone around them. When the reality is, for the vast majority, that will never be the case!