I want to start this article with a confession: I’m counting down the days till when my school finally shuts down. No seriously, every morning as I sit at my desk in my classroom, I immediately check off another day on my calendar signifying another day that has passed in which I’ve physically been teaching at school and I tell myself it’s another day closer to school being shut down.
It’s been about 3 weeks since the start of the school year, and my anxiety has progressively gotten worse. The number of new cases of Covid-19 is rapidly increasing and it’s safe to say that Ontario is entering its second wave. For someone (me) who takes public transit every day, and then teaches in a classroom for 6 hours, I am not ok. The thought of contracting the virus plagues my mind all the time and as flu season approaches, I continue to worry for my mental health as my own body begins to struggle with the change in temperature and the general fatigue that comes for teachers at this time of the year. In fact, if I wake up with a headache, I immediately feel panicked that I might have the virus, even though it’s caused by other factors.
Still, with the onset of flu season, students themselves will start to have the sniffles, fevers, and runny noses, and the similarity of symptoms between the flu and Covid-19 will lead to increased paranoia and inconsistent attendance (as students will be required to get tests and they will have to wait at home for their results). This all leads me to think: how do I comfortably engage with them each day? It’s clear that the fear of contracting the virus is affecting my teaching. I don’t know about you (other teachers who are reading this) but with the vast changes that have had to come with teaching and the climate beyond the classroom, I do not feel like I can do my job well. I get anxious to get too close to students, I try to think of lessons that require as little interaction as possible and I even worry when students get out of their seats for anything (even if it’s to leave to go to the washroom). Also, there’s a pang of looming guilt that I feel at the thought of having to stay home for 2+ weeks if I do contract the virus. Who will cover my classes? Will I be able to teach online (if I’m physically unable to)? Will I be letting my students and school down? These are all questions that come with the anxiety during this unprecedented and uncertain time.
While I’m panicking about the current situation, it’s interesting to see how some of the students are handling the changes in the school. Although they are understanding of the circumstances and the protocols put in place, many of them often struggle to adjust. I’ve seen students wearing their masks incorrectly because they find the masks to be a nuisance, they are talking to one another (outside my classroom of course) without a mask, and they are complaining about not being able to sit with their friends at lunch and move as freely around the school as before the pandemic, etc. Furthermore, as teachers, we obviously don’t know whether students are observing the proper protocols in areas like the washrooms when hanging out with their friends outside of school, and at their extra-curricular activities at other locations. This uncertainty all adds to my fear; I can imagine that other teachers feel similarly. As other schools in the province begin to see cases, I can’t help but think about the inevitable – someone at our school contracting the virus and our school shutting down. I guess my main question is why are we prolonging this closure? Why are we putting the teachers, staff, and students at risk? Is keeping the school open really worth it?
Instead, government officials, school districts, and school administrators should be investing time in developing effective online or virtual programs and infrastructure for their students. Again, I understand the complexities of going online as it not an equitable system for various reasons but this is what our governments should be spending money on – ensuring that all students (including those on IEPs or with special needs, those in difficult living situations, those in particular programs like breakfast programs) can benefit from a well-developed virtual school program, and have the materials to succeed. In addition, there needs to be mental health resources put in place, for students and teachers who need free or affordable access to psychological help to get through this difficult time.
I’ve tried different things to deal with my anxiety about going into school. I’ve tried talking to fellow teachers, distracting myself with my work, watching tv shows, resting, etc. but none of my approaches really help. The only solution to this anxiety and paranoia will be teaching online. We need to put the welfare of our children and teachers first and create an online platform that works.
For the teachers who are also suffering from anxiety during this time, how have you been managing?
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