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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Dumont

"June Tired"... in November

The school year is a marathon. Each educator has to plan their year considering how to make it to the June with enough energy to manage the last few weeks. It is a stretch run full of things like track and field events, graduations/farewells, end of the year field trips, awards ceremonies, spring concerts, camping trips, report cards, final exams, "fun day" and so on. By the time school staff get to the final day of June with students, everyone is exhausted… and then you have to say goodbye to students who are moving on, which is emotionally exhausting. School staff do all of that just to come back to school the next day, their final day of the year without students, to clean up, prepare for summer, and then say goodbye to colleagues who are moving on or retiring. Once summer holidays finally start, most school staff are desperate for the break. As a teacher or principal, I actually would often get a cold that first week of July as my body finally relaxed and my immune system would relax too. But this school year has been a marathon like nothing we have seen before - at least not in recent memory.

Taking my class out for a brain break!

When the pandemic ended in-person learning last spring, we did our best at the school level to transition students to online learning. Amazingly, within one week educators across Alberta were able to re-create lessons and learning activities to be delivered in online classrooms with the support of Zoom or Google Meets! I was very proud of the dedication of my staff as they went through many challenges, but persevered knowing that they needed to do their best for their students, who missed being at school. It is this intense desire to do everything possible to ensure students learn and grow that has helped Alberta develop a reputation as a global leader and it has been on full display this year. We are so lucky in Alberta to have such outstanding educators and school leaders.

I am teaching from home - I am on the iPad in the front of the room.

In June and over the summer, school staff planned a return to school. As school leaders, we did our very best to do everything possible to help protect students and staff. We created new schedules, planned new ways to enter and exit the school, developed new lunch time protocols, and assigned all staff members extra supervision shifts. We paused extracurricular events, took away lockers, limited field trips, set up sanitizer stations in every room and every hallway, and of course, insisted students wear masks most of the day. I can honestly share that as we prepared for students to return in September, I was nervous with how my 1400 high school students would respond. I can proudly state that have been extraordinary. Students by and large have followed all of the rules set up for them with very little push back or challenge. They have done their part at school and have shared many times how much they appreciated being back in school. One student commented to me that “it would take more than a pandemic to keep him away from school!”

This past “quarter” I taught a course as well - Psychology 20! My students would sanitize on their way in, wipe their desks off at the end of class. They were patient and supportive of the new procedures at school. They found wearing masks all day a challenge and they missed their lockers and extracurricular events, but they understood why we had to make these changes. As teenagers tend to do, they also asked some great questions about the inconsistencies in the pandemic procedures between schools and elsewhere. They were quick to point out that if the schools are doing such a great job limiting the spread of COVID-19, what happens if people don’t follow the same types of rules elsewhere? As their teacher and principal, we engaged in some good conversations, always recognizing that none of us have been here before, so we are learning together how to best navigate such a challenging situation. My class certainly felt the stress of waiting for bad news that someone in our class would be positive and we will all have to isolate. Although that didn’t happen with my group, it has happened many times in our school across Alberta. Students and staff have all resigned themselves to the potential of a phone call that says we need to stay home for 14 days. Everyone is just a little on edge knowing that call could come any moment as the COVID statistic climbed over the autumn months.

As the school year continues along, teachers and support staff have had to deal with many unknowns, and have had to be flexible due to the pandemic. Everyone knows the process of staying home when sick, isolating and getting tested. It has been our mantra since the year began. Teachers have had to manage teaching their classes at school, only to then be stuck at home with "symptoms" trying teaching their class from home with the support of a substitute at the school. Then when teachers return, they have to managed large student absences of students, so they need to teach some in person and some online. In some cases teachers have had to stay home because their own children have been placed in quarantine from their respective schools. The BIG picture is that all school staff have had to be flexible because whatever you are doing today may change in a heartbeat. Through it all Alberta’s educators continue to do their best to meet the needs of their students. Of course, now that tomorrow is Nov 30, all grade 7-12 students are now back home for 4 weeks to help bend the curve in Alberta’s COVID numbers. Students and staff understand why this change is happening again, but also sad to be back at home instead of at school. Once again school staff and students are having to flip to online platforms and carry on as best as possible. Another change, another challenge and another opportunity to continue demonstrate the resilience of students and staff.

My own children are so blessed to have amazing teachers again this year!

With all of the uncertainly since last March and all of the changes that educators have experienced, many school staff are tired. They are tired physically from trying to maintain all of the new protocols and changes at school, while still teaching their students to the best of their abilities. School staff are also tired emotionally as they continue to find ways to stay connected to their colleagues and community. Many school staff are tired like it is June, but it is not quite December. School leaders are doing the best they can to keep their staff feeling connected and supported in a very challenging time, but we can all help out the educators in our lives! If you know a teacher, send them a COVID friendly pat on the back, say a prayer for them and their students, and let them know how much you appreciate all they do! If you are a teacher, take comfort knowing how important you are to your students and just how valued you are within our community... and be sure to treat yourself once in a while because you certainly have earned it. Thank you for all you do, and please know it has not gone unnoticed.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” - Walter Elliot

By Joe Dumont Twitter: @principaldumont

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