We all miss our students. We can’t wait to be able to hug them and see them in person and finally teach them face to face. In a perfect world, the moment would be in slow motion, heaven would open and angels would sing, and you would run to your student, scoop him up and twirl around with giggles and squeals.
(Insert screeching halt sound effect)
But sadly, that is not the reality we are in. The day we open our doors to our little ones will look much different than what we wish it would be like. This doesn’t mean it won’t be fun and exciting, but it’s important to mentally and emotionally prepare for what it will be like in this “new normal” for at least a few months. As educators, we must be prepared so that our expectations are not all over the place and remain realistic.
There’s a quote that was used in the military that has always motivated me to prepare for any task and it says, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” Let’s not forget that preparing for reopening does not just involve cleaning and lesson planning. We must also prepare our hearts and minds for what is to come.
Here are some ways to prepare ourselves for the realistic expectations for when we reopen:
Children Will Have Separation Anxiety
The children who used to be with us for 8+ hours of their day have been with family around the clock for months. 24/7 with no break, no babysitter. This is great for family dynamics in healthy homes, but it will make for a “rude awakening” when we first get back to school. Let’s face it- habits have been made, both good and bad ones, and children love being with their parents, so day 1 will be tough.
On the flip side, maybe children are excited to come back to school, but when they pull up to get checked in, they have a strange person wearing a mask coming toward them with a thermometer that looks like a gun. Woah. That’s scary. To ease kids in on the first day and in the beginning, treat it just like that – the first day of school ever. Do all of the activities you would do as if it were the very first day.
Depending on how you are doing “check-ins” at your center, try to approach the child without a mask from far away or on the other side of a glass door. Then when you get within 10 feet, wave to the child and say, “Hi (name), I am going to put this mask on now and will take your temperature with this tool. Consider “dressing” up the thermometer to look like a character or animal with ears so it isn’t as scary looking.
The week prior to opening, send a video to each child in your class welcoming them back to your class through HiMama. Be sure to do a portion of the video with a mask on so they can be familiar with what you look like with and without one. You could also consider having a FaceTime or Zoom call with individual students if the child is old enough. This would be a good time to ease parents’ minds. Do yourself a favor and keep the call to a 15-minute maximum. Keep it light and friendly. Maybe sing a quick song or read a quick story.
Children May Be Afraid
This whole time at home, children have been overhearing news reports, conversations between family members on phone calls, and have not been around people very much. Expect their behavior to be a little “off” and treat them as if you are meeting them for the first time. You’ll need to get to know them all over again, so be sure to take lots of time for that. Don’t just dive into the curriculum that you normally would. Consider talking about fears and what to do when we feel afraid. Incorporate yoga stretches and yoga breathing for the older kids to show coping mechanisms. And most of all, show grace. This is a lot for a tiny human (and for us!) to endure. Expect meltdowns. Expect tears. Just be their constant during this time and show empathy. This is a lot to take in, and words don’t always form at this age.
Children Will Be Completely Off Schedule
Let’s face it – parents have just been trying to keep the tiny humans alive. It’s been a free for all, and they need boot camp 😉 Expect to re-learn EVERYTHING. Routines, rules, behavior, etc. Treat it like the very first day of school. To help parents feel successful, send a sample schedule to parents in the weeks leading up to opening so they can implement some important routines like naps and mealtimes. Plan to spend the first week or two simply getting to know one another and going over the routines and schedule.
Here’s a sample daily schedule you can send them:
You Will Be Tired At First
It’s been a while since you’ve had to teach or work a full day. Remember your first week of student teaching? Yep, that’s what it’ll feel like. You will be exhausted. Do not plan any extra evening activities if you can help it. Go to bed early. Eat healthy. It’s been a while since you’ve worn real pants and been on your feet like this! Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you start to feel weary or want to give up, remember that this is temporary, and you will be back to your energetic self! Drink tons of water and wear comfy shoes during the day. You’ve got this!
You Will Need to Learn How to Pivot Into New Structure and Patterns
Even though you may have the same students back in your care, things will be different. You will need to change your mindset and be willing to be flexible and open to a new normal. Change is never easy, and if you’re anything like me, I avoid change at all costs. Everyone will pivot at different paces in different ways. Be ready to encourage your coworkers. Pay attention if you see a fellow teacher struggling. Catch yourself if you’re complaining and try to spin those thoughts into positives before it leaves your mouth. It is so easy to whine and wish things were the way they used to be. Don’t waste your energy doing that. It’s ALL about attitude, so look for things to have joy about and spread that!
It’s a good idea to do some research and see what is working well for other childcare centers that have already opened and are having success. (Feel free to reach out to me personally for a pep talk or a good cry!)
Please do not try to act like you have it all together. Of course we all need to walk around with our heads held high and be professional, but if you are faking it most of the time, that is not healthy for you. Meet with your director, and have open and honest conversations about how you’re feeling. It’s okay to be sad and disappointed that circumstances look so different. Just do yourself a favor – don’t set up camp in that headspace. Allow yourself to mourn, but then move on to what is the new experience.
Remember, you are a pioneer. NO ONE has ever had to do this before. You get to set the bar. Go into this with hope and realistic expectations. Will it be difficult? Oh, you bet. Will you want to give up at first? Most likely. Will you miss binging Netflix and wearing sweatpants all day? Probably. But, teacher – you are needed. You are essential. And because of you, we can start to get back into some kind of normal. Keep your head up and a stash of chocolate in your top drawer. 😉