CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Teachers will have an array of challenges to respond to as they prepare for in-person learning this fall.
“Every new school year comes with unknowns and anxieties,” Arcola teacher Courtney Walker says. “That’s part of the excitement of the August season.”
But this year, the unknowns outweigh the knowns.
“Number one, we’re concerned about making sure our health is maintained in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also our social and emotional health, both for the teachers and the staff and for the students,” she says. “We won’t have seen our students by the time we go back for at least six months. That’s a long time.”
Walker, like so many other teachers, will have to prepare for a year that doesn’t exactly have a blueprint. She’s calling it an opportunity for some to rebuild relationships, but students and teachers will have to learn to do so while wearing masks for their safety.
“I did read in the ISBE guidelines that face shields are recommended along with face masks,” says Walker. “I think that would be a lot more effective, because I do think that our students need to connect with us.”
Meanwhile, University of Illinois Special Education Department Head Micki Ostrosky says masks will create a whole new set of challenges for younger learners with disabilities.
“When you have a mask on, for children with special needs, it may be more difficult to hear if they rely on teachers’ expressions to understand what they’re saying, as well as their lips,” the professor says. “Children who are learning language to see how we form words and sounds – that’s going to be much more difficult.”
Ostrosky is also worried about children pulling at each other’s masks, chewing on them, playing with them or taking them off.
“Children might start having tantrums, crying, withdrawing, because they’re upset, they’re hot, they don’t understand why they have to keep this on,” she says.
That’s why Ostrosky is urging parents to help their children acclimate to the changes this summer by having them wear masks for extended amounts of time.
“Parents are a huge asset as far as teaching their children new skills and carrying them over to the classroom,” Ostrosky says. “But this time has been exhausting.”
Ostrosky says parents and teachers will have to work together to help kids understand the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“What teachers will need to think about is for those children, helping them understand why they can’t give a high five, why they can’t hug their teacher if that’s the context in that classroom, why they can’t be super close to their friends when they’re playing, when they’re outside,” she says.