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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Back-to-school lessons from retired teachers

To a person, former teachers experience both excitement and anxiety in the days leading up to Labour Day and the start of the new school year. In the era of COVID-19, these often-conflicting feelings seem to explode in their minds.

The Lake Report asked eight retired teachers, all living in Niagara-on-the-Lake, many with years at Parliament Oak, what’s running through their minds as our children drift back into the new school year, after almost six months away from their friends and focused learning.

Judy Evans, a veteran of 35 years around Niagara public schools, including several at Parliament Oak, can’t help being relieved she’s not going back in the classroom this year.

“The start of the school year is trying enough when everything is normal. The teachers don’t want to get the virus. They don’t want to give the virus. And they don’t want to take it home.”

Dean Steele, retired after a career including 29 years at Parliament Oak, agrees: “I’m kinda glad I’m a little old and out of the picture. If I was going in, I think I would be scared.”

David Lailey is convinced the system must break through these safety concerns if student learning is not to be hampered in the long term.

Lailey taught history, English and economics over a 31-year secondary school career, mostly in St. Catharines and Grimsby.

“You almost need to make COVID safety a subject, part of the curriculum,” says Lailey. “Try to create a situation where the entire class is the caretaker, keeping everyone safe. Once that’s done, the class can get on with learning.”

According to the former teachers, even if teachers and students can keep safety concerns at bay, many of the required protocols will challenge the learning process.

Masks are a case in point.

While masks are not required for the youngest students when indoors, they are encouraged.

Patti Moore is most concerned about kindergarten children, already so anxious about their first days at school.

Moore taught the youngest students for over 30 years, including her own daughter, in the Parliament Oak classroom where she herself started school.

“I just keep thinking about what a kindergarten class is like,” says Moore. “They’re coming to school for the first time, the teacher can’t even bend down and give them a reassuring hug.

“With teachers masked, the child won’t see the big smile on the teacher’s face. Or be able to clearly hear what the teacher’s saying. And vice versa.”

The constraints of social distancing and masks will also be faced in the higher grades, including secondary school.

Mike Eagen ended his 34-year teaching career with a 15-year stint at the Etobicoke School for the Arts in Toronto. He points to the larger online component planned for the older students, as a cause for concern.

“In high school there is an increasing need for socializing,” says Eagen. “They need to hang out with their friends. It will be a nightmare for the parents to get the kids to do the work. It’s just too easy to slack off.”

Eagen is also a believer in group teaching process, getting the students to learn to work together on all manner of challenges. “Class groups are going to be almost impossible to make happen.”

Pat Hartman is worried the pandemic may set back today’s more advanced teaching methods including activities and interaction.

Hartman taught most elementary grades during hear 40-year teaching career around Niagara, including six years at Parliament Oak. 

“With the teacher more distanced from the kids, we may end up with the old lecture style.”

She believes having fun is all the more important now.

“If I were teaching, I would buy face-shields for all my students and turn our classroom into a spaceship or rocket. We would design special hats. We’d be on a special journey together.”

Judy MacLachlan can’t imagine teaching now and she is afraid the bubble is about to burst.

After 33 years teaching elementary school in St. Catharines, she still remembers: “Labour Day was a kind of love-hate weekend.”

But she has tremendous confidence in today’s teachers. “It will take patience, kindness and understanding, on everyone’s part.”

Moore agrees. “I think teachers are really good at working with whatever they have to. Very creative and resourceful. They’ll do a good job.”

Maureen Haines spent most of her 30-year teaching career at Parliament Oak. She thinks getting back to school is important.

“I’m not sure it’s safe. But I’m also sure students need to be together. They need the camaraderie.”

With a combined teaching experience of almost 270 years, these teachers seem to be saying: “Keep calm and carry on.”




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