Practical Considerations for Returning to In-Person Learning

Has Anyone Thought about the “Bio Break”?

There isn’t going to be a bike monologue to go with this post. Since I’m curious, I am asking readers: Do you actually like the bike monologues or should I skip them?

In today’s post, I pose a practical question that has been on my mind ever since we as a nation started talking about returning to in-person learning. Has anyone considered that human beings need to use the bathroom? Not just to wash our hands, but to attend to biological needs? As a teacher in her late 40s, I can tell you this is a serious concern! (I don’t mean to be crude or too personal.) This question leads me to other questions. Bear with me.

Since it does not appear that this concern has been considered, I’m wondering how many other holes there are in the process. Project managers who review the the plans are probably wincing right now as they think about how human resources are being stretched, or over-allocated, as I believe it is called in Microsoft Project. In that software, you perform resource leveling and often find that your resources are overbooked — whether those resources are human or physical. We teachers are in desperate need to have someone perform resource leveling in the in-person scenario.

Consider This Scenario: The Transition

This is based on the scenario I know best, which is at the high-school level. It might not be similar to those that others are facing.

Transition (or travel) time between classes is typically five minutes. Some students are lucky enough to have classes in rooms close to each other, and those students arrive within a minute or so after the bell. Others have to walk across the school, so they might even be a minute or two late. While the students are traveling, teachers are supposed to accomplish the following things.

  • Clean all the desks used by the last group. If we are using the social distancing measures I think we will be using, that will be about 15 desks. What cleaning looks like is unknown to me at this time. Is it just wiping them down? Is it wiping with a disinfecting wipe, allowing it to dry, then wiping with water and drying that off? That is the proper way, from what I have been taught. Who knows?
  • Transition from one lesson plan to another. Bring up whatever bell ringers are planned for the day. I currently have five preps, so I have multiple bell ringers to plan for, although I think that I’m just going to use the same one for each group at this point. I do not plan to use handouts at all, so this would be an electronic thing. Perhaps I just have a PowerPoint (shudder) that covers all the classes and forward the last slide to the next to show the bell-ringer?
  • Archive the recording from the previous class, because we are going to have online students as well as in-person students during the same period. There is a benefit to this, too, in that students will not need to come to me if they are absent and ask what they missed. They can watch the recording.

Has anyone considered that students often walk into class, drop their books, and ask to use the bathroom within 30 seconds of arrival? With social distancing measures in place, will this be allowed now? Are we going to be able to track these students? Do we teachers have to do the tracking?

Has anyone considered that students often need to talk to their teacher upon arrival? How are we supposed to build rapport with our students this way?

Has anyone considered that there WILL be people in the building who consider this a joke? If my eyes are focused on cleaning properly, uploading video, transitioning to the next lesson, etc., and someone starts clowning around — am I responsible? How is that fair? How are we expecting kids to not be…well…kids?

Can all this be done in five minutes? My question to administration is: Well, have you tried? Have you done a role play? I am thinking all this cannot be done during a normal transition. If we make transition longer, though, how do we manage students in the hallway?

Some parents would be willing to have their child care for their own desk. Most would not. Personally, I think it fair to ask the child who used the desk to clean it, and that it is also fair to allow the next child to clean the desk again before sitting down, if requested. We will be out of disinfecting wipes before week three is over, however. How do we sort those students willing to clean and those who are not? Where do those unwilling to clean go while they wait for their desk to be ready for them? How do we maintain distancing this way?

I can see the parents’ point of view, also. Why should the child be responsible for sanitizing or cleaning? What if they don’t do it properly and someone gets sick? Will the students be trained to clean properly? Will the teachers? These are actual questions that I hope administrators are considering.

As a teacher, I’m terrified that I won’t clean things properly in my rush to clean everything before the next group comes in. I’m terrified someone will get sick on my watch.

Once everyone is settled, how much time will actually be left to teach and learn? Oh, don’t forget attendance! Don’t forget to start the next broadcast! We can’t keep the online observers waiting. Don’t forget to get attendance for those on the broadcast too!

Other Considerations

We need to prep students for their statewide exams, too, while we are trying to get used to this. How are we going to be successful? When do we really start our courses of study? If we return to school later than usual, how much time have we lost with our students?

Oh, and we should not give too much homework, either, even if we do not have enough time during class. That’s another situation that is left for another time, perhaps because it makes me angry. I had three hours of homework a night, because I was slower than the average bear, especially in math, and I was more interested in literature and history than the average bear. My friends had at least a couple of hours of homework a night. We turned out all right.

Finally, what do we do with the terror we feel? I’m not kidding when I say I’m scared. Other teachers aren’t kidding, either. I am afraid for my students and my family. How do we compartmentalize those feelings? We aren’t robots.

One way to figure out if these ideas are going to work is to actually walk through the process with intention. Find the holes and plug them. For example, districts might find that they have to hire more people to help: paraprofessionals, hallway monitors, and custodians, for example. For teachers to have just one paraprofessional to help would make a huge difference. For the school to have hallway monitors to keep us all safe would make a huge difference, too.

The role play is often revealing. It’s like putting code into a sandbox for stress testing. The bugs that fall out can be addressed, processes changed for better flow, etc. It’s possible that the fear of finding out this is not going to work might be too strong. That could lead to disaster.

Thank you for reading.

Originally published at on July 26, 2020.

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