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Tips for Returning to the Classroom After Distance Learning

November 9, 2020 by Janessa Fletcher

The feeling is surreal as I turn the key to my classroom door. I am finally returning to the classroom after months of distance learning. This room hasn’t been used since the second week in March, except to grab some materials and teacher manuals. I am experiencing many emotions… excitement at finally being able to “see” my students, nervousness at all of the procedures that will need to be followed, scared of the possibility of getting “sick”.

I know that many other schools in many other states have already gone through this transition, so I reached out to our Fearless First Grade Group to see what advice they had for me. And I thought that I could share with you their Tips for Returning to the Classroom After Distance Learning.

Tip #1 ~ Give Yourself Time

“Relax. We went back last week and I was a nervous wreck about masks and social distancing with first graders. But they were so ready to learn and did so good with the masks. It was honestly easier than I thought! I think there will be a honeymoon phase and once they get comfortable the typical behaviors will start again but it was so great having them there!” ~ Caitlin S.

“Take it day by day. We are working/living during a pandemic. Everything will work out! Most importantly TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.” ~ Ashley F.

“Breathe. It’s hard at first but you gradually figure out what you can and can’t do. We’ve been in person full-time since September 2nd, so it’s gotten easier. And being back with the kids again makes SUCH a difference! ❤️ Good luck!” ~ Christine M.

“Don’t stress. We were virtual for 4 weeks and have been back F2F for 9 weeks. The kids have been great about wearing masks and have been happy to be back at school. All the little things like social distancing, extra cleaning, eating in the classroom, staggered recess start to become exhausting. But as for the kids, they are resilient and have been doing great.” ~ Marie T.

“One day at a time. Teaching this way is so different than what we are accustomed to, especially centers and lack of “group” time.” ~ Brenda L.

“Self-care (mentally, emotionally, and physically), Sanitation Station (this is really a thing), the least amount of papers as possible, use technology instead (upload to the Google classroom), spray and wipe, it is exhausting.”

“Give yourself grace …. this is the most stressful and exhausting year of teaching ever, mentally and physically. Take time to take care of yourself, and check in on your colleagues too.” ~ Sue D.

“Just be patient with yourself and the kids. Keep a paper copy or hard copy list of assignments and mark it off as they are turned in, so it’s easier to know who has or has not completed. If it’s late, make them show you before they submit it. Otherwise you spend a lot of time digging and searching in your computer.” ~ Holly B.

“Give yourself patience & grace. This is all new, and it doesn’t feel natural – at least not at first. These are not “normal” circumstances, so we cannot have “normal” expectations.” ~ Rebecca F.

“Do what you can, don’t be hard on you…these are not normal times.” ~ Vivian C.

“Keep an “Adapt and Overcome” mindset. Breathe. Enjoy. (The kids will be so excited to be back. And you will too…) 🧡 ~ best wishes!” ~ Melissa F.

“Give yourself time to clean. Also realize that you need to give yourself me time.” ~ Taylor R.

“Have lots of Grace for everyone involved. Expect frustrations but handle them with patience and love!” ~ Kari K.

#2 ~ Enjoy Being Back in the Classroom

“It’s going to be fine!! We are about to enter week 12 of f2f and it’s going so great. You’ll be glad to be back. Enjoy the kids and realize you can not control germs. Mask up, spread out, and clean hands often.” ~ Natalie W.

“Have fun! Enjoy being with the kids.” ~ Carrie K.

“Enjoy- the kids are so happy to be back despite all the new restrictions.” ~ Chris T.

“Love the kids and be thankful!!” ~ Denise H.

“Enjoy it!! I have LOVED every minute of seeing my sweet kiddos in person!” ~ Natalie G.

“Enjoy being with the kids. Although teaching the way we are is hard and exhausting….the kids are so happy to be in school. We have been in school 4 days and remote 1 day and the kids prefer to be at school. They have adjusted better than the adults.” ~ Cindy C.

“It will feel like it takes twice as long to do anything! Give the kids opportunity to take a mask break. Definitely mark off that six feet zone for yourself. Be relaxed and as chill as you can and kids will be too. Lots of grace and don’t forget to just have some fun. I screw up daily and we just laugh and go on. Yesterday I actually passed out the district assessment for one test twice instead of the one I was intending to pass out! 🤪🤪🤪 and no one even said anything til I read the first problem, we laughed, and started over. And it’s true, be prepared to be totally exhausted! ” ~ Robin C.

“Stay positive… the kids will be so happy to see you and it will feel so good to see them too!!” ~ Leighann A.

“It really is weird but the kids want to be there. Just make them feel welcome! Make sure they understand the new rules are to keep everyone safe and they may not like it but they need to follow them or they will not get to say face to face for long.” ~ Sammy F.

“It’s not so scary once you get into your groove. You stop noticing the masks, the barriers & the distancing & focus back on the kids.” ~ Aurora B.

“Enjoy being with your students. Build relationships with them, and show them you care.. All the rest will work itself out.” ~ Amy S.

Tip #3 ~ Remember to Stay Safe

“Wear sanitizer around your neck; you will have to touch their stuff and help them with things no matter how you try to avoid it. Get a lanyard for your mask so you are not putting it down when you take it off.” ~ Christine M.

“Drink water. Talking a little louder and wearing a mask dries the throat.” ~ Stephanie N-C.

“Go slow and no one can hear to through a mask. Your voice will be shot so get a microphone and speaker.” ~ Annde M.

“Smile even with your mask on bc the staff and students still can see it! Wash your hands often and think good thoughts! ☘️🌈” ~ Jennifer M.

“Sending love and prayers. I wear my favorite ring on my necklace. In the beginning I used hand sanitizer or washed my hands no less than 30 times a day. (I tallied it one day 🤦🏼‍♀️) As we tell our kids, respect it, don’t fear it. Don’t let the anxiety over come you.” ~ Trish A.

“If you have windows, open them daily. My doctor told me this and I keep my windows open to get fresh air circulating in. I also made a safe zone for myself… measured 6 feet away from my desk in all directions and taped it off. The kids are not allowed in my safe zone. Keep sanitizer by your desk and use it frequently. I also spray my desk down with lysol daily.” ~ Berkimly H.

“Follow the safety guidelines! We have a bunch of cases or people quarantined but I live in a hospital town. Make sure to drink a ton of water too…you get very dehydrated with the mask all day and talking loud enough for people to hear you.” ~ Ellen W.

“Wash your hands or sanitize them as much as you can remember. Wear masks and remind the kids to give personal space/6 ft. Enjoy the face to face conversations and make sure you laugh a lot everyday! I’ve been back since September almost everyday with my self contained kiddos!” ~ Katrina A.

“The safe zone is critical! And have lots of air sanitizer like Lysol that you can spray on knobs and switches and faucets. Hand-sanitizer constantly… every time they leave the room…. every time they re-enter the room. Before lunch and after lunch. When they first arrive and before they leave for the day. I know it seems like a lot, but a little goes a long way with little hands. ” ~ Paite S.

“A voice amplifier. It’s a game changer for me! It’ll be great! I love it & the kids are so happy… which makes me so happy! I’ve been back in person since day one.” ~ Renee L.

“Find a large collection of masks you love. Always have an extra or two in your bag. An uncomfortable mask can make your day extra long.” Jocelyn K.

“We’ve been face to face all year. It’s been so good for me to be with my kiddos again! I sanitize my hands all the time. Have wipes handy so you can sanitize as needed. A tip that my principal just gave us, carry your own stylus around so you’re not touching kids iPads/computers. The kids have done so well with following all of the new rules.😊 I wish you the best!” ~ Kristine M.

“Keep extra disposable youth masks for your students… their masks will get wet, dirty, broken and even lost.. every day, all day 🙈” ~ Meg W.

“I change my clothes as soon as I get home and leave my shoes outside or in my car, this is more to make sure I don’t bring anything home to my family.” Beth T.

“Keep hand lotion at your desk, in your car, in your purse or school bag! Your hands will take a beating with all the extra hand sanitizer you will be using!” ~ Jennifer B.

“Buy carpet dots to put on the floor so that kids are maintaining 6 feet.” ~ Gayle W.

“Open windows and turn on fans. Teach the kids proper cleaning and mask protocols. Make videos to show them proper ways to take masks breaks etc. Then clean after them hahah. It becomes a habit for them. I’ve been back with my kids for 10 weeks.” ~ Jenna B.

“If you wear a mask all the time, look into a portable microphone to not strain your voice. Discuss proper mask hygiene as kids will need reminders for how to treat masks when they take them off.” ~ Jody F.

“I recommend a classroom sink. We have a portable sink in every classroom. We wipe down all the tables in the morning and afternoon. They also are in assigned seating all day with brain breaks. I also printed out several 12in subway sandwiches to teach distance. Our principal came in and reminded them about social distancing on the playground. They told her that it’s 6 subway sandwiches. My boss laughed so hard! 😂” ~ Trish G.

“Shower as soon as you get home. Clothes straight in the washer. Disinfect anything you touch. Including your car daily. Nothing back and forth like a school bag.” ~ Jennifer H.

“Keep your distance and keep your mask on. And a shield. Have students wash desks with disinfectant before class starts and before they leave. Keep trash box/bucket on each desk so students can stay seated. Have them keep a hand held pencil sharpener and stay at their own desk the entire class. Stagger seating as much as possible so they are as far apart as possible and keep accurate role and seating charts for DHHR when people have to be quarantined.” ~ Katrina A.

“Drink lots of water! Something about talking through a mask all day is so dehydrating! Hydrate and use lots of chapstick. 💦 I keep a small size of sanitizer in one pocket and travel size lotion in the other. Sanitize all day! ❤️” ~ Tonia K.

#4 ~ Make It Fun for Students

“Take it one hour at a time. Give them lots of breaks (GoNoodle, etc.). They will need them.” ~ Christine M.

‘Do what you can with the spacing.. etc.. but enjoy being f2f. I’ve been f2f since Aug. first day of school. It’s been great! I still try to incorporate fun like norm.. just make sure to sanitize but don’t let it make you crazy. Our jobs are tough enough. ❤️” ~ Deborah R. 

“Enjoy it! You will appreciate it so much more. Be extra patient they really are not at the same level they were when all this started.” ~ Kyle F.

“Enjoy your students. Have lots of fun. Students will need to re-engage in school and the community.” ~ Alyson L.

“Our teachers put mini tables outside their doors for hand sanitizer and a check in and out sheet..with creative stop signs to get your attention . Focus on the normality and just incorporate the extra cleaning. And most of all..HAVE A GREAT DAY!” ~ Teresa B.

“We have three kids per table and caddies from the dollar store at their table spot to keep math manipulative skills, water bottle, mask during lunch and recess, etc. Theyve been a really great thing to have. We also bought a three drawer bin for each table to keep their folders, headphones, etc in to keep contact with other kids things minimal. Welcome back!!! But be prepared to be exhausted!!!!!” ~ Sarah B.

“We take outside mask breaks where everyone is more than 6 feet apart and we all break together. I let them have a little dance party for a few seconds and that helps.” ~ Robin C.

“Just make sure they wash their hands, wipe with alcohol wipes or appropriate cleaners, go outside for mask breaks, it def makes the kids appreciate you and fresh air. Compassion and understanding for all is a must.(ESP you! Make sure you take breaks!)” ~ Rebecca B.

“Have a cup with a straw to drink water, you need to stay hydrated. Get those hand wipes for handing anything to a student. I have my students put any work in a folder and leave it on their desk overnight so that it will be sanitized by the fogger the janitors use. Come up with games they can play at their seats, bingo with vocabulary, matching games. I use an online prize wheel to pick prizes. They love it. I teach 4th graders. I remind about masks but my kids are good. It’s different, but doable. It’s the paperwork that is wearing me out.” ~ Kelly L.

Tip #5 ~ Think of it as a New Year

“Treat it like it’s the first day of school again. They have Zoom procedures and expectations down but now they have to learn the expectations of being at school. Practice practice practice bc you also have to add on the mask and social distancing expectations on top of normal ones! They can do it! We’ve been back for a while now. They just need reminders sometimes. And I taught my kids to help each other. When they see someone with a mask falling down, they ask that friend to fix it!” ~ Jordyn F.

“Be prepared for a lot of reviewing. No matter how much work you’ve put into the distance learning for your students. Some of your students will not seem emotionally and socially 1st graders… more like kinders. Take it slow.” ~ Leatrice F.

“Take water breaks because the throat will hurt for the first week or so until you get use to it, don’t stress & treat it like day 1 of school…it does get better & kids are happy to be back.” ~ Marleen G.

“Go slow to go fast….model everything you’d expect of them in classroom vs. distance learning. Allow MANY mask breaks outside…we walk from our music room, out the exit door all the way around to the front of the building with no masks. You can still do morning meeting…big circle around the room, wave instead of handshakes, elbow bumps, it’s all doable. Tiring, but doable. I spray down common surfaces many times a day: prep time, after lunch/during recess, after snack, end of day.” ~ Mary L-P.

“Set up the expectations for washing hands and keeping socially distant The minute anyone enters the classroom. Remind students that even though they want to be good citizens and help another friend clean up their pencils or crayons when they fall on the floor, got to keep everyone healthy and safe we can’t be helpful this year in that way. Teach instead to be helpful with words of encouragement. Make sure you have an idea for a bathroom pass that isn’t shared between the entire class that was something that most of us forgot to think about in the school I’m at.” ~ Haley R.

“Also, have a book bin where “quarantined” books go to sit for a week before someone can use them. Make sure to take mini mask breaks for water…for you and the kids! I’m exhausted and dehydrated a lot when I got home!” ~ Sarah B.

“Pretend it’s the first day of school! Give yourself and students some grace while y’all transition.” ~ Jane E.

“You will have forgotten how to do things… students will have forgotten how to do things. Classroom management and transitions will be a real struggle for both students and teachers.” ~ Jenny T.

“You’re probably not going to get much done for the first few weeks until you can get your new routines and procedures established with sanitizing and cleaning expectations, so don’t be hard on yourself if things aren’t going like you thought. 😊” ~ Maddie B.

“Start the year and set expectations. If the kids see you taking it seriously, they will too. Teach but have grace, and above all try and have some fun. The kids need it and so will you.” ~ Melissa C-C.

“Get routines established early – regular and for Covid-19! Then you can focus on actually teaching! It will all take longer in the beginning, but will soon be part of habits, with reminders! Gr1s are fine with the distance as much as possible, mask wearing in the classroom and hallways, handwashing, desk washing, not sharing items, food, etc, etc – good luck! They need reminders as to why we are doing all this also!😊” ~ Sheryl R.

“Be REALLY strict with protocols, guidelines and new routines for the first few weeks…like way over do it and don’t let yourself or the kids slide in any way. It pays off as I found by week 4, it just all felt routine and as Natural as its going to feel. I’m 10 weeks in and only occasionally have to remind the odd kid to put their mask over their nose, but everything else they (and I) just “do” without overthinking it. And be prepared to be exhausted for the first few weeks…getting used to the protocols wears you out physically and mentally but it does get easier and you will find your flow.” ~ Kimberly H.

#6 ~ Be Ready for Changes

“Don’t be alarmed if behavior and learning is not what you observed. There are surprises both ways because now it is up to the kid not parents. Be ready for a lot of learned helplessness. Some kids thrived with independence but some didn’t. Be patient and ready to repeat directions more than ever.” ~ Vivian S.

“Don’t get married to ANYTHING! All processes, procedures, even who is in your class can change from day to day, or more frequently. Don’t waste a lot of time organizing how you’re going to manage something because as soon as you do, it’ll change.” ~ Mandi D.

“We have been face to face since the end of September. We are all following procedures, and it takes some time to get into a groove (extra sanitizing, kids eating in the room, etc) Be patient, it isn’t easy!! But I love it so much better than virtual ☺️ ” ~ Erica W.

“Expect chaos and upset kids and nervous parents. Tempers may flair during the adjustment. Kids will be excited…. some not so much. Parents are worried and cranky. Just expect that things will be upside down for a while and go with it. Don’t demand too much…. just take it easy. There’s plenty of time to get down to work… but make the transition as stress-free as possible. There’s no reason to freak the kids out by demanding perfect behavior. Just go easy… 👍🏼” ~ Paite S.

“You may want to create a video of expectations and have families watch before their children return to school. I would include all new rules and procedures for social distancing and masks, bathroom usage, socially-acceptable greetings, using wipes (if your district allows for students to wipe down their own tables and desks), breakfast/lunch, recess, distancing in the classroom and on the bus, etc. Good luck and I seriously hope your families will take these rules and procedures seriously. I like the windows open idea, as well as the table outside of the classroom for signing in/out with two bins of pens that are clean vs the pens that have been used.” ~ Tanya S.

“I agree with setting up expectations and reviewing procedure. Unfortunately, I have had to do it almost daily since August. We are eating in our classrooms so teaching them to properly clean up and wipe down the surface of their desks was a big one. Extra masks in the room are a must as well as multiple hand sanitizers and tissue boxes. The one thing I didn’t really think about was the kids sneezing in their mask. Have zipper bags readily available for the students to use if a change of mask is necessary.” ~ Kiersten S.

“Follow the guidelines but don’t distance yourself to where you can’t adequately assist struggling learners. We’re told not to go near them to help them. We feel it’s a disservice to do that. Set up expectations though and don’t stress yourself over the new normal. Give yourself time away from the work and the stress.” ~ Meghan R.

“My students are so behind. Be prepared for it and be patient. We are doing half days which is hard because they need to be there full days to get caught up. My second graders are great about wearing their masks. I love having them back, so much better. Good luck!” ~ Nicole B.

“Open any and all windows. Bring 3-4 masks per day. Don’t be afraid to experiment and spend money on masks that are comfortable and breathable- teaching all day starts to make them warm and honestly gross. Students will struggle with keeping masks over their noses, but just be patient and if it really comes down to it you can email parents to suggest a different style. We made “landing spots” for our kiddos that rotate every day. But if you are in older grades, their desk is just fine 🙂 The motto my school is practicing is: go fast to go slow. Don’t be upset or discouraged if things don’t work out, back to the drawing board like we are taught! 🙂 The list goes on and on, but you are supported!” ~ Lindsey Z.

“You will probably still have to have them do their work on a device and turn it in through Google Classroom or some platform. It isn’t wise to have papers sitting around or to pack home to grade. Also, they shouldn’t be sharing or borrowing things like paper or pencils. Keeping work online helps with that. If you must do pencil and paperwork, keep a store of it to GIVE to students–not borrow. You don’t want it back. You teach from one socially distant spot in the room. Forget bathroom passes. There is no safe way to do that. Create a Google sheet or Form to check out a student when they leave the room. This way you have documentation of where they have been and when they were gone for contact tracing purposes. It WILL be needed at some point.

And don’t get too used to being in person. Things change weekly in our new world. We started virtually for four weeks, then did a hybrid plan for four weeks before being forced to do virtually again for a week. We are back to hybrid this week, but the decision is a weekly one depending on county COVID numbers. Always be prepared to switch back.” ~ Tammy A.

“My personal kids went back in September on hybrid. Then for 2 weeks of 5 days a week and now probably going back to full virtual. So prepare that it might not last long and then be ready for that heartbreak to start over.” ~ Jenny O.

I have definitely been counting down the days when I could return to my classroom after distance learning. These tips from teachers that have already gone through this process put my mind at ease and have assured me that it is going to be a learning process, but also to enjoy not having to stare at a computer screen all day. Those of you that are currently in the classroom and those of you who, like me,  will be returning soon from distance learning, I wish you the best of luck as we continue to navigate this new realm of education. May you stay safe and healthy throughout the rest of this year. ❤️

Written by: Janessa Fletcher

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