We lasted nine days.

On the ninth day, my principal walks into my room, and discretely says to me, “I need you to keep your kids in your room today.” Once I figured out what she actually said since I can never understand what anyone says when wearing a mask, my stomach dropped like the first big drop on a roller coaster. I knew what she meant. Someone in my class tested positive for COVID, and we are about to be quarantined.

I wish I could remember what happened in sequence after that, but it was truly a blur of activity. My class was the first to get quarantined (out of four classes now) but the school staff operated like a well-oiled machine that has done this hundreds of times before. My principal and someone from the district with a title I have never heard of before explained to me what was going to happen with students getting sent home with devices, going back to online learning for 10 days, and I am sure there was a lot more to that conversation that I have already forgotten. At the end of the spiel, they asked if I had any questions, and the only one I had at the time was “Can I use the restroom really quickly?” I knew I would figure out whatever questions came up later, but that I was not going to get a bathroom break for a while!

Little did I know, but my students and I had to be given a specific restroom that would be closed to the rest of the school so it could be deep cleaned and sanitized later. This was not a simple yes or no question, but things had to be coordinated and blocked off as part of the quarantine procedures.

Parents were called, devices were disconnected, and students were kept in my room until their parents arrived to pick them up. I continued teaching as normal, which really was not that normal at all since I was more than a little distracted with the knowledge that I have been exposed to the virus that is causing a pandemic. We had to have lunch in class, which my students thought was the coolest thing ever. Lunch was delivered to my classroom, and my students cheered. “We are doing something different today. We are having a picnic!” My students erupted in cheers.

One by one students were escorted out of the room as their parents arrived to pick them up, and the students still in my room became more and more confused. They realized something was up, but remained calm and accepted my answer of “I am not sure why everyone is getting picked up early today!” without question or fuss.

Before getting quarantined, we were just beginning to find our routine in class. My students knew were to access the resources we frequently use in class and were beginning to follow all the additional COVID procedures without constant reminders. Well, maybe except for the occasional reminder (read: frequent reminder) to pull your mask up over your nose. It felt like things were about to fall into place so we could really take off with learning, so abruptly returning to remote teaching again brought us back to the beginning. It did not bring us back to square one, more like square 5. In comparison, at this point in a normal school year, we would be at square 85, out of 180 squares in a regular school year.

My students and I returned to online teaching and learning for the 10 days required, which was much easier this go around. My students were able to adjust to the online version of my in-person instructional routines having seen it in person. I had figured out which online teaching strategies were effective and that I could maintain for an extended period of time, and which strategies were not working for this group of students. Students and families took the unexpected change in stride and made the best of it!

We eagerly returned to the classroom for in-person instruction when our quarantine period was over. Once again, I needed to reestablish the classroom procedures and routines so learning could take place, which took less time this go around since we were all so excited to be back! We were back at school for a total of five days before the district as a whole returned to remote teaching.

So, here we are again learning online. My neck hurts from getting jerked around so much this year.

Is this really what the 2020-2021 school year is going to be like? By the time we adjust to one method of teaching and learning, we are abruptly switched to another one. How are these constant changes between learning in-person and online going to affect our students and families? Teachers cannot be the only ones scrambling to put plans in place for our children during school hours. There needs to be consistency so teachers can plan for and prepare for online or in-person instruction; students can adjust to the modality of teaching whether it is online or in-person; and families can plan for childcare before, during, and after school hours. Students, families, and teachers are stressed out enough over COVID as it is, please do not add whiplash on top of it.


photo credit: chimpwithcan Disease Medicine Health Medication 4392172 Edited 2020 via photopin (license)


Caitlin Gawlowski

I was born to be a teacher, although I did not realize that teaching was my calling until I began college. I have always loved to write and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before I began my freshman year of college, I changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and have never looked back. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during my student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District.
I spent 7 years in the Washington Elementary School District teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and I hold a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2019-2020 school year marks the beginning of my 8th year teaching, where I will be teaching 3rd grade English Language Learners, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification.
If I am lucky enough to have free time, you can find me planning my wedding, spending time with my infant son and fiancé, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

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