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Back to School - 09/17/2020

Yesterday was my first day back in a classroom since my last teaching day, pre-quarantine, on March 6. I left on the Friday before Spring Break, never imagining that it would be over six months before I would feel safe enough to enter a classroom again, post-Pandemic. But here I am. I had decided that I was not going to go back to substitute teaching until after the first of the year, when I hope the Pandemic will be largely under control. However, although I like working as a delivery driver for DoorDash, I can't do it for many hours a week - the driving is just too tiring on me and it makes my back hurt really bad. I am about to go on vacation to see my family in Orlando for the first time in 18 months, and I need to cover the 10 days I won't be working. So when I got an offer to come back to one of my favorite schools, MASSA (Math And Science Success Academy) in South Tucson, I decided to accept.

I went back for these reasons: first, they told me that there weren't very many kids attending classes, and that social distancing and masking protocols were being strictly followed. Second, I really like this school; it's well-run and the kids are well-behaved, and I know some of them from previous assignments there. Last, it was a long-term assignment and I could make a decent amount of money before my trip. I'll be there from September 16 to the 30th, working as what they call a para-professional, or what I used to know as a teacher's aide. I will be assisting one or more teachers in managing the class or doing projects (like making copies), really whatever they need me to do to help out. It's not the most stimulating job, but it's easier than running a class by yourself, and less tiring for me.

So here I am after two full days, with some insights. First, yes, the school is following COVID-prevention protocols very well. Everyone's temperature is checked when they arrive at the office or in the classroom. Everyone wears a mask at all times unless eating in the lunchroom (which I avoid) or outside at recess (I keep mine on then too). Desks are six feet apart, and children must remain seated unless they have permission to leave class. Their hands are sanitized when they leave to go anywhere (mostly the restroom) and when they come back. Laptops and desks are wiped down by each child at the close of class each day. It's actually very impressive! Also, the numbers of students in class are very low. There are 14 on the roster that I'm working in right now, which is fourth/fifth grade, but we have only had 10 attending so far. All their work is done on the computer, with lectures delivered via Zoom. The teacher in my class is really just a class manager who does not lecture but helps out with questions. The kids are amazing; they stay in their seats and work quietly about 95% of the time, just like they are supposed to.

Second, the para-professional role is pretty limited right now. There were two of us working both days, so we had three teachers to supervise 10 kids. Employees of the agency I work for, Express Employment Professionals, are not allowed to use our cell phones or laptops in class, and so far there really has not been enough for us to do to keep fully occupied. I have been assigned the role of greeting the kids in the morning, taking their temps and attendance, and sanitizing their hands throughout the day. Not exactly the stuff you need a Master's degree to do, but I'm not complaining. The rest of the time I helped with math and English questions; I'm still astonished that fourth graders are learning more advanced Algebra than I learned in my honors class in seventh grade way back in 1970. Each day the kids have a "specials" class; yesterday it was Mandarin, for which we had an actual live lecturer, and I was delighted to learn my first Chinese words. Ni Hau (How are you?)! Today it was supposed to be music (piano and guitar are both offered) but neither teacher showed up. I offered to teach the kids how to write a pop song, or to let them sing songs in class; they didn't want to do either, so instead we played a kind of hide-and-seek game called Four Corners. I would have thought nine and ten year olds would still like to sing in class, but go figure.

Last, although I'm not leading the class, I still have to drive 18 miles each way and be in class for eight hours from 7:30 to 3:30, with a half-hour off for lunch. It's very tiring for me. I'm not completely wiped out, but I am having to increase my steroid dose and pain medication levels. Also, I have had to come home and try to take a two-hour nap when I arrive. I say "try," because my energetic three-month old pug puppy, Timmy, has been home all day in his exercise pen, with just a half-hour visit from the walker in the middle of the day, and he is ready to rumble when I finallly get home. He is teething, and wants to bite or chew everything he encounters, most especially my hands, feet, and face. I am giving him lots of chews and toys to chew on, and it's getting better, but until he calms down around 11 p.m. it's a fairly constant battle to prevent him from biting me. And it hurts! Those little teeth are like daggers. I can't wait until he is out of this stage. Three more months, or so, I'm told.

I am looking forward to having the weekend to rest!

#SubstituteTeaching #MASSA #ExpressEmploymentProfessionals #ClassroomCOVIDprotocols #FourCorners #TimmyTinyPug

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