2020, in the mind and in the life of a teacher

In this column, Marc-André Girard looks back on how he experienced the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.

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ATTENTION! The English translation is automated - Errors (sometimes hilarious!) can creep in! ;)

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Part 1: a spring like no other

I still remember Friday March 13, 2020, about as much of the other date that marked my teaching career, September 11, 2001. Well, it was for different reasons, but nevertheless, they all have both were traumatic for both students and adults. In 2001, it was a human-imposed trauma and almost twenty years later, it was a human-imposed trauma.

So, this March 13, a fever seized the school. The rumor machine is racing. The government is on their toes, and students and teachers alike are on the lookout for the smallest developments. Parents are worried: it seems that the father of such a student has just returned from China and that he did not follow government instructions. We are asked to exclude the student. Another is feverish, but he still attends class. We have to exclude him, just like his friend who is coughing his lungs out. At least, that's what her 10-year-old child tells us, who must be telling the truth! The witch hunt is on and the big question remains: will the school close, despite there being less than twenty cases of COVID-19? The suspense did not last long, with the Prime Minister announcing the closure of schools and the Minister of Education announcing vacations for teachers and their students. Yes, at the time we all thought this pandemic would only last two weeks or a few longer, this temporary shutdown having been compared to that of the ice storm of 1998.

So, fresh back from March vacation, I'm still on vacation. My students too. I am tormented. Let it be said: a teacher never takes a vacation. He takes rest. He takes a step back, because even if he is on "vacation", deep inside, he works to prepare his lessons, to find new ideas to better reach his students. He refines his approaches. A teaching brain never stops thinking or thinking about these.

Besides, for them, what was cool March 13 becomes a concern in April. No school, no learning, no friends, no framework, no opportunity to push your limits. As if human development was put on hold. As if our social fabric, the very fabric that teachers have been weaving for ages, were suddenly tearing apart. Obviously, it was not woven tight enough since a virus of a size varying between 60 and 140 nanometers was able to cross its mesh and go and infect those they stubbornly protect. The new enemy is practically invisible and it has entered homo sapiens-sapiens-socius, infecting its traditional learning activities and those linked to living together. However, what I have always worked for is threatened and I, like my peers, are we on "vacation"? Isn't school the basis of everything in our society? Isn't that an essential service? It seems not and parents can home school.

Finally, our “vacation” ended in early May (at least, for elementary schools outside of the Montreal metropolitan community). Home-schooling has known its three main limitations. First, the schooling process is done thanks to qualified personnel. Parents may well be their child's natural educators and, despite the quality of their benevolent interventions, that does not make them teachers, even if they themselves have attended school. Second, these parents need help since they work from home. To provide quality education, we must necessarily take quality time: planning well, teaching well and evaluating what has been taught. This is the basis. Finally, this schooling process is resolutely social. It is not only a question of educating, but also of learning to live together.

From now on, we had a week to prepare the school and thus welcome our students. It was the beginning of the sanitary measures imposed on the school. It was the beginning of the development of tolerance for ambiguity. I am not writing this cynically. At all ! How can it be otherwise? We are writing the pages of the history of Quebec education as events unfold. Used to the predictability of our decades-long routine, we have some power over the course of our students' daily activities. We work in the comfort of certainties without the fear come and disrupt our activities. Now the pace is dictated to us and the pace varies as we advance in time. The pace is faster in one school and less in the other, which threatens the view we have of our own profession and that we have of the performance of our system where, usually, things must move forward. at the same pace for all for the sake of fairness. In the midst of uncertainty, we demand certainty, we demand a clear approach. We demand of our leaders to take the pilgrim's staff, to chart the course of predictability, while they themselves are launched into the unknown.

Suddenly, after almost two months of forced school inactivity, what matters now is education and not instruction: the human values of benevolence, socialization, listening, welcoming, mutual aid, collaboration, etc., take precedence over learning to read, to count. We no longer talk about the good old opposition between the importance of acquiring knowledge or developing skills. What matters is simply to welcome students and repair the missing link in education: attendance.

Unfortunately, around 50% of the students are back in class and of those, our most vulnerable have often stayed at home. We are worried. We can call home, invite them to video, nothing helps: they are disconnected and their school year is over. They had a choice and they did not choose school for several reasons, starting with fear. Regardless of the reasons for this choice, which are personal to each family which, let us remember, is dealing with the pandemic in its own way, the essential school service is suffering from its cold. An essential service is not just a ministerial decree; it is also a recognition of its beneficiaries!

Basically, I might as well focus on those who are in class, which will probably have allowed me to spend some of the most beautiful moments in my career: teaching volunteers, in small classes, without the pressure of "passing the material" . Well, I'm exaggerating a bit since there was the incessant stress of respecting the sanitary measures to be respected and to integrate in all the organization of the activities of the class, but we made it out and the holidays arrived.

You know those "vacations" where you wonder:

  1. Will students be required to wear the mask in class?
  2. Should I wear the mask in class?
  3. Will the class be divided into bubbles?
  4. How will I deal with the school delays of students who have missed almost six months of school? What do I do if they don't come back?
  5. How will I combine my teaching and any health measures?
  6. What if I get sick too?
  7. Etc.

My body will have rested during the summer break, but my mind will have been spinning at high speed for almost two months, depending on the announcements and the news. The same question reappeared: "how am I going to do"? And the same answer came back: "we'll see at the end of August". A little wisdom and confidence in yourself and in those we work with must show up in times of uncertainty, right?

Continue to part 2: arrive at Christmas on my knees

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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in humanities education (1999), a master's degree in history teaching (2003) and a master's degree in educational management (2013). He is currently a doctoral student in school administration. He specializes in change management in schools as well as in educational leadership. He is also interested in 21st century skills to be developed in education. He holds a managerial position in a public primary school and gives lectures on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in the school environment as well as on the professionalization of teaching. He took part in educational expeditions to France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book “Le change en milieu scolaire québécois” with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the school of the 21st century with the same publisher. He frequently collaborates with L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and school administrators as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement.

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