By | Maurizio DiDonato [Editor in Chief]
As December 2020 approached, I was pontificating what I thought the BC government was planning to do about the second wave of COVID-19. My view was that it was a perfect opportunity to suspend in-class learning for two weeks, and engage in online classes again leading into the Christmas break. This would allow teachers and students to safely transition into the holidays without creating too many objections from parents. In fact, I bet on this with a colleague, a gentleman’s wager.
The coronavirus was pushing forward with record daily positive cases, and many began to worry that masks would not suffice. I was wrong. Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health, Adrian Dix have decided that schools will be the last entity to shut down, if ever again. A libertarian approach, and risky – where teachers are considered ‘essential’ workers – except for when it pertains to the vaccines, apparently.
Educators are not part of Group 1 or Group 2 in British Columbia according to the BC’s Plan For Vaccine distribution website. We can all agree with front line workers, and all health care workers being first, along with the most vulnerable in our society; but, it’s a little annoying being told daily that educators are essential, and then not being in Phase 2 at the least. As an aside, I can see the BCTF going to war with the province this summer – it might get ugly if teachers are asked to start the next school year without a vaccination.
Personally, I find the 4 Quarter system employed here at Notre Dame to be a blessing. The ‘flex’ days on Wednesdays are seriously helping, especially during these gloomy days of January. I have my sports on TV and the occasional cigar and libations to look forward to during the week. We all need to find our niche coping mechanisms and ablutions. Some teachers take to the outdoors, some go for walks, some kayak, others workout, many read, a few meditate, or take cold showers to help clear their minds.
But what about our students?
So, we didn’t move to online learning for two weeks prior to the Christmas break, and there was no extension of the break. Yes, I lost my bet with a fellow colleague. This brings me to my solicitude for students – they are more and more ordering up the winter blues with a side of COVID fatigue and it’s unhealthy.
As Editor in Chief of The Observer, I can report that the journalists have slowed down their contributions dramatically. I am encouraging them to snap out of their quiescence and put pen to paper (fingers to keyboards?); it’s not working…yet. I plead with them through correspondence to write as a form of catharsis – hoping they will take the opportunity to express their thoughts, or reveal their true impulses about this new normal. I implore them to write a piece that shows how much they hate what’s happened to them.
The students in my classes (English Language Arts 9) are also struggling to engage, submit work on time, and be in an upbeat mood. Ok, the upbeat mood is a fantasy, but you see my point. The question is, what do I (we) do? Happy students, happy classroom.
Well, for my journalists, it’s simply encouraging them to use their voices and the platform they have to express their thoughts, frustrations, and suggestions. I track them down in the halls (while wearing a mask and social distancing) when I see them, and I post routine updates and ideas on our Google Classroom page. I am delicately balancing ‘staying on them’ with ‘don’t push them so far that they want to quit’.
In my ELA classes, it’s a different battle. There is a yearly malaise that accompanies the short days of winter; these blues are real, and in this year of COVID-19, it’s palpable. I’ve already condensed my units to the most important fundamentals for this year. I don’t make it a habit to assign homework, so there’s nothing there for me to adjust. What other strategies are available?
I put a smile on my face, welcome each class with the best “good morning” I can manage, stay positive, and allow them to search inward for their own methods of coping, self-motivation, and responsibility. This all happens within the construct of a welcoming and safe environment I work diligently to achieve each September. My hope is that if I continue to nurture in this manner, the blues will dissipate with the winter rain. This is me being positive.
Some days I play music, and at times, I allow students to play games on their phones during breaks and after they have completed assigned tasks for the day. They can’t roam (too much) around the room, and they all wear their masks diligently, and to their credit, don’t complain often. However, I sense the urgency in needing to press forward past both the pandemic and winter slog.
It seems the outlier in all of this is found in PE classes. The consensus there is that students are welcoming the opportunity to move around, be active and of course, socialize in a more leisurely, less restrictive environment. The concern is that after students complete a Quarter in PE, many won’t be active again for up to 10 months. That can’t be any good.
Most students at Notre Dame rely on extra-curricular activities to balance their studies and enhance their social lives, outside of their smartphones. With sports cancelled, and many other programs like the Outdoor Club stalled, many students are frustrated. Those who participate in this school newspaper, or the newly created Book Club, seemingly have an outlet. It would be comforting to see more students involved in these pandemic proof activities.
The lack of school spirit is unmistakable this year. Outside of some school videos, and the anticipation of the sports field becoming a reality in the coming months, there’s not much to cheer about. I have spoken to many students that I know who play sports about joining my team at The Observer, or Ms. Chan’s Book Club to feel involved, and allow themselves something to feel good about; it’s a difficult sell.
And there’s the ‘rub’. Students are well immersed in their routines of 2 classes a day, and no extracurriculars, and those elements have conspired to drive more and more of them deeper into this chimera of the winter blues and coronavirus fatigue. They have grown complacent at the worst possible time.
There was a slight uptick in the mood curve during the “14 days of Notre Dame Christmas” activities provided by the student council, but that curve flattened quickly after school re-opened on January 4th. March break isn’t for another two months: ugh.
Therefore, we must all collaborate to get our students through the next 4-6 weeks; knowing that the days will start getting longer and that we are almost half-way done with this school year. Students must take some form of responsibility to help themselves, this would be another ask to pile onto the mask-wearing and social distancing, but Jugglers are a capable student body.
I’m betting that we transcend it all, and are able to overcome both the winter blues and COVID-19.
My losing streak has to end at some point, right? Where are my shades…
Feel free to leave a message below. Share your strategies, vent, it’s all good.