Returning to the New Normal Classroom

By: Mary Guerin

Just over a month ago, I dropped my granddaughter off in front of her school to return to the classroom for the first time in over a year. I took custody of my granddaughter through a probate guardianship when she was three years old so we do not receive child welfare support services. The past year of distance learning challenged me to become a teacher and provide all the social-emotional support my granddaughter needed with very limited support.

According to CDC and school district guidelines, teachers will be tested twice a month, kids will sit 5-feet apart, fully masked, the air purifiers will hum in the background and all kids will be as safe as possible. The principal checks temperatures and collects parent certification proving their child does not have COVID-19 symptoms. Parents are not allowed in the school buildings. After over a year of isolation and fear, returning to in-person learning has been a huge trust walk.

Socially, psychologically, and educationally, returning to in-person learning is supposed to be the wise choice. I’ve had to consider what’s best for my granddaughter: Having both your friends and your teacher disappear into a virtual Zoom box is not healthy but is this alternative safe? There were so many unknown variables that made returning to school in person appear both the right choice, and so very terribly wrong at the same time. Both my granddaughter and I held the secret fear that she was risking her life to get an education and see her friends. We jumped off this cliff of unknowing, hoping for the best, prayers helped ease my discomfort.

Time will reveal the wisdom of my choice to let her return. We have held open the option to return to Zoom, but that holds the long-term threat of psychological damage and a breakdown of trust in our grandparent/grandchild relationship. Fifth grade is a time when autonomy is fostered in preparation for middle school’s need for independence.

Returning to in-person learning after over a year of Zoom classroom feels tougher than leaving her in pre-school daycare back when I first took custody of her. That proved to be a good choice – I kept my job while my granddaughter received excellent care. We are hoping that this latest experiment proves to be equally wise.