Teachers, parents and pupils are all excited – but a little anxious – about the adjustment from online learning to the classroom
Like many parents in New South Wales, Nicole Kastner has been juggling parenting and teaching for the past three months.
But on Monday morning her five-year-old, Jack, returned to his indergarten class in Sydney’s inner west.
“He was a bit anxious but excited. It brought the biggest smile to my face as the principal welcomed him in,” Kastner said.
Thousands of students put on uniforms and packed their lunches for the first time in months on Monday, as kindergarten, year 1 and year 12 students returned to face-to-face learning.
Although the return to classrooms is a welcome change for parents and teachers, there are concerns that younger children will face social challenges heading back.
“I’ve noticed [Jack] has become attached to me so I’m concerned to see how it goes the next few days,” Kastner said. “He has been by my side for the last 3 1/2 months.”
Kastner and her partner have been working from home, and she says they’ve been lucky their workplaces have been so supportive – even awarding Jack an employee of the month certificate.
With only two months left of the school year, she said her focus would be on getting him into the rhythm of school again and out meeting friends.
“We’re excited … we’re excited to go back to the new normal. It’s a fresh leaf, a new chapter,” she said.
Schools will look a bit different. Masks are now mandatory for high school students, and are recommended for primary school children.
Teachers have been asked to keep the windows open for ventilation, but some classrooms have locked windows, and some worry about what will happen in summer when the temperatures soar.
Kastner runs Australian school mums, a Facebook group with 5000+ members, and says a lot of parents are confused about masks and concerned private schools in the state will get air purifiers while other schools may miss out.
“Office workers no longer have to wear a mask but high school students need to – what’s the difference?” she said. “The information being filtered down is inconsistent … There’s confusion there.”
In the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, one teacher said many of her primary school students hadn’t started.
“Less than half the students are back,’’ she said. “Some [are] wearing masks and some not. Teachers are generally positive but a bit anxious.’’
She said teachers were preparing for some students to be behind with school work, or socially nervous, but were ready to help children get into it.
“There will definitely be some who have fallen behind academically, as we had quite a few whose engagement in online learning was minimal,” the teacher said.
“We are also expecting behaviour to be challenging for a while until the students get used to having highly structured days again.”
On Monday, the NSW government announced it would spend $100m on making sure public schools had enough ventilation – including installing ventilation systems in smaller classrooms.
The premier, Dominic Perrottet, said the funding would also be directed towards replacing windows, ceiling and exhaust fans, and additional servicing of ventilation systems.
“As the community has adapted to living with Covid, so have our schools, and our approach to keeping them safe using a multi-layered approach that includes vaccines, on-site restrictions, mask-wearing, cleaning and ventilation,” Perrottet said.
“The funding will enable us to support ongoing improvements to air quality in public schools, making schools some of the best-ventilated spaces in the community.”
But the senior vice-president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Amber Flohm, said next Monday, when all students returned to class, would be “the pressure point” for schools, as many wouldn’t have adequate ventilation in place.
“Concerns remain in relation to the safe operations of schools and this includes mask-wearing [and] ventilation,” Flohm said.
She said schools were already crowded before the pandemic, and would struggle to fit everyone in while keeping classrooms Covid-safe.
“We note comments made by the government about [teachers working with] smaller cohorts of children, and recognise neither the school nor the teachers will be able to implement this.”
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.