Gearing Up to Teach Again in Northwest Kansas During Covid-19

by Steve Nicholson August 24, 2020

Last Monday morning, I posted on Facebook that I was returning to the classroom to start my 25th year teaching. I quickly received many positive comments from family and friends — and most importantly, some former students.  Then without warning, my day shifted.

At 2:54 p.m. my wife called, instructing me to come home immediately. She’s part of Gove County’s Emergency Operations Committee, which handles the collection and release of information connected to the pandemic. A few minutes later in the driveway, she said my mom tested positive for Covid-19.

I knew she had been having flu-like symptoms since the previous Friday. Because she is 82, it was very concerning.

Then I revealed to my wife that I had been experiencing some nasal drainage and a slight cough since Friday. In rural northwest Kansas, those symptoms don’t warrant much worry. I thought they were due to allergies and/or dust — no big deal.

However, since my mom was positive and I had been having symptoms, I needed to get tested, too. A few hours later, I became the eighth positive case in our town of Quinter, home to fewer than 1,000 residents.

Over the next few days, my symptoms worsened, but thankfully they were nothing serious.

My mom was another story. Her oxygen saturation dropped, and she was admitted to a Covid-only ICU ward in a nearby hospital about 50 miles away. An X-ray revealed fluid and a partially collapsed lung. Good news — she has been improving steadily.

While my family is quarantined for two weeks, I am praying that my family, friends, co-workers, and community can stay healthy.

Preparing for Everything

I am also preparing to start the first week of school with students — from home.

Only other teachers really know what it’s like to gear up for a school year. Many spend several days in their classrooms prepping beyond any official contracted days.

Here’s what teaching looks like for me this year:

  • Seventh-grade science: Can you remember your first day of middle school? These kiddos need a lot of TLC for the first few weeks. Now add new textbooks with online features that I need to acquaint myself with — not just the content but the new tools for presenting it.
  • Biology: This is usually my easiest group to bond with. My passion for sharing biology flows like the river of chocolate through Willy Wonka’s factory. Not all students learn to share that with me, and that’s OK. My challenge is to help them find their passion.
  • Advanced Biology: The kids select and develop three to five individual projects on topics they want to learn more about. I just need to guide them and troubleshoot along the way. This year, four kids have signed up.
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology: Usually a handful of kids take this class, so I’m excited to work with 14 this year! I updated my textbook from the 2012 version to the 2018 version, plus all of the online options.

In addition to these classes spread over six periods, I have one prep period. The last period of the day is Power Hour, which at this point is to be full of pep assemblies, counseling exercises, homework assistance, class/club meetings, etc.

We’ve also adopted new safety protocols and contingency plans for students and staff. For instance, we might need to shift back to online learning before the end of the first nine weeks. Or sooner. Or later. Hopefully never!

Ruminating Over the Permutations

In a smaller district like mine, a high school teacher can have 50 or so students in and out of their classroom each day. Each student comes from a home with another set of variables — family members, incomes, psychological factors, etc. Additionally, each teacher may be in and out of the office, restroom, staff room, copy room, library, etc. The custodians, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, cooks, any visitors, secretaries, etc. add more human elements to this environment.

The couple of statistics classes that I took many years ago help me understand the number of permutations in this scenario — and the wildcard the pandemic response presents.

But it’s important to be at school — if we can be. Schools provide a safe place for kids. A place for kids to be kids. To be around other kids. To have access to professional educators and at least one healthy meal a day.

As educators, we’ll strive to make it work for our community, but I know my 25th year of teaching will be like no other. As I quarantine, I’m steeling myself for what lies ahead.

After nearly three decades of teaching and coaching, Steve Nicholson is still going strong as a junior-senior high school science teacher in Gove County, Kansas. When he is not geeking out with his students, he is a devoted husband, father, son, and sibling. Steve loves outdoor activities and is an avid brewer.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

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