Substitute Teaching in the time of COVID-19: Practicing Compliance to Keep Students and Teachers Safe

As recently as last November, most of us knew nothing and heard little about the Coronavirus or COVID-19. Now, in the United States, it dictates how we live our personal and professional lives. Some States still wrestle with rising numbers, while others seem to show promise in flattening the curve.

But, wherever you live, COVID-19 still represents the reality. Although we know little about this new disease, we know how quickly it spreads through air droplets and sometimes through touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face, particularly your nose, mouth, or eyes, 

COVID-19 may cause mild or even no symptoms in some people and in others severe illness or death. Yet, if you don’t fall into a high-risk category, you most likely know someone who does, so we all need to consider safety guidelines in our daily lives. 

Complying with governmental and institutional regulations:

As a substitute teacher, you enjoy many privileges around scheduling and controlling your time that your full time teaching colleagues do not. So, when it comes to teaching during a pandemic, substitute teachers possess choices. But, along with the options of when and where to teach comes added research.

In addition to keeping up on the coronavirus numbers for a particular area, you need to familiarize yourself with the governmental regulations at all levels and the rules and practices of the individual institutions. 

You will need thorough information about COVID-19 not only for safety considerations but as a teacher dealing with children, you will also need to comply fully with the rules and regulations.  

Finding your comfort level:

The risk of contracting this awful disease and the degree of devastation it causes varies significantly from person to person. Generally speaking, we need to consider our age and other factors such as heart or lung disease or any condition that compromises our immune system. 

When deciding to interact with others and our health risks, we need to consider those living in our household or family member we may visit frequently. Does your spouse suffer from a respiratory condition? Do you regularly visit your elderly mother?  

Trusted resources do exist to help us make thoughtful decisions for the safety of our health and others:

  • The Center for Disease Control or CDC provides all kinds of information regarding health on its website. These days, much of the site includes information on COVID-19. They provide a section specifically with guidelines for schools in which they also remind us to always check with local officials before visiting or working at a school. The CDC also lays out these general guidelines to follow for opening up a school:
  • The lowest risk scenario involves conducting classrooms, tutoring sessions, events, and other activities only virtually. As everyone involved will theoretically log on to the virtual classroom from their home, the risk among teachers, staff, and teachers does not exist.
  • At medium risk, classes occur both online and at the school with small class sizes and social distancing guidelines out in place. Sharing objects such as school supplies or personal items does not take place. Much attention also goes into cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, especially in common areas. Students frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizer. Teachers and students also wear face coverings or masks whenever possible. The same rules apply to any activities outside the classroom. 
  • The highest risk takes place if the school returns to business as usual. Social distancing does not exist, good hygiene goes unenforced, and masks wearing doesn’t take place. Students also freely share supplies.  
  • The World Health Organization or WHO provides nearly up-to-the-minute statistics regarding COVID-19. It gives you the number of worldwide confirmed cases and confirmed deaths from coronavirus. From their website, you will learn where the virus remains prevalent from the countries to the regional areas. The COVID-19 dashboard will illustrate through graphs and charts where the virus spread decreases, or the curve looks far from flat or receding. The WHO also shows videos on proper hand washing and how to use and care for face coverings. 
  • Tennessee Education Associations or TEA serves as a perfect example of a local or State resource providing teachers and substitute teachers with information specific to their area. This type of site tells you where to get tested and provides local statistics. Many teachers visit the site to get accurate information on the impact of COVID-19 on FMLA and other professional rights.

The TEA site will also provide information on governmental resources at all levels and government agencies such as the NEA. 

Many teachers go to a localized site to get specific information for answers to their questions on matters such as how COVID-19 affects their sick days, tenure as a teacher, or when they might return to work in the physical classroom.

Substitute teachers may also find these types of localized sites helpful, but they should also check the website for their agencies, especially for information that pertains to coronavirus.

Taking the extra step for you and your students:

As a teacher, you own an exclusive responsibility to promote and practice behaviors to reduce this deadly virus. Of course, you won’t want to enter a brick and mortar classroom if you feel ill. If you come into contact with a person who tests positive or even displays symptoms, you should receive a COVID-19 test and quarantine accordingly.

Substitute teachers experience a bit of uncertainty as they don’t know how much the fulltime teacher already covered in the way of handling the prevention of COVID-19. An excellent way to find out how much the students already know involves asking them to share their knowledge about hand washing, the wearing and caring of masks, and other considerations such as sneezing and coughing into a clean tissue or the crook of the elbow. These reviews of COVID-19 prevention serve as a reminder, allowing you to fill any missed information. 

Remember to make sure the space receives as much ventilation as possible and that you watch that students don’t share supplies or personal items. 

We’re all in this together may sound trite at this point, but it remains the reality. We should maintain hope that once a vaccine is effective and gets administered widely, we may return to some of the freedoms we used to take for granted. For now, it remains a good lesson on preventing contagious illnesses of all kinds and realizing the responsibility we share for each other.  For more information on substitute teaching in the time of COVID-19, please contact us here.