I remember my grandmother talking about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Her family left Manhattan to live upstate. I’ve been a paraprofessional for 24 years, and I never thought this would happen here.
Last year at this time, I would start my workday with students having breakfast at their desks and then I’d tell them, “Let’s get going.” I could help a student blow his nose, eat or use the facilities. Now I’m more cautious about things. In the beginning I was stand-offish, a little scared. But now I sit near the child, and we’re both wearing masks. Sometimes I have to remind students to “pull your mask up.” My day starts with a thorough cleaning of my work area. Even though I did it the previous day, I don’t know if anyone is using my space. We’ve had to change our lifestyles to deal with our fears.
I work one-on-one with students in 2nd and 3rd grades, but I can be utilized anywhere in the building if an aide or a paraprofessional is absent. I’ve done temperature checks and I’ve screened students, too. On days when I’m not in the classroom I’m a hall monitor, and I’ll do lunch duty if we’re short-staffed. I can be all over the building. When I go remote, I go into breakout rooms to help students who are struggling remotely.
It’s challenging for the students. With everyone wearing masks, I can no longer tell a student struggling with language to “look at my mouth.” Now I use an iPad and other electronic devices to communicate with the remote kids. It’s a whole new dynamic, a whole new job.
I have an 18-year-old daughter learning remotely at college. I think about what she’s missing. I’m glad we’re live in New York City public schools more this school year than last spring. Teaching in the classroom constitutes a small victory.
— as told to reporter Linda Ocasio