Getting into the School Building in a Pandemic

How She Teaches during a pandemic: Safety measures for in-person learning

Our school is like a busy metro station. Commuters walk every which way toward their destinations.

The beginning of the school day is energetic and fast-paced. Students arrive by car, bike, skateboard, bus, and on foot. Sidewalks, hallways, parking lots, the cafeteria, and classrooms are busy with students greeting one another, eating breakfast, and scrambling to get something done that they should have done the day before! Some of this is still true since the pandemic and October 2020 when we returned to in-person learning, but we had to adapt some of this morning routine to stay safe.


The changes are evident before students even get inside the building. In order to enter, students, staff, and visitors must pass the “screening.” The screening is performed by school staff, mostly the counselors, administrators, librarians, interventionalists. Basically, those who do not have a classroom full of students when the first bell rings. The first part of the screening is a temperature check. It is done with a digital thermometer to the forehead. The next part of the screening is a series of yes or no questions. You probably answer these questions before you can enter a doctor’s office:

  • Have you experienced any of the following symptoms within the last 48 hours? Fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, headache, sore throat, congestion, loss of taste or smell, or diarrhea?
  • Have you tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 10 days?
  • Have you been around anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 10 days?

By the end of August, these questions were reduced to, “Symptoms? Tested positive? Exposure? OK come on in.” For staff, our names and answers are recorded in a Google Form. Students are provided with a mask if they don’t have one. They are squirted with some hand sanitizer, and welcomed into the building.

Entry Points

Compared to pre-pandemic, the arrival routine is orchestrated and supervised. Whereas students, teachers, parents, and school staff used to stream through a couple of key entry points, now nearly every door is utilized. Teachers arrive through the main entrance. They must roll in before 7:45am in order to pass the screening and open their classroom in time for students to arrive at 7:55am. I always have something to do in the morning, and I hate waiting in line for the copy machine, so I arrive by 7 am. I’m always one of the first teachers at school. The sky is still dark, the hallways are empty, and the classroom doors are closed and locked.

Every student has a predetermined location where they enter. At each of these entry points waits an adult, prepared to greet them with a thermometer and a hidden smile. Car riders are dropped off at the front of the school and enter through the main entrance. Bus riders are dropped off at the back of the school. Walkers and bikers report to designated locations by their grade: 6th graders enter by the sixth grade wing, 7th graders enter through a door at the end of the 7th grade hall, and 8th graders have their own entrance as well. Once inside, they don’t have far to go. Their homeroom class is in their grade’s hallway.

Constant Supervision

From the moment students arrive in the morning, they are under constant supervision by adults. Mostly, this supervision is provided by teachers. The hallways are monitored. Students enter and immediately make their way to their homeroom. No longer can they go to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. They pickup breakfast at their entrance, and eat it in their homeroom classroom. Students cannot gather with friends, or roam the hallways. They cannot move around as they please.

A constant part of my supervision is to remind students of the 3 W’s: Wear your mask, Wait 6 feet apart, and Wash your hands. “6 feet! 6 feet!” I say dozens of times a day as I motion for students to move apart. “Mask please! Cover your mouth and your nose, thank you!” I gesture with a pulling up motion from my chin to my nose.

What’s working?

The silver lining of this new norm is that every student is greeted at the door by an adult, and has made a connection that day. This was not always the case pre-pandemic, when 35 students streamed into the classroom each period. I prefer to greet students at the door, but I cannot always divide my attention 35 ways. Someone needs help. I get caught up in conversation with a group of students. The projector stopped working. Labs need prepping. Students race inside in the last few seconds to beat the bell, or stroll in late while class is underway. The new system means that every student makes a one-on-one connection, and from the moment they step inside they are shown that they are noticed and that they matter.

The coordinated entrances minimize contact between various cohorts of students, as well as travel throughout the school. Potential exposures are minimized. When there is a positive case, contact tracing is more easily done because we know exactly where individuals have been throughout the day.

What’s not working?

With these safety measures in place it takes a lot longer to get everyone inside the building. The first students arrive at 7:55am, then it’s a steady flow until 8:35am. Pre-pandemic students would be finding their friends, visiting their lockers, hanging out in classrooms, and getting extra help from teachers. Now they are sitting in their homerooms, waiting and maybe eating breakfast. I noticed a big difference without the extra unofficial prep time and opportunities to connect with students.

The biggest failure here is that the screening process doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s like a Nyquil commercial in my classroom with headache, stuffy, runny nose, sore throat, fever, and sneezing students. In all seriousness it was terrifying, especially when I was pregnant, to come face to face with a clearly ill student in a pandemic. How did they make it through the screening just 10 minutes ago? Why are they being sent back to class to be around teachers and other students when we cannot rule out Covid? This was one of my main reasons behind leaving my teaching position while pregnant. I wrote about it in my blog post, I Left My Teaching Job in the Middle of the Pandemic.

I hope I have painted a clear picture for you of the safety measures in place for entering the building in the pandemic. I look forward to sharing more with you about the logistics of teaching during a pandemic in my upcoming posts in the series, How She Teaches during a pandemic: Safety measures for in-person learning. Thank you for reading, and let me know your thoughts or what else you are interested in reading about by adding a comment.

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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