Professional Practice

What Going Back to School Really Looks Like

students at tables with masks on

Return to Learn with The Art of Education University

Just thinking about going back to school during a pandemic is exhausting. The anticipation of the “what if” and “could be” can become absolutely overwhelming and consuming. But, here’s the deal, as each one of you heads back to school, you are going to have a unique experience. Depending on your geographical location, student body, and current teaching model, all of these experiences will be different. Many teachers will experience a transition of teaching plans throughout the year. Those starting the school year virtually might not have an in-person first day of school until March! At some point, art teachers will find themselves back in an in-person setting, and you aren’t going to know what to expect.

After seeing middle school students in-person for over a month, I’d like to share some of my experiences and teaching observations during a pandemic. I cannot speak to your individual situations, but I can share mine.

1. Masks aren’t an issue.

It’s possible that your social media feeds were filled with hilarious predictions of how our students would wear masks in school. Some of those predictions may come to fruition, but I am shocked at the compliance of my school’s student body. There have been very few isolated incidents of improperly wearing masks.


As you head back to school in-person wearing a mask for the first time, you might need some time to transition. Wearing a mask to go get groceries for twenty minutes while not talking to anyone is an entirely different experience than teaching all day in one. The first few days will be hard. Teachers do a lot of talking, so you’ll want to swap out those masks throughout the day as the moisture will build up.

When you do this, it’s a good idea to use a face cleansing wipe before you put a new mask on. Going back to school after summer break usually takes a toll on our voices as we aren’t used to talking as much. Now, add that time on since March with a mask. Your voice will be so tired. But, after the first week, you won’t even notice a mask on your face. It becomes part of your daily uniform or a little blanket for your face.

2. Finding a new routine.

Nothing makes you more tired than having to get back into a routine. With months of quarantine and canceled events, our daily at-home routines were probably pretty flexible. As we know, the school day schedule does not allow for this, and it will be a shock to your system.

The first week will be hard. Both you and your students will be overwhelmed as there are new routines and procedures everyone has to learn. It will take you much longer to teach something than you anticipate. Even though you may have planned for no sharing of supplies, you’ll be shocked at all of the little things you didn’t think about. For me, it was sharpening pencils. It wasn’t until a student asked me how they should sharpen their pencils that I thought about it. These instances will pop up, and you will just have to plan and adapt as they come.

3. Exhaustion is real.

The first day of school will feel like the hardest thing you have ever done. Do not overwork yourself. With all of the new routines and procedures, you will be tired. It is so important to take care of yourself. Remember how pre-COVID you wouldn’t have time to finish that cup of coffee you made in the morning? Well, now, with the bonus of wearing a mask, it will feel nearly impossible to drink liquids. But you have to find a way to do it! Find a water bottle with a straw to help you hydrate throughout the day.

waterbottle and cup

It’s important to give yourself grace. Staying up late to plan a lesson isn’t going to help your mental or physical health. Instead, try to look for ways you can maximize your planning during school hours. With this, you might be looking to get ahead, which is great. However, don’t work too far ahead on your planning as you’ll probably find a lot of your plans will need to be adjusted to accommodate your new schedule. During this transition time, it’s important to leave school at school when you clock out for the day. Take the time to be outdoors, spend time with your family, and indulge in your favorite things. No one is going to judge you if you go to bed when it is still light out!

4. Seeing students will be weirdly awesome!

That feeling of the first day of school was absolutely nerve-wracking. Teachers and students had a lot of nervous energy because no one knew what to expect. Meeting students and teachers for the first time wearing a mask is strange. Art teachers do have an advantage here as we get to know our students throughout the years. Your students will be thrilled to see a familiar face (or eyes) that will leave them wanting to come to the art room.

students at tables with masks on

It’s also important to note that your students might seem more subdued than what you had imagined. The lack of socialization seen amongst students is saddening, but unfortunately, to follow guidelines, some of this has to exist. For some of your students, going back to school might be the first time they’ve seen kids of their own age since March.

Return to Learn with The Art of Education University

Many students will be dealing with social anxieties, which makes communication and tapping into students’ social and emotional needs more important than ever! Even though there are many considerations as students come back to school, seeing them is a gift. After all, we teach because of our students. After a few weeks of being back together, you’ll start to see your classroom community come back.

5. It will get better.

Going back to school this year will not be easy. The first week or two might be the most challenging thing you’ve endured in your teaching career; I know it was for me. Once you settle into your new systems and routines, you’ll start to find your groove. After a month of school, I still have some angst and worries, but there’s no better feeling than being back in your classroom with students creating art.

Whether you are headed back in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid of the two, this school year will hold unique challenges. Giving yourself the time and space to adjust will ultimately help you find your way back to where you love to be—in the classroom, teaching and creating with kids!

What questions do you have as you head back to school during a pandemic?
What’s one thing that has surprised you as you’ve been back in school with students?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Abby Schukei

Abby Schukei, a middle school art educator and AOEU’s Social Media Manager, is a former AOEU Writer. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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