As kids head back to school, their classrooms have a different look — and it’s not just because of socially distant seating.
With their rooms undergoing heavier and more frequent cleaning to protect against COVID-19, teachers are cutting back on the number of decorations they’re using, and finding other ways to connect with students.
Laura Phillips, who teaches English at Wharton High School in Tampa, used to be known for an extravagantly decorated room, with fairy lights, paintings and silk curtains.
“I took all of that down because of the pandemic,” she said.
Phillips had seen pictures online of classrooms rooms that were fogged with cleaning chemicals and didn’t want her decorations to be ruined by the residue left behind. She also wanted her room to be easier to clean.
Now, she’s turning to a virtual classroom to express herself. Using a Bitmoji — an animated drawing of one’s self — she designed her online homeroom after seeing others post about Bitmoji classrooms on Facebook.
Phillips isn’t the only one turning to that strategy. Jocelyn Moore-Hill, a fourth-grade teacher at Dr. Carter G. Woodson PK-8 in Tampa, has also created a Bitmoji classroom as she is teaching students online.
She’s also limiting decorations in her physical classroom.
“As a result of the pandemic, I will take the approach that ‘less is more’ and will not over-decorate,” she said in an email. “Bulletin boards and word walls will be completed and hung, respectively.”
Local school districts, which have set down numerous new rules and guidelines during the pandemic, have generally left the question of classroom decorations up to teachers.
Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas said the district is encouraging teachers to minimize clutter and limit paper decorations because of the schools’ cleaning process. But neither Pinellas nor Pasco County has banned them. Hillsborough County Schools instructed principals to remove “extraneous furniture” and “personal furniture that is not conducive to social distancing.” However, its guidelines do not make any specific mention of decorations.
For many teachers, decorations are the last thing on their minds right now.
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Jennifer McKnight, a science teacher at Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, has a reputation as an artsy teacher. She normally brightens her walls with inspirational posters and wall clings. She’s also known for her collection of seasonal bobbleheads, a gift from her mom.
This year, she said only about a quarter of her room is decorated, if that, though she hadn’t set up her bobblehead collection yet. She’s been busy scrambling to learn how to teach a hybrid model of online and in-person classes, as well as help other teachers navigate the new technology.
“That’s quite daunting to figure out,” McKnight said of the model, which requires teachers to engage students in their classrooms while simultaneously doing the same with those watching from home. She said teachers are trying their best to make sure kids get a good education right now.
So, some of her decorating projects are on hold.
Before the pandemic, McKnight was working on a mural with a student. The plan was for him to sketch the piece and McKnight to paint it. The student, a senior, started sketching on the wall, but now he’s taking online classes only.
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