How to sanitize your classroom
On Marcy 11, the World Health Organization officially named COVID-19 a pandemic. Given the nature of this virus many teachers are asking what they can do to help prevent the spread of the virus in their classrooms.
The best way to prevent the spread at school is to stay home if you are sick and encourage students to stay home if they are sick. Check out this info from the CDC about what to do if you are sick. The problem with that is the virus seems to be transmissible before symptoms arise, which means that you or a student could be sitting in your classroom asymptomatic and unknowingly be spreading the virus. It is for this reasons that some school districts in the areas with the highest volume of cases are closing for a period of days or weeks.
Given that, there are things you can do to minimize the risk in your classroom.
Let me preface by saying that I am not a healthcare professional; I’m a teacher. The information below is based on guidelines from the CDC, the world health organization, and my own experiences dealing with illnesses in my classroom.
1 – Teach your students to sneeze or cough into their elbows
I think most kids know this and we’ve been teaching this for years, but now is the time to enforce it. If you see a student coughing for sneezing into their hands it is not out of line to remind them to use their elbow and ask them to go wash their hands.
2- Teach students how to properly wash their hands
I know a number of elementary schools in my district have been starting the day with students washing their hands to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to teach them how long they should spend washing their hands. The Centers for Disease Control suggests a proper hand washing takes at least 20 seconds. It doesn’t sound like a long time, but I know I’m guilty of cutting my hand washing shorter than that.
Make sure students also know that they should first wet their hands, then lather, then wash all the soap off before drying their hands completely.
Encourage students to wash hands after using the restroom and before eating, and throughout the day in general.
3 – Challenge students to not touch their face or eyes
Make it a game. Whoever can go the longest without touching their face gets a Hershey Kiss or extra credit points. In a high school class you could turn it into an experiment. Have the kids chart each time they have the urge to touch their face. Research the psychology of it. Have students make a list of reasons they touch their faces (itch, boredom, etc.).
Don’t count on the custodial staff to sanitize on a daily basis. They are likely already overburdened with other tasks. In times like these, it’s not a bad idea to use a disinfecting wipe to sanitize the interior and exterior classroom door handles, your computer key pad, the tops of desks, and any other frequently touched surfaces daily. I’d also encourage students to sanitize their computer keyboards and cell phones regularly.
5 – Hand Sanitizer
I keep a 2 liter bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk. It’s been there all year and the students and I use it frequently, but I’ve been encouraging it even more in recent days. Students know they don’t need to ask to come up and get a squirt. They often use it before they eat a snack, after coughing or sneezing, or upon returning from a bathroom that ran out of soap.
6 – Skip the hugs and high fives for now
I am a hugger and some of my students hug me or high five me on a daily basis, but I know that if the virus gets bad in my region, I’m going to have to move to an elbow bump, or nothing at all. It makes me sad, but I’ve got to do it and so do you.
This goes for interactions between students also.
7 – You might need some hand lotion
Over the past several weeks I’ve been encouraging my own children (ages five and four) to wash their hands more regularly. The combination of the frequent hand washing and dry winter air has caused them both to have very dry skin on their hands. I’ve been slathering both of their hands (and my own) with lotion in the evenings. It might be a good idea to keep a small lotion in your work bag for your own use, or have a larger one for classroom use.
Should I wear a mask or gloves?
The simple answer is no. Unless you are a food service worker, neither a mask or gloves are going to protect you much better than proper hand washing. In fact, if you are healthy health officials recommend you don’t wear a mask. The best use of a mask is for someone who is sick to prevent the spread of their germs, but if you are sick you shouldn’t be at school at all, so don’t rush to Amazon to buy masks. It is a waste of your money.
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