Toronto teacher recalls the days leading up to schools being cancelled

Mar 25 2020, 11:22 am

When the news first broke in Toronto of COVID-19 cases, Jaymie Uy, a Grade 3 French Immersion teacher, began wiping down the surfaces of her classroom more frequently.

As more information on the pandemic continued, St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Markham — Uy’s school — was given more cleaning protocols by the school board.

And while Uy says there was an increased sense of anxiety, she never wanted her students to panic.

“I didn’t want to worry or scare my students about the virus, so a lot of the initial instruction was centred around how to practice proper hygiene,” Uy told Daily Hive.

Many of the students would also sneeze and cough without covering their mouths, making Uy realize that children needed to be properly educated on the matter.

She taught the children how to effectively wash their hands, and the importance of not touching one’s face or sharing food.

But the elementary school teacher didn’t just want to educate her students on hygiene; she also wanted to explain to them what the virus was and where it originated.

“It seemed as though what they knew about the subject was limited, other than the fact that it came from China,” Uy said.

The class began to explore what wet markets are and the history behind wildlife farming in China.

“Although these practices may seem like a foreign thing to the Western world, I wanted my students to understand how they came to be. People are quick to judge from what they hear on media. Instead, I wanted my students to be culturally sensitive and well-informed on the subject before they made their own judgements,” Uy noted.

On Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the school closure deadline will be extended beyond April 6 to an indefinite time — originally, all schools were cancelled for two weeks after March Break.

The province has also cancelled all standardized testing and launched an online learning program for students to stay up-to-date with their respective curriculum.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has assured parents and families that students who are graduating this year will not be impacted by the closures.

Uy said she felt a huge sense of relief when Lecce announced the school closures. While she emphasized that teachers are not in a similar situation of risk like those in the healthcare system, education staff are vulnerable due to their exposure of children who, according to Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eileen de Villa, show “little to no symptoms.”

“Personally, I am not too afraid of contracting COVID myself. I am, however, quite afraid of contracting it and hence passing it on to my two young daughters, who could therefore pass it on to my parents or my in-laws,” Uy said.

“As others have said, it is our responsibility to protect the elderly and the vulnerable from this virus. If ever, God forbid, I contracted it and passed it on to others, I would be guilt-ridden.”

Throughout this pandemic, the elementary teacher has always told her students that she never wanted them to panic but instead be well informed to make appropriate choices, formulate their own opinions, and continue to practice proper hygiene.

Uy remembers what it was like the last day of school before the March Break calling it eery, grey, and somber outside.

“The teachers and students were packing up all our belongings and clearing our desks for a deep cleaning during the break,” she said.

“It was surreal, like we were in a movie.”

And for now, the movie has no end in sight.