Someone told me something yesterday that broke my heart. Because of flu fears her school is no longer giving students “high fives” or holding the hands of little ones. Have we gone mad????????? Are gloves and masks next?
My very first year of teaching I was informed that I had a child in my room whose parents were both HIV positive. The child had been tested, with negative results, but I was told I should be cautious. Some colleagues suggested I refrain from hugging him. I treated that kid like every other student in my room. I just decided that if the administration had deemed him safe enough to be in school, I wasn’t going to treat him like a leper. After all, I don’t kiss my students, I don’t eat or drink after them, I don’t clean up vomit or blood without gloves and precautions. I’ve taken all the classes. I’m not stupid. I don’t even tie shoes.
That’s one of the quirky things about me that students learn the first week. Mrs. Maurer will not tie your shoes- learn to tie them yourself, wear shoes that don’t have to be tied, or find a friend who can tie shoes. I always tell them it is because my hands have arthritis, which is true, but the real reason is that shoe laces are the nastiest things on earth! They’ve been in the bathroom, on the ground, in the dog’s mouth, in the closet and under the bed. They’ve had everything from pee to Popsicle spilled on them and yet they are seldom, if ever, washed. Yuk!
I grew up in the shadow of polio. My neighbor’s daughter was in an iron lung- a device few people of my generation have even seen. My first serious, adult job was as an EKG technician in a major teaching hospital and one of my “rotations” was the TB ward. We had to be covered from head to toe to even go through the door. I understand that our natural instinct is to fear disease. But I think we’ve let the media intensify that fear with this flu.
Years ago I wrote an article about “touching” for a parenting magazine. Authorities in the childcare industry were at that time encouraging teachers and others to stop patting, hugging, and holding hands with children for fear that some actions would be interpreted by others as abusive. That’s when the student gesture “give yourself a pat on the back” became popular because teachers were afraid to do it themselves! There are teachers today who will not pat, hug, or hold a child in any way for fear of recriminations. Again, a little reasonable thought is in order. I don’t hug my students to my chest or face- I use the “side hug” or “sister hug”. I pat on the shoulder. These kids need a pat! They thrive on hugs. They want to show their love and appreciation by hugging. We can’t stop hugging them or tell them to stop, and expect them to have any sort of emotional bond with others. Neither fear of disease nor fear of appearances is an excuse for treating a child like a social outcast.
So here we are- flu season. The stomach virus- with vomiting and diarrhea- has already made the rounds at our school. Not as media worthy as the H1N1, but something I don’t want to get. This week I had car duty, so I opened the car door for at least thirty children each morning. That means I touched thirty door handles that had been touched by parents, children, and who knows who else. I made sure I didn’t touch my eyes or nose during duty and afterwards I washed my hands thoroughly. I figured that was a little less intimidating than greeting our students in a mask and gloves!!
My point is that we have to be reasonable about this flu situation. There have always been dangers in the world, and in the classroom, and there always will be. We can’t react to them by punishing the children. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done- teach and touch. I’m going to encourage my children to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, because that is what we have been teaching our children for decades. I’m going to have them wipe their desks with anti-bacterial wipes twice a week because we get dirty. I’m not going to scare them with flu stories.
By the way, my student’s parents both died- one at the beginning of the year, and one at the end of the year. I’m glad I hugged him!