PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As students and staff head into the upcoming school year, for many, it's their first time in a classroom in roughly a year and a half.
To ease stress or concerns, five local teachers who taught in person last year took the time to share words of wisdom and advice.
They all want you to know: You can do it!
These teachers work in public, private, and parochial schools. They all completed a full school year with no shutdowns.
They say they pulled it off with five simple principles: flexibility, creativity, patience, space, and grace.
"We were all first-year teachers last year. We all had to kind of reinvent the wheel and figure out how to do this in a safe but fun way," said Carriann VanDzura, a fourth-grade teacher at Holy Angels School in Newark, Delaware.
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Keeping children in the classroom starts with the basics: sanitation, spacing, and respect for your school's COVID protocol.
"We actually came up with a little saying, 'If your mask is on your nose, good job. That's how it goes,'" said Dominique Labovitz, a second-grade teacher at St. Jerome School in Northeast Philadelphia. "I would just tell the parents don't stress too much about the masks because they are going to do better than you think."
The teachers also added this tip: pack a backup mask in their backpack or lunchbox.
"During the day, especially with little kids, they may get wet or rip or get dirty in some way," said Adria Crowley, a kindergarten teacher at St. Katharine of Siena School in Wayne, Pa.
They say students should also know that classrooms look a little different now, and desks are distant.
"Teach them about personal space before they get into the classroom, so it doesn't feel like a scary place," said Cree Encarnacion, a kindergarten teacher at Holmesburg Christian Academy in Northeast Philadelphia.
Labovitz says she worked hard to make her classroom at St. Jerome School look less intimidating.
"My classroom theme last year was a safari, and I turned the desks, with the plexiglass shields, into little Jeeps, so they had their own Jeep with their name on it," she said.
It's all about creativity and flexibility. Many schools took lunch and classes outdoors.
"We're still learning, just outside," VanDzura said. "And that really worked last year."
Crowley added, "We had to be flexible. We had to be ready to do whatever it took to say in the classroom."
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For Robert Odri, that was especially critical for his special education students in the Ewing, New Jersey School District.
"It's a must to be there with them," Odri said. "That's absolutely essential for them. And my advice to teachers is to show yourself some grace, understand that the students are feeling anxious, parents are feeling anxious administrators are feeling anxious. We're all in this together."