For everyone Going the distance

This year we’ve all become experts in distance. Each of us has equipped ourselves with a mental 1.5 metre ruler, which can be swiftly employed in any situation. Those cyclists riding two abreast? 1.3, at a pinch. Those customers queuing outside the café? Well, that depends on how desperate you are for your coffee and how many almond croissants are left.

To assist with guestimation, signs have sprung up with handy visual references. In supermarkets: Keep one trolley-distance away from other customers. In national parks: Stay at least one adult kangaroo length apart. Oddly, some National Parks have opted for ‘three adult koalas’, which is bound to fail, given that sight would definitely draw a crowd. More suitably, Florida has chosen the uninviting alligator as a unit of measurement, while in Siberia it’s a small bear. Putting either of those between shoppers at the local Coles would certainly improve social distancing, if perhaps not the overall mortality rate.

After perfecting distance, we turned our attention to “area and division” so we could allocate four square metres for every human in a shared space. (Hooray for Maths, the unlikely winner of 2020!) For instance: How many people can fit in an elevator if each faces the corner and you press the button with a toothpick? (Answer: Four.) How many can fit into a bar if every second person is standing, eye contact is limited to three seconds and laughter must be directed into your armpit? (Answer: Sounds terrible. Stay home.)

We teachers are experts in physical distancing and isolation – and not just on a Saturday night.

Straightforward, right? Well it would be, if people would stop moving around. As a result of humans’ desire to do things such as work, exercise and shop (specifically for toilet paper, seedlings and bulk bags of bakers’ flour), we’ve also seen a boom in Crowd Analytics. To regulate the density and flow of people in enclosed areas, stores have employed traffic controllers, and duct-taped no-nonsense X’s all over their floors. Bunnings stores (when they were still open) featured snaking queues marked by traffic cones, staffed by ‘bouncers’ who click people in and out like it’s a fancy nightclub, except that everyone smells like compost.

It’s all become too complicated when, really, the authorities could have just come to us. Teachers. Regardless of our subject areas, teachers are experts in physical distancing and isolation – and I don’t just mean on a Saturday night. Whether it’s enthusiastic tots, brawling tweens or lustful teenagers, teachers have long perfected the art of keeping humans moving and/or separated, well before it was mandatory. Here are some old-school approaches:

1. Managing crowds
Teachers know how to compress and expand a class like an accordion. To increase density: ‘Squeeze together on the carpet, Year Ones. Closer. Closer. That’s it. Now sit on your hands.’ To alter density, simply ring the school bell. Alternatively, wait for one of them to fart. This shouldn’t take long.

2. Physical distancing
If you need to physically separate 30 kids, simply schedule a lesson in square dancing. Ten-year-olds are skilled at creating and maintaining a 20cm buffer of air between hands and hips as they dosey-doe. Or start a rumour of ‘boy/girl germs’ in the playground and watch the physical distance increase. For older, hormonally-driven students who actively seek said germs, teachers can employ the classic daylight rule – just watch their awkward fingers disentangle. In the classroom, there’s the time-honoured four-step hierarchy of moves to suit every talker/giggler/spitballer: move to a different row; to the front; to the corridor; to the principal’s office and promptly forget all about them.

3. Crowd flow
Herding inelegant bodies from one place to another is a teacher’s bread and butter. Every morning, recess and lunch, we work as sheepdogs, rounding up kids from all corners of the schoolground. Throughout the course of the day, we wrangle hundreds of students into all kinds of intricate configurations with the synchronisation of a Cirque de Soleil troupe, before shepherding our fold safely back out to waiting buses/cars/bikes at the end of the school day – all without a single traffic cone, duct-taped ‘X’ or alligator in sight.

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