Beginning teachers will face additional challenges this year related to COVID-19, but a local administrator said new teachers are adaptable and have experience using technology that will make aspects of their jobs easier.
Additionally, several local first- or second-year teachers said they've already gotten experience handling complications caused by the pandemic.
Morgan County Schools human resources director Cliff Booth said although the upcoming school year will be challenging for new teachers, even the most seasoned educators are facing a year of uncertainty.
“I think they’re going to have the same obstacles that all the rest of us have. It’s difficult to manage and deal with the expectations that we all have as far as mask-wearing, and staying 6 feet apart, and being safe and washing our hands,” Booth said.
Booth said new teachers are often “more comfortable with technology” than more experienced teachers. Teachers with years of experience are used to doing things a certain way, he said, whereas new teachers may have an easier time adapting to unusual circumstances.
“Many of them that are right out of college have been participating in online learning through Canvas. … They’re used to this,” Booth said.
Aaron Jamal Kennedy, a new music teacher at Oak Park Elementary, said his first year of teaching was abruptly interrupted last spring when schools closed due to COVID-19.
“I taught in Birmingham for the 2019-2020 school year as a band director, and now I'm back at home teaching at Oak Park Elementary,” Kennedy said. “In my first year of teaching, I was actually preparing my students for an upcoming honor band and festival performance. We dismissed school on that Friday in March, expecting to just be out for another week after spring break, until we got the call. I was devastated because I never got to wrap up my first year teaching.”
Kennedy said despite the switch to virtual instruction, his students kept their spirits up.
“It was disappointing, but during the times we had to go virtual for the rest of the school year, I called, emailed and spoke to all my students hoping they were safe and still practicing to keep their spirits up,” Kennedy said. “Even though we had to meet virtually and complete assignments, they were happy to still be doing music. The pandemic really couldn’t bring down music students.”
Kennedy said the pandemic has created uncharted territory for educators, but that local teachers have the “resources and determination” to succeed.
Lauren Stringer, a first-year third grade teacher at Priceville Elementary, said her first day went smoothly last week with the exception of some nervous students. She said some of her students were anxious about returning to school because they had been gone for almost five months.
She said the class read the book "First Day Jitters" to help with the stress that students experience every year on the first day of school.
Stringer said creating a consistent schedule is helping her students adapt to an unusual school year.
“We’ve had scheduled bathroom breaks, everything is scheduled to a ‘T’ so we can eliminate running into people as much, so that’s been a little challenging," Stringer said. "But as far as being in the classroom, everything else has gone really smooth and we still have been able to do fun things.”
Stringer completed half of her student teaching prior to the pandemic, but transitioned to teaching virtually in the spring. She said there was a learning curve for some students who were not familiar with online teaching platforms like Google Classroom, and that she herself had to acclimate to teaching in a new way.
Despite the challenges new teachers are facing, Booth said new teachers are placed with mentors who are able to support and assist them throughout their first year-and-a-half of teaching. Morgan County Schools is involved with a teacher mentoring program run by the Alabama State Department of Education.
“Each teacher is assigned a veteran teacher, who will work with them for three semesters to help them with any kind of problems that they have,” Booth said. The mentors receive a stipend from the state for each semester that they are in the program.
Decatur City Schools Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Yvette Evans said the district hosts an orientation each year called the "New Teacher Academy," which is a two-day training session on topics like classroom management and instructional expectations.
"The initial training lasts two full days. Then, monthly or bi-monthly meetings are held with the new teachers," Evans said.
Evans said the Decatur system hired approximately 70 teachers over the course of the summer, some of whom are first-year teachers. Booth said Morgan County Schools hired 48 teachers this year, and about a third of those teachers are in their first year of teaching.