For many first-year teachers across the D.C. region, the anxiousness of starting a new career path with the upcoming school year now has added challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A first-year teacher dreams of that perfect classroom space, where you have your library area, and you have your space for morning meeting circles, and these places for students to gather and meet and talk,” said Rachel Wright, who will begin as a first-year teacher at Weyanoke Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia.
“And, all of the sudden, you don’t have that anymore.”
Wright, an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher, started applying for her first job in the spring amid the pandemic. She hoped it would be over by the time the new school year started.
Then, she got word that Fairfax County Public Schools would start the year completely online, which she admitted was a sad realization.
“At first, I was bummed — I really want to be with the kids. That’s the best part of the job, that’s why you sign up for the job,” Wright said. “Nobody goes into this job to sit at a computer screen.”
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But now, she and other teachers are making lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been given, shifting their mindset to adapt and learn what online resources are available to allow them to make connections with students virtually.
“There’s a lot of really interesting applications out there, and the teaching community is stepping up to figure out, ‘This app can be interactive. Students can participate on the slide with the teacher, this program lets students vote and type in answers and allows for break rooms, where kids can break up into smaller groups and have side conversations,'” Wright said.
“It’s a matter of figuring out what tools and resources allow us to do that, in addition to also teaching the content,” she added.
Wright said a pandemic-influenced school year is not something she prepared for in graduate school. “I took a ‘technology for teachers’ course, but this is a whole new level of technology for teachers,” she said.
One concern she has for her students — some of whom do not speak any English — is that they may have difficulty with the new technologies.
“I’m trying to think about how I can organize my classroom to be as simple as possible, and how to include lots of visuals,” Wright said.
Another potential problem Wright is concerned about is seeing how much teaching they can pack into the morning hours, realizing some students won’t come back to screens after they break for lunch.
Wright said she also knows not to expect a flawless start to this unprecedented year.
“I think, at the beginning, we’re going to have to kind of embrace the messiness of it all and not expect everything will be perfect,” she said.
But, Wright added, she is grateful for the veteran colleagues at her school, who are supporting her as she takes her first steps into the field.
Fairfax County Public Schools starts Sept. 8.