For Arkansas teachers, online learning, car parades, stress all part of job in global pandemic – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

April 3, 2022 by No Comments

The difficult profession of teaching was made harder by the covid-19 pandemic, but there are some positives to come out of the crisis.

That is the conclusion of four award-winning classroom teachers from east, west and central parts of Arkansas who recently marked the two-year anniversary of the pandemic’s beginning by talking about their work during the crisis and their views on the current state of teaching and learning.

The teachers’ memories and observations, which were shared in interviews with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, included that:

• “It was a huge learning curve,” Amy Farmer, Academies of West Memphis geometry teacher, said about doing both in-person and online teaching. “I don’t ever want to do it again, but we managed to be reasonably successful given the stress we were under.”

• “A lot of times we were coming to school and making paper packets that we could leave on a student’s front porch or leave at the door of a building for a parent to pick up because learning from a computer isn’t always the best option for all students,” said Jessica Saum, a special education teacher at Cabot’s Stagecoach Elementary.

• “With our younger students, I see a lot of behavior issues. I think it is the isolation, the lack of interaction outside the home. They get to school and they are overstimulated,” said Rozanna Brown, a former fourth grade teacher and now an elementary school interventionist in Fort Smith, adding that “because of covid, I have in these past few years bonded more with parents and students than I have ever before.”

• “We are in a mental health crisis like I’m not sure this country has ever seen, and it is definitely showcasing itself at school,” said Allison Dolan, a social studies teacher at Springdale’s Don Tyson School of Innovation.

Saum is Arkansas’ 2022 Teacher of the Year. Farmer, Brown and Dolan were among the state’s 12 regional finalists for the 2022 award.

The teachers received the state honors midway through the two years — after on-campus instruction had screeched to a halt in March 2020 and resumed for the 2020-21 school year with more than 177,000 of the state’s 473,000 public school students opting to learn remotely from their homes for at least part of the year.

As a result, the four teachers and many of their thousands of colleagues throughout the state not only taught in person but also took on the novel task of teaching online — sometimes doing those things simultaneously. Teaching online is a practice that has continued in a more limited way in this school year.

The fact that Arkansas’ schools were up and running in 2020-21 marked a contrast with schools in most of the nation.

And although open campuses were seen as risky and controversial at the time, the four Arkansas teachers said in interviews that, looking back, they are grateful that schools were largely open, shifting only temporarily to online instruction if illness and quarantines among students and staff members warranted it.

“I think we were insanely, insanely fortunate that in Arkansas, we were in school the whole time,” Dolan said, adding that it was hard for her to watch schools in other states be closed for most or all of the 2020-21 school year.

“We had proven the model,” Dolan said. “We have proven that you can be in school safely. It was hard to see that kids were missing out on that experience.”

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