Knox County School Teachers Reflect On Their School Year Goals

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From temperature checking and replacement to in-person and online instruction, Knox County schools and the wider community had high expectations of teachers last year.

Specific expectations may have changed, but educators told Knox News that a pandemic school year has taught them lessons they will not forget. Many plan to pay more attention to the social and emotional needs of students.

“I’m a middle school teacher, so I deal with kids who are going through crazy changes and we just had a crazy external change that they’re not even supposed to have to deal with,” said Kami Lunsford, professor. of Karns Middle Choir. a little laugh.

The neighborhood is invest more resources in mental health in schools. Superintendent Bob Thomas said Knox News in May, he believed the district was in a much better position to meet the non-academic needs of students.

Sonya Kyle, a science teacher at Cedar Bluff Middle, has become more aware of the social and emotional health of students and colleagues.

Carter Elementary English teacher Alejandra Mendoza Berry saw the difference an Internet hotspot could make for families as they crossed language barriers and a pandemic. She wants to keep the practice of communicating more with families about the resources available to them.

Family communication is also important to Nikki Sanders, a special education teacher at Christenberry Elementary.

“Our model at our school last year was ‘whatever it takes’, and that was a really good motto for last year because, again, maybe we have a learning curve. , but educators are willing to do whatever it takes, ”Sanders mentioned.

Farragut Primary second-grade teacher Sarah Kerstetter is organizing books as she prepares her class for the upcoming school year on Thursday, July 22, 2021.

“Sometimes it can take us a while to figure this out, to get into it and to help support families with it.

But I think that by understanding and realizing that we’re out there we try to do our best and sometimes that just means we need a little more patience until we can get the groove on. . But if something is going on with the families and there are difficulties, just let the teachers know. So we can do what we do, solve the problems and provide the best education possible, ”said Sanders.

Substitute teacher Kara Earl Borum said she would make a more conscious effort to remember that for some students the presence of the police does not make them feel safe. She said Jamarion Gillette, who died earlier this year, was one of his former students.

Derek Griffin, professor of social studies at L&N Stem Academy, said he wanted to make sure his history lessons help his students “see what is possible for them to move forward.”

“We have a large and diverse population in terms of backgrounds and student experiences, we have to try to make all of this material relevant to each of those students,” Griffin said.

Teacher Morgan Hite speaks to students during the Grade 9 Orientation at Halls High School in Knox County on Thursday, August 5, 2021.

Thinking about students after a school exit bell is nothing new. Brandon O’Neill, a social studies professor at Fulton High, said if a student is about to fail a class or fail to graduate, they “lose sleep.”

“We go to school with our hearts on our sleeves, we leave with this child’s heart on our sleeves, it’s like taking our children with us all the time,” said Donya Walker Bacon, language interpreter. signs of KCS.

“The hardest part is when you have a really low student and you want to take him to the potential that you think he could reach, but there’s like a gap out there that you can’t,” he said. said Berry.

Choir teacher Lunsford wants to make sure students know that there are other realities outside of what they experience at home.

“They have things going on in their lives that are just simply difficult,” Lunsford said. “It’s the hardest part of my job, but it’s the most important part of my job to be that person who tells them and makes them believe that better days are coming and that you can have the life that you want.”

But it will take more than individual teachers caring for students for the community to heal from the collective trauma of the pandemic. The teachers said there are several things the community does not understand about the profession.

Farragut Primary teacher Sarah Kerstetter said voice support from teachers was very important.

“Our lives were really turned upside down last year. I mean, we went into the school year and it was, ‘OK, you have this year, you have to do it completely different anyway, no matter what year you’ve done before, then go for it. It was exhausting, but we made it. We took the helm and made the growth we wanted with a lot of our kids, ”Kerstetter said.

The school board – not teachers – makes district-wide policies. Kyle said she would like to see even more funding for more mental health professionals, Borum would like more support for special education teachers and O’Neill said there was a need to continue discussing teacher compensation. .

Grade 5 teacher Anne Lefler looks at a cantaloupe she picked from the community garden at South Knoxville Elementary School on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Lefler is delighted that the students are coming back to school and seeing how the garden has gone. grown up over the summer.

The neighborhood gives staff equivalent to a 4% increase, which O’Neill says is a step in the right direction to retain good teachers.

Educators told Knox News they are doing their best to raise well-rounded students, regardless of what is going on in someone’s family life.

“I feel like we’re pouring and pouring and pouring and pouring and pouring, hoping, praying that’s enough,” Bacon said.

Knox County schools do not plan to require students and staff to wear masks, which will against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Schools cannot go virtual only in the event of an epidemic. The district may be brought to rely on substitutes or ask the teachers of the building to intervene in case of shortage.

Even with the challenges of schooling during a pandemic, educators told Knox News they were excited about the year.

“Hopefully at the end of the year I can look back and say ‘I’ve seen each of my kids grow up,’ Kerstetter said.

“I feel a little anxious, but very excited,” Lunsford said.


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