Perspectives: 10 National Teachers Share How They’re Preparing for the New School Year

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Verywell / Christian Alzate

For our Perspectives series, we are interviewing diverse teachers from around the country on how they’re preparing for the 2021-2022 school year.

Schools fave faced some of the biggest changes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. After being shut down and forced to go virtual for over a year, many teachers are preparing to return back to their classrooms again for the first time. And even those who were able to see their students in person last year still know the year ahead is going to involve challenges they've yet to face. Here's how they are preparing.

Sarah Kesty

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Verywell / Christian Alzate

Sarah Kesty

  • Position: Middle school teacher
  • State of Residence: California
  • Years Teaching: 17
  • Recent Awards: 2021-22 San Diego Innovative Teacher of the Year

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

I'm already planning how to infuse more support into my teaching this coming year. I anticipate that my students will be coming in with higher than usual social-emotional learning (SEL) needs as well as some significant deficits in executive function, like planning, organizing, and self-management.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

I plan to spend at least the first two weeks with skills, not content, at the forefront of our activities. I'm designing ways to allow students to playfully interact with and practice things like respectfully working in groups and monitoring their attention.

I know many of our incoming seventh graders have decreased their stamina for paying attention; getting through a full 90-minute block and full school days will be challenging at first. Why not address that challenge head-on, while also teaching them life-long executive function skills, like how to notice when your attention wanders and bring it back?

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

I'm excited for the chance to renew our approach to doing school. So much of the pre-pandemic system was outdated and wasn't serving our students well. Now, we have the chance to rebuild our teaching and learning practices to be more equitable and supportive of our 21st-century learners.
That is inspiration for an innovative, memorable year!

McKenna Reitz

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McKenna Reitz

  • Position: AP Psychology Teacher (eleventh and twelfth grade)
  • State of Residence: Ohio
  • Years Teaching: 17
  • Also Busy With: Coaching varsity volleyball

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

I will not and can not begin the school year the same as I have in the past as we have connections that MUST be made on such a deeper level not only with others but with ourselves. We ALL have been through so much and my high school students' brains do not have the ability to completely understand what they have and what they are going through.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

My students need to understand that they are NOT alone and we all experienced this past year so differently. We must support one another unconditionally. We will be using the first few days just getting to really know one another to understand that we all have a story, we are all battling something.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

We will create this bond that will enable a deeper level of support, encouragement, and empowerment that will allow students to learn on a deeper, more productive level.

Deanna Robbins

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Deanna Robbins

  • Position: Middle and high school math teacher
  • State of Residence: Florida

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

This generation of students has faced what no other group has in the past year; therefore, some students will be behind the traditional benchmarks for each grade.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

When planning for the year ahead, I know I will need to give my students all the understanding, patience, and resources that I have to bridge any gaps. In addition, some of our students are virtual so engagement is such an essential component of my planning.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

The combination of these factors means that I will be looking for virtual manipulatives, interactives, and other hands-on activities that will not only be engaging but will also lead to deeper learning of the concepts and skills they may have missed out on during the pandemic.

Heather Aulisio

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Heather Aulisio

  • Position: Elementary school teacher
  • State of Residence: Pennsylvania
  • Years Teaching: 16
  • Also Busy With: Education consultant at Mom Loves Best

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

I am reviewing information on each student I gain. I am doing this for two main reasons. First, to get familiar with the student as an individual, but also, to understand their academic level post-COVID. Some students made tremendous progress, but many lag in grade-level skills.

This will enable me to adjust my scope and sequence accordingly and have a better understanding of each student’s academic needs.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

I plan on creating a portfolio for each student. I am creating special progress monitoring sheets which will allow me to write observations, track test scores and other educational data. This helps me with talking points when meeting with parents or discussing students with an administrative team.

I am also searching for cool STEM tasks and activities, which I enjoy kicking off the school year with. This year especially, students will be eager to hop off the computer and start working with their hands again!

Finally, I am putting together a supply list so students start the year off right and a one-page FAQ sheet for parents so they can easily keep track of my contact info, their child’s schedule, some important attendance information, and basic policies and procedures in my classroom.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

I am looking forward to getting some normalcy back in the classroom and continuing to use best practices to do what’s best for the children!

Diana Haneski

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Diana Haneski

  • Position: Librarian/Media Specialist at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
  • State of Residence: Florida
  • Worth Noting: Diana helped shelter and save over 50 kids during the shooting that took place at her school in 2018

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

My experience with trauma and COVID-19 hybrid teaching is informing my planning and goals to enhance teaching and learning in my library media center program when students come back to school in person for the 2021-2022 school year.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

My focus is on social-emotional learning, utilizing technology, being understanding, providing choices, and giving students space to breathe, relax and practice mindfulness. The library is more than a place to find books and information, and these goals will help me build better relationships with my students and help them practice self-care, which will help them be ready to learn.

I will feature a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Center with hands-on activities that are self-directed and collaborative. To assist students that are feeling anxious, stressed, or just having a tough day, there will be Zen Den areas for a place to Rest in the Nest. The breathing and quiet time helps us all focus and be better prepared for learning.

Students will journal in a book or an online notebook responding to prompts from the narrators supporting the IE practice. The journaling covers topics like how they were feeling, showing gratitude, and how to handle their emotions and provide self-care. This important time during class brings the students to a relaxed state and encourages conversations with me and their classmates.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

I always thought of myself as an understanding person; now after tragedy, trauma, and the pandemic, I am even more understanding which feels better all around.

Things that may have gotten me worked up or worried don't any longer and I know that it's okay if things don't always come out as planned. There are other ways and it's good for our students to see mistakes being made and learn from them. These goals will help me cultivate better relationships with my students.

Melissa Jones

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Melissa Jones

  • Position: Elementary school teacher
  • State of Residence: Indiana
  • Years Teaching: 22
  • Also Busy With: Founder of Girls Positivity Club

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

Teaching in person all of the last school year during the pandemic taught me a lot about what to expect for this coming year. There are two keys that make all the difference with students now more than ever: mindset and relationship/community building.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

I see so many kids who are afraid to take a risk in trying a new technique or raise their hand if they are not 100% correct for fear of looking dumb to their peers. I recently asked my students how many of them only raise their hand if they are 100% sure that their answer is correct and almost every student raised their hand. I see students who are afraid to learn new things because they may not be good at it.

This year, I will continue to amp up teaching the students to be their own encourager, to write themselves encouraging messages at the top of their math tests, and to cheer for students who have the courage to ask questions or raise their hand even if they are scared. I believe that everyone deserves at least one standing ovation and I will teach the students to acknowledge those big 'little' moments of accomplishment.

We've always known this, but now more than ever is the time for teachers to be connecting with their students and cultivating connections among each other. We know the mental support that our students need right now more than ever.

Starting and ending the day in a community circle and building in connection opportunities throughout the day embedded in partner and group work, as well as whole class conversations, isn't an add-on or one more thing adding to our curriculum, it should be included as a natural integration.

I plan to continue to learn about my students’ football and soccer games, ask about dance and music performances, learn about video games the kids are playing and reference it in lessons, find out students’ dog’s names, and on and on. It’s a lot more relationship building than anything and teachers are pros at knowing kids even during the most difficult circumstances.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

Teaching is about being human with students by sharing parts of your personal life that will connect with them. Teaching them to do that among each other is crucial to building an accepting environment and allows students to really know each other on a personal level and to learn to encourage and cheer each other on instead of ridiculing each other for their challenges. Modeling vulnerability as a teacher is the first step in creating that community of support.

Heather Kane

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Heather Kane

  • Position: Fifth-grade teacher
  • State of Residence: Georgia
  • Years Teaching: 5
  • Passionate About: Science, technology, equity, and inclusion

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

In preparation for the upcoming school year, I mainly consider that some of my students will be returning to in-person learning for the first time since March 2020. I question if this will make them feel comfortable or terrified. Keeping this in mind and knowing that some of my students were in-person for most of the past school year, I am preparing to meet their social and emotional needs.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

I am learning from and engaging with other educators who can help ensure my classroom is culturally relevant and responsive to all students, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language, or culture. Students have been living through one of the largest civil rights movements in our history and may not have had a safe space to process and discuss that.

While meeting their social-emotional needs during and after the pandemic is something no teacher preparation program can fully prepare us for, it is what our students deserve from us, and I am excited to be there for them with open arms.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

No one knows what our new normal will be, especially in education. I contemplate what parts of a pandemic education system will stay or go, whether my students will have to social distance, what cleaning procedures will be like, and whether we'll be able to eat lunch together again.

These uncertainties complicate preparation for the upcoming school year. To overcome this, I intend to make sure my classroom will feel welcoming, inclusive, safe, engaging, loud, maybe a bit messy, and full of love.

Crystal Davis 

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Crystal Davis

  • Position: Special education teacher
  • State of Residence: Illinois
  • Years Teaching: 2

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

Social emotional learning and normalizing students’ feelings is very important to their academic journey.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

I’m creating journals for my students to journal their feelings and thoughts about returning to school, school itself, coronavirus, etc. And I’m creating a supplemental review package to reteach and introduce concepts students may have missed due to distance learning.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

I am researching critical race theory and how tenets could be incorporated into my lesson plans.

Shondra M. Quarles

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Shondra M. Quarles

  • Position: Early childhood educator 
  • State of Residence: Texas
  • Years Teaching: 9
  • Worth Noting: Author of "The Teacher Who Didn't Want to Go to School" 

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

The biggest thing that I am doing to prepare for this year is to support my scholars by teaching them to be safe so they can stay healthy with the return of face-to-face instruction. I teach Pre-K in an elementary school. They will need to focus on routines and procedures (hand washing, how to use a kleenex for proper nose blowing, how to use hand sanitizer, reminders to keep hands and items out of mouths, etc.).

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

Masks will be optional and I will continue to wear my mask even though I am fully vaccinated. I will use a picture book of a few words titled "No Calvin." We can look at the pictures and make inferences about what Calvin is doing and what he should be doing to be safe and healthy.

Also, during the pandemic, many families were traumatized due to COVID, quarantine, and even loss of life during an unprecedented time. I will teach my scholars SEL (Social Emotional Learning) strategies like breathing techniques and encourage activities to help them cope with their emotions or feelings.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

Young kids need to be taught how to deal with BIG emotions like fear, worry, anger, sadness, and the list goes on. SEL and Safety/Health will be the top skills my scholars will need to learn in order to be able to learn.

Jennifer LaRocque

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Jennifer LaRocque

  • Position: Bilingual kindergarten teacher
  • State of Residence: Illinois
  • Years Teaching: 9

What Needs Do You Anticipate Your Students Having?

This past school year has made me reflect on the importance of play in a kindergarten classroom.

How Do You Plan on Meeting Those Needs?

My goal for this upcoming school year is to bring play back into the kindergarten classroom. I have been researching ideas and creating play-based centers for literacy and math. I have been brainstorming ways to incorporate play-based centers in a social distancing setting; for example, each kid gets their own set of Legos or play dough.

What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?

This upcoming school year, social emotional skills such as sharing, expressing feelings, recognizing feelings in others, empathizing, making friends and taking turns are going to be so critical for our students. Play is a great way to practice all of those skills and more.

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