Educators across Middle Tennessee have pushed through the COVID-19 pandemic, but not without challenges.

Virtual learning forced teachers to alter their teaching strategies, which many say has had an impact on traditional teaching styles and the development of lesson plans.

In early March 2020, educators were working through their lesson plans and preparing for statewide testing, but only a few weeks later, the school day they were accustomed to would change drastically.

As counties and then the state began to shut down due to quarantine, schools and educators began to find a new normal. Teachers immediately found it necessary to alter their traditional teaching methods and turn to virtual learning with little to no experience or preparation.

With students not present in the classroom, teachers found it difficult to continue teaching virtually.

“Sometimes (students) don’t pay attention using Zoom and everybody likes to talk at one time because they are excited to see each other,” said first grade teacher Suzanne Smolen, Saint Joseph School, Madison. “Lots of the original handout booklets are now virtual, and they had to record themselves reading them to allow me to know they are reading.”

For younger students, Smolen said it was necessary for teachers to keep them active online by assigning projects to keep them engaged with the lesson.

Algebra teacher Tiffany Knight said recording lessons was a helpful tool for her middle school students.

“I found myself recording my lessons while teaching so students could go back later and review the lesson if they had a difficult time with the concept,” the Madison teacher said.

Knight said many teachers were not equipped at home with the same technology as in schools, so they would improvise with small whiteboards, and share Google slideshows.

“It is hard to teach virtually because we could not do as much group work, and we do lots of group discussions in English,” Pope John Paul II English teacher Jewell Dobson said.

With Gov. Bill Lee’s April 27 announcement that the COVID-19 pandemic is “no longer an emergency in Tennessee,” teachers and students are hoping the 2021-22 school year will see a return of traditional teaching and traditions.

Lee asked mayors in the six counties with their own health departments — including Davidson County — to lift mask mandates by Memorial Day weekend. Nashville’s indoor mask mandate will remain in place, and masks will continue to be required in public schools.

Parker Knight is a student at John Pope II High School and is a student intern with Main Street Nashville.

Parker Knight is a student at John Pope II High School and is a student intern with Main Street Nashville. 

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