‘It’s causing a lot of anxiety right now’: State Education Association says teachers facing unique challenges during pandemic

Horry County teachers continue waiting for approved reopening plan

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) -The state has officially received Horry County Schools’ reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year, which includes virtual and traditional learning options for parents.

Although a spokesperson for the state said the board could be notified about whether the plan is approved next week, the outline for how students enrolled in the traditional learning model will learn could take a bit longer to confirm.

The school board is relying heavily on a disease activity report from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to determine if some students will return to the classroom. That report, however, doesn’t come out until Aug. 31, one week before school is scheduled to start.

Once this report is released, Horry County teachers will have one week to adjust to the district’s plan.

Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association, said she supports Horry County Schools relying on DHEC’s numbers when making a reopening decision. In the end, she notes that returning to the classrooms during a pandemic is new for teachers and having to wait for clarity makes the planning process a bit more layered and complex.

“It’s causing a lot of anxiety right now because you just don’t know how you’ll be teaching,” East said. “I’m not sure people realize that teachers are planners. They like to know what’s going on. They like to have a plan.”

If DHEC’s report determines “low spread” of the disease, then students will go back to school five days a week. If it’s “medium spread,” then students will take part in hybrid learning. If the county is a “high spread” zone, then students will start school with distance learning.

East said many Horry County teachers and educators statewide feel prepared to handle a virtual environment, because it’s a continuation of what they’ve been doing since the pandemic began in March. A hybrid mix of learning, though, could pose some unique challenges because it’s new for both the educators and districts, she added.

One of the biggest challenges East said teachers are dealing with right now is getting supplies ready for students, because the design for virtual and face-to-face instruction won’t look the same.

“If I was going to teach remotely, I would be communicating with parents about certain apps and certain ways to log in,” East said. “But if I was going traditional [method], I may be buying extra crayons, markers and glue, because we’re not suppose to share [supplies] anymore. A lot of the teachers are looking at the HVAC situations. You don’t want to waste money on an air purifier if you’re going to be remote.”

Barbie Ross, a special education teacher and vice president for the Summerville Education Association, said many teachers across the state are feeling anxious because adjusting to new styles of teaching during a pandemic is new to everyone.

“This is going into my 33rd year of teaching; I don’t think I’ve ever felt so uncertain before,” Ross said.

Mary Rita Watson is the president of the Summerville Education Association and teaches reading interventionist at an elementary school. Like many educators, she’s trying to visualize how to adjust from virtual to a hybrid learning environment in a week’s time.

“Based on the information I have, I’m trying to wrap it around my mind how my day will look with my students,” Watson said. “How am I going to do a small group table when they have to be six-feet apart? How am I going to have them in different centers while [ensuring they] behave when I’m at the small group table? There are so many moving pieces. There’s a lot of questions about how that would work because it’s something we’ve never done.”

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