Elementary school teacher ‘back at square one’ teaching through pandemic

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Utah (ABC4 News) — Madyson Skelton is heading into her second year of teaching second graders at Stansbury Elementary School in West Valley City. Last fall, she thought her first year in the classroom would be the hardest and couldn’t imagine what fall 2020 held in store.

ABC4 News followed Skelton’s journey as she prepared for her first year in the classroom in 2019. She shared the financial strain teachers face, how they prepare their classroom, and what it’s like walking into the first class of students.

Madyson Skelton

See original story: Utah teachers dig into own wallets to buy school supplies

Skelton graduated from Utah State University last year and headed straight to the classroom. She said she graduated with hardly anything for her future classroom and ended up spending quite a bit of money getting things set up. “It was a year-long endeavor as I learned what things were important to have or thought of new things to add to my classroom organization,” Skelton said.

During her first year, she said she looked forward to the 2020 school year and having the first-year learning curve out of the way. “I had expected this year to be much easier in terms of preparation, expecting that most of my classroom procedures and supplies would be set up for the next year, but this year I feel like I’m back at square one again.”

Stansbury Elementary School is in the Granite School District and classes begin in two weeks. Skelton said once again she is heading into the year with a learning curve that’s much harder to prepare for.

Amid the coronavirus uncertainty, Skelton said she has been working through a lot of anxiety. “Plans seem to be changing often and there is a lot of stress about charting unknown territory. I still have millions of questions about how we are supposed to teach. When are students supposed to collaborate or discuss topics? How will we keep kids engaged when they are sitting at their desks for most of the day? How will we make sure kids are learning online? There’s been a lot of worries about how we are going to keep kids (and teachers) safe and healthy. There’s just a lot of logistics to teaching during a pandemic.”

Skelton said her principal has been the one helping ease her back to school anxiety. “I work for a principal that is very good about sending information out to teachers and parents when he gets it. As the summer has progressed I have felt some of my anxiety dissipate.”

She said Granite District has created the outline but left many decisions up to individual schools. Parents and guardians of her students get to choose whether they participate in distance learning or face to face learning. She said looking forward she is counting on the district to adapt to the unknown challenges ahead. “I am trusting that the district and administration will do everything they can to protect us at school, but until we start school it feels like there’s no way of knowing how well their plan is,” Skelton said.

Her biggest concern heading back into the classroom is the mental health of her young learners. “For a lot of my students, school was a safe space for them, a place for them to see their friends and receive help and resources they wouldn’t have received at home.” She said she remembers checking up with students in May, after school was closed, and hearing that so many of them were struggling.

“They were sad, they were scared, they were alone. That was three months ago. Obviously, I care about the safety and health of my students but every day during this summer I have been worried about the mental damage that has already been done.” Skelton said she feels whether school is in person or online this year, one of her priorities is to help kids manage stress and cope with their emotions.

“I also just want to help all my students access learning opportunities. During the spring quarantine, a lot of families got left out of digital learning due to lack of access to technology. I’m hoping those students will have more opportunities this year to learn and participate in school,” Skelton added.

Looking forward, Skelton said she just wants her students to feel loved and learn something. Despite the potential unknown her goal as a teacher has stayed the same.

Her message to other teachers is to remember “we are all in this together.”

“Whether you’ve been teaching for 30 years or for one this is new territory and all of care about our students. No matter what the school year looks like, we will be looking out for our students and other teachers and that’s something that has been comforting to me.”

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