Tennessee teachers excited amid exhaustion ahead of new school year, education advocates say

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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Education leaders say teachers in Tennessee are excited overall to return to the classroom in person for a new school year. However, a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant is tainting their disposition.

“Educators are excited, they’re also tired and so we have to recognize that and recognize the sacrifice that they make over the course of the summer to provide instruction and also to prepare for a new year and then we have this newest tinge, this latent anxiety that educators are experiencing as we are seeing COVID infection rates on the rise,” said Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown.

In the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, that district is starting the school year with an interim director of schools after Millard House resigned to take a job in Houston County.

“I feel very fortunate because I’ve been in the school system for the last three years,” said Interim Director of Schools Dr. Angela Huff. “We just had our principal meeting today {Wednesday} just reviewing with our principals all of the updates that they need to know about as we begin our school year. We’re excited to begin this school year. We’re anxious to see our students.”

Masks are not mandated for CMCSS students and that is also the case for the rest of Tennessee’s school districts except for the Memphis area.

“Our families are encouraged to use their judgment on sending their students to school with a mask and make whatever decision is best for their health, of their children, and other members of their household,” said Dr. Huff. “We will continue to monitor for any local or state guidance and keep an eye on our community transmission rate.”

That’s what the TEA is urging districts to do as well – monitor COVID-19 cases in their communities to see if any safety changes are necessary. Brown said she couldn’t speak to how many teachers in Tennessee have gotten the covid vaccine.

“TEA has not called for mandatory vaccines. We believe that is a personal decision,” Brown said. “We strongly encourage those who are eligible and who can safely take the vaccine to consider it because we want to make sure that our schools are safe and healthy places for both students and educators alike.”

One new approach in Clarksville-Montgomery county is that the health department will handle contact tracing when anyone tests positive for COVID-19 in the school district. Employees are expected to screen themselves for any COVID-19 symptoms. Also, capacity will remain normal for school campuses and visitors are being allowed.

CMCSS is also opening one of the state’s 29 new virtual schools with about 1,100 students enrolled in its K-12 program.

“I think that going through this process of having the pandemic has taught us a lot about what we can do with technology, the ways that we can use it so even though we’re very excited about in-person learning there are some strategies we learned last year that we can incorporate into the classroom,” said Dr. Huff.

As a high school teacher herself, Brown said she understands the sacrifices teachers make to be a part of their profession and to remain there during such unprecedented times.

“As we go into this school year we still face a pandemic but I know that we’ve survived last year and we can keep working together to keep doing our jobs and doing our best for Tennessee students,” Brown said.

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