W.Va. Teacher Of Year Tells New Teachers Not To Give Up After Tough Year
Last week on our summer education radio series “Closing the COVID Gap,” we spoke with a school counselor about the social-emotional needs of our students post-pandemic.
This week, we speak with West Virginia’s 2021 Teacher of the Year Erin Anderson to learn about her experience navigating the pandemic and finding peace within the disruptions.
Anderson is a 5th grade teacher at Tennerton Elementary School in Upshur County. She is also a wife and a mother to a nine-year-old daughter.
Education reporter Liz McCormick spoke with Anderson via Skype.
This transcript from the original broadcast has been lightly edited for clarity.
LIZ MCCORMICK: Thank you, Erin, so much for joining us. First, congratulations on being named the 2021 West Virginia Teacher of the Year -- and what a year it has been. Erin, will you talk with us first about your experience this year as a teacher and as the state's teacher of the year working through the coronavirus pandemic?
ERIN ANDERSON: Absolutely, and thank you so much for having me. You know, I really just had a peace about the school year from the get go. I knew that eyes were on me as a finalist heading into the school year. And I knew that God was here. He was before us, with us. And He was going to be here after us. And so, I knew that He already knew how it was going to play out. And so there was no need for me to panic. Now, that's a new characteristic that I have, to be patient. No one was going to benefit from anybody panicking. So like I said, I just had a peace about this year, and I knew that it was going to play out the way it was supposed to play out for our kids and our families.
My message to teachers early on was, we're not being asked to do more, just to do it in a different way. Every year we ask kids to sort of jump out of their comfort zone with learning, and so this was a way for us to kind of be on the other side and see what kids had to go through. Always one of my goals is listening to understand. And so as teacher of the year, I was trying to reach out and network with teachers, really to listen -- to understand what their challenges were, what some of their triumphs were. How can we create opportunities from all of this?
MCCORMICK: Erin, our series this summer, “Closing the COVID Gap,” is all about exploring how we can tackle the issues that have come up in our school systems as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. As a teacher, and as West Virginia's Teacher of the Year, what are some of the areas that you noticed that were the most challenging, and that now need the most attention in your opinion?
ANDERSON: I'm going to say first and foremost, we have to be careful how we approach this with kids. I'm not going to use the word ‘gap’ or ‘learning loss.’ I just believe they have a negative connotation when we're talking to kids. We don't really want to go there. Most of this is all still to be seen, because we're going to be here; teachers are going to work hard to see how this all plays out.
What I did see from my kiddos this spring was a shortened attention span. You know, the stamina. We only had about 10 to 15 minutes of pure stamina by the time state testing came around. So, that was an issue in my room. I saw kids tired. I found one of the challenges was making sure I got all the content out to my kids when we were working remotely. Streamlining standards. Overlapping subjects as best I could. I think one of the challenges was just staying away from negativity. I've talked several times about ‘filling.’ You know, whatever you fill yourself with is what's going to pour out whenever life knocks into you. And so, like I said, I was at peace. And I just needed to make sure that I was sharing that in a positive way, and that I was staying positive.
MCCORMICK: There are millions of dollars that are coming into our West Virginia schools through the American Rescue Plan. Specifically, a large portion of this money can be used to hire more teachers, to support current ones, to hire more school counselors, to even renovate old buildings to make them more safe in terms of COVID-19. As West Virginia's Teacher of the Year, where do you envision some of these dollars really benefiting our 55 counties?
ANDERSON: Everybody in the room deserves attention, and so spending money on teachers is a great idea. One to 28 -- that ratio -- if we can get that ratio down. I've always said, ‘Gosh, if we could just have 12 kids in a class, imagine what we could do.’ So of course, teachers would be a great idea. If we just go back to the School Building Authority, if we go back to these lists of ‘what do these schools need?’ They've already done the legwork on what they need for kids.
MCCORMICK: There's significant concern about teacher burnout, specifically this year as a result of the stressors of the pandemic. In a recent study that was released by Education Week, it found that more than 90 percent of teachers in the United States feel more stressed now than they did before the pandemic started. What might be some advice that you would give to a new teacher in West Virginia who started his or her career this year in the pandemic, and then also a teacher who's been a longtime teacher? Both of whom may be feeling stressed and may be questioning whether or not to stay in the profession.
ANDERSON: To new teachers, I would give them the same advice I give a friend that gets a new haircut. Give it some time. It would be really hard to say yea or nay to the teaching profession this year. So my advice for new teachers is, this is such a rewarding career, and the relationships that you can build with kids and families is unlike anything else. We are the career that launches all other careers. And what I would say to seasoned teachers, teachers who've been teaching five years or better, this summer, do what you love. I happen to love running and, guilty-pleasure, watching The Bold and the Beautiful. I love sitting by the pool or hanging out with friends.
Soak up some professional development this summer; you're going to want to hear what the experts are saying about, ‘do we remediate or do we accelerate? What are we supposed to do to fill in these gaps?’ You’re going to hear that all over the place. I want you to take some time to soak that in, but not too much, because we do need to unplug and take a break. We need some time for some of this to sink in and gel before we have to hit the ground running in August.
The West Virginia Teacher of the Year program is under the West Virginia Department of Education and announced each year in the fall.
The state teacher of the year holds their title until January and is awarded $10,000 from sponsors Horace Mann and Highmark. Half of that goes to the teacher of the year’s school, while the other half can be kept for personal use. The West Virginia Lottery also awards a classroom grant of $300 to the winner.
The state teacher of the year serves on many state and nonprofit committees throughout the year, travels the state visiting different schools, and gives speeches at a variety of events, all while continuing to teach.
This episode of "Closing the COVID Gap" originally aired on West Virginia Morning on June 30, 2021.