Isabel McLemore

First grade teacher Isabel McLemore

The number of experienced teachers in the Starkville-Oktibbeha County School District has decreased by 7.3% since the 2018-2019 school year.

According to the Mississippi Succeeds Report Card for this school district, in the 2018-2019 school year, 71.8% of teachers had at least 4 years of experience. This percentage of experienced teachers has gradually fallen to 64.5% for the 2021-2022 school year.

Even though this might be the case, the number of teachers working for the SOCSD has steadily increased since the 2018-2019 school year.

Although many new teachers have begun working in place of their experienced counterparts, there are those that have remained teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers were forced to adapt to online teaching, and have learned how to teach students post-lockdown. 

According to a survey done by the Brookings Institute, “In March 2021, 42% of teachers declared they have considered leaving or retiring from their current position during the last year. Of these, slightly more than half say it was because of COVID-19.”

Three teachers from the SOCSD shared their experiences teaching before, during and after the lockdown in 2020.

Isabel McLemore is currently a teacher for the gifted program at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School. McLemore taught first grade at Sudduth Elementary School prior to this year. McLemore shared her reaction to the closing of in-person classes in spring 2020 at Sudduth Elementary.

“It was an anxious time because I wanted everyone to be safe but also wanted to be with my students,” McLemore said.

She said that while online school was not the ideal practice for first grade students, it was necessary at the time.

Marcelle Smith, a teacher at Starkville High School, faced difficulties while teaching online.

When the classroom was split between in-person students and online students, many of those who were attending virtually fell behind their in-person counterparts.

“Many overslept in classes that required a Zoom, and some didn't have internet access at home to complete the work. There were also a few who did nothing because they expected to be passed along like they were at the end of the previous year,” Smith said.

Claretha Hill, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Partnership Middle School, described the difficulties of teaching online classes.

“In-person learning allows teachers to quickly access students' learning and adjust the lesson as needed at that moment. Online learning was a little more challenging and became a distraction, especially for students who receive student support services,” Hill said.

After returning to the classroom, Hill had to not only teach students social studies but also how to adapt to the social differences in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“... Socially, we had to help students readjust to building positive relationships with peers.  In-person classes are longer than online, so we had to help students rebuild their stamina, Hill explained.

Smith faced another challenge when returning to the classroom.

“The biggest issue I have in classroom management is keeping kids off of their phones.  During COVID, they had their phones 24/7 and many students are used to being on social media all day long,” Smith said.

Additionally, she said the students’ motivation to pass state-required tests has decreased significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began, since those tests were waived during the height of the pandemic.

While returning to the classroom has had its own set of challenges, teachers said they have learned more about themselves and their profession as a result of the lockdown.

For Hill, she said she has learned to extend more kindness and grace, as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in immense loss for her co-workers and students.

McLemore has become more tech-savvy and has learned to adapt to new technology as a result of classes getting moved to online instruction.

While each of these teachers endured hardships in adapting their teaching methods, each of them are hopeful for the future.

“I think we are finally back to what I remember the classroom being like before 2020,” McLemore said.

Likewise, when Smith thought that she would retire in 2020, she pressed on.

“After seeing students, including my youngest child, struggle to get their footing back, I decided to stay. I am about to complete my 28th year in the classroom, and I have no plans to retire anytime soon,” Smith said.

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