‘Teacher voices need to be at the table’: Virginia Teacher of the Year concerned

Local teacher advocating across Virginia for teachers

SALEM, Va. – Our in-depth coverage on reopening schools continues as we sit down with Virginia’s teacher of the year. The Salem High School teacher shared her views on teachers having a voice in reopening schools and why she’s worried about kids this fall.

“It’s going to be an interesting school year, different than anything we’ve ever done before,” said Andrea Johnson who is a high school English teacher in Salem, mother of two and this year’s Virginia teacher of the year. “What I imagined this year to be and what has turned out to be has been entirely different. I will tell you at first there was mourning. What I thought I was going to experience and some of the celebratory parts of being teacher of the year disappeared and that made me sad. Then all of these amazing opportunities came forward for me to be an advocate.”

She was invited to be on several workgroups for reopening Virginia schools.

“Teacher voices need to be at the table. There needs to be a practicing teacher who can say, ‘But consider this or let me tell you what it looks like in a classroom actually,‘” said Johnson. “To be at the table with education administrators from all over the state and have a teacher’s voice there was amazing. Now that I reflect back that wasn’t an opportunity that I expected but has been more meaningful that anything that would have been without the pandemic.”

But she believes not all teachers are being listened to.

“Teachers have made their voices loud and clear in large school systems,” said Johnson.

Fairfax County and the greater Richmond area are spending the first nine weeks online. Johnson says teacher groups and the Virginia Education Association helped lobby for those large areas to keep the teachers safe.

Johnson says teachers who have concerns about reopening too soon and say they are not being listened to have valid points.

“There has been a lot of parental input, community input and teacher input when they are the role of the parent but teachers at the table making the decision I can see from personal experience probably not as much as teachers would want,” said Johnson who understands the safety concerns, but she’s also concerned about what happens if everyone stays online.

“There are a lot of kids in our area that without school you wonder what’s happening at home and it’s a sad situation,” said Johnson.

Vulnerable kids lose.

“It is really hard, it is really hard. When I think about that, the children that are hungry, the children who are abused, the children who are left home alone too young I think schools have to be open for as long as we can keep them open and even if it’s a cycle of distance to hybrid and distance to hybrid,” said Johnson. “The teacher in me says we have to be in school for as long as we can.”

Johnson says she’s been doing a lot of professional development and training other teachers for the year.

She says most teachers are focusing on making their online learning as good as it can be and making the in-person learning all about class discussions, presentations and labs.

For your kids to be successful this year, Johnson says parents need to do three things:

  1. Have grace with yourself, your children and their teachers: “We are all going to make mistakes, we are all going into a period of history that no human alive has lived through before. We will get better,” said Johnson.
  2. Read to your children often. Johnson says that is the number one skill for literacy but also for social emotional learning at home
  3. Communicate with the teachers often. “Forget about the spring and go into this year with a fresh perspective and start that communication right away,” said Johnson.

This is part of an ongoing in-depth 10 News series looking into reopening schools in Virginia. Jenna Zibton is working for you, investigating many different angles of what the changes and challenges mean for families, staff, and the community. Contact Jenna if you have questions by email or on Facebook.

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