Teachers give insight on their hopes and concerns for the upcoming school year

Kristen Su and Anushka Patil

As a result of COVID-19, Westford Public Schools has adopted a hybrid model, with the option of remote learning, for the 2020-21 school year. Due to the changes to the academic atmosphere, the first day of school for Westford Academy students will be September 16. However, WA staff members started their first day on August 31, allowing teachers and faculty to undergo two weeks of professional development before the students return.

On their first day back, many staff members at WA felt excited. Overall, despite concerns about safety and following protocols, teachers remain optimistic for the upcoming school year and look forward to seeing all their students. One such faculty member is history teacher Amanda Everett, who is thrilled to see her students again.

“I’m looking forward to seeing [the students] and being able to interact with them. Obviously it’s going to be a different year, but I think that at the high school level, at least [students] know what school’s like, and I think we’re all excited to get back into [a rhythm] as best as we can. I’m concerned only because I’ve been super cautious, considering I’ve gone grocery shopping once since March, otherwise I do food delivery. I know for me, personally, I’m just nervous about germs. But that’s just me. I’m nervous about students being anxious and uncomfortable. Also, I’m nervous of finding ways to work with [those feelings] while also teaching, so I think that there are pros and cons to [the hybrid and remote plans], obviously. We have to focus more on social and emotional health this year than in years past,” Everett said.

Math teacher Erik Ruhmann has similar sentiments to Everett. He predicts that the indoor environment could possibly pose challenges to both students and staff.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to school. I think it’s really important for [the students] to be in school, while doing so as safely as possible because there are a lot of people that have some preexisting conditions. I feel for those people, so try[ing] to bring some balance with all that [is important]. [I’m concerned about] people’s safety. When people have to go back in the building when it’s colder out, it’s a pretty tight environment when everyone’s in the school together,” Ruhmann said.

Additionally, because the hybrid program allows for in-person teaching, but still causes some separation between two groups of students, physics teacher Rick Posch sees this teaching method as both a benefit and a challenge to student interaction.

“I’m looking forward to seeing students, and I’m also looking forward to finding out how we can do some labs with some hands-on [activities] and still be safe. My concern is that students need to spend time with each other and get to know each other in the classroom, but it will be hard because we’re going to be split between an A pod and a B pod. It’ll be nice if students can get to know each other, even if they’re not in [school on] the same week,” Posch said.

The upcoming school year excites Rick Posch (left) and Erik Ruhmann (right). They stand together on their first day of professional development for the 2020-21 school year.

In the English department, due to the lack of interaction in classes, teacher Rosemary Dowd thinks communication is a challenge that will serve as a learning experience for the teachers.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of learning to do in the next two weeks before we start school. I think the biggest thing in English classes is trying to do discussions when half the students are at home sounds may be more difficult. I’m excited to be back in the building to see people. It’s a little exciting right now, but a little nerve-wracking too—it’s both,” Dowd said.

New to WA this year, Physics teacher Sagar Shah, is positive about the school year, despite having concerns about COVID-19.

“I’m looking forward to an awesome school year. I’m starting new here and I’ve heard very good things about all students and staff so I’m very glad to be here. A common concern we all have is about the coronavirus and how we can mitigate that concern, but I’m very optimistic.  I’m hoping that my teaching skills and the school’s safety measures will definitely overcome [COVID-19 dangers],” Shah said.

Teaching aide Mark O’Connor eagerly anticipates the start of school, a common feeling from many teachers, despite being cautious about student health.

“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to be in the building because I miss being able to interact with kids, even if we’re wearing masks…  Also, there are a lot of things that have to be adapted in order to make [online and hybrid teaching] work, so we’ll see what happens,” teaching aide Mark O’Connor said.