SHERWOOD (KATV) — Abigail Wade is a first year teacher at Sylvan Hills Middle School in the Pulaski County Special School District. She teaches sixth and seventh grade English language arts both virtually and in-person.
Wade starts her day by checking any overnight emails at around 6:15 a.m. Although she’s faced many challenges this year, she feels grateful to be coming in as a first year teacher.
“I'm coming in with no prior expectations, no prior experience of how it should be, and I can just start my, my crazy year off without any without having to compare it to anything else,” Wade said.
Most mornings, Wade arrives at school by 8 a.m. to prepare her classroom for the day.
“School starts at 8:45 with them allowing students in at 8:20, so I have about 20 minutes to kind of get what I need to get together, print off anything I need to do before students get in,” Wade said.
Every two weeks, Wade is assigned a week of morning duty, helping out with things like a drop-off, temperature checks and directing students where to go. Those weeks, she arrives by 7:40 a.m. to prepare her class.
Preparation beforehand is crucial, according to Wade.
“With the online program, you have to be ready to go when students walk in,” Wade said, “It's not like ‘Oh, let me get this from my drawer, I had this printed out,’ whatever, no, they have to be ready so your virtual students and your in-person students can be doing the same thing and be on the same page.”
A task that’s proven difficult, according to Wade, and oftentimes the hardest part of her day.
“The most difficult part of my day, I would say is when I get class started, I give a whole lesson, I get ready to let the students practice the skill on their own, and I get someone on the meet, ‘what are we doing?’ ‘What are we supposed to do?’ And so that, that is probably the most difficult and frustrating thing, is not having them all in person to be able to kind of command their attention and make sure they're on task,” Wade said.
Wade has around 60 students online, and close to 65 in-person. She said the number of in-person students grows each day as more kids have switched over to in classroom instruction. During all of her classes, she’s teaching both the online and the in-person students at the same time.
Wade deals with technology issues on a regular basis, and has had to learn how to work with the system throughout the school year. She said Wi-Fi issues happen at times at both the school and her student’s homes, especially when it rains.
“I have to learn how to work it best, the students in here, they cannot all join the meet, we cannot do anything if they were all on this Google meet, so I have to make sure that my virtual students and my in-person, students see the exact same thing, so we don't get off track,” Wade said.
Wade works to keep communication lines open with students and their parents, and utilizes tools provided by the district to help her balance both her virtual and in-person students. Her students are not yet used to doing everything virtually, and neither are the teachers, according to Wade. This leaves her walking all 140 of her kids through most tasks step-by-step.
“We’re having to get a little bit creative on how we teach and how we do things, but we’re flexible,” Wade said, “I’m trying to give the students a break between digital learning and kind of more traditional ways of learning.”
Once lunchtime rolls around, whether Wade actually gets to actually take a break to eat depends on the day.
“I try to make it a priority in my life, you know, just to eat and to sit there and to not do any work,” Wade said, “If I really have to get some classroom work done, I will not go to lunch. I always eat but I won't go to lunch.”
After lunch is Wade’s prep period, a time spent attending meetings, returning emails and restocking personal protective equipment. Most days don’t allow for a lot of actually preparing lessons within the 40-minute period. Whatever she can’t get to during her workday or lunch period gets taken home at night, leaving Wade working pretty late most nights and into the weekend.
The students are dismissed for the day at 4:05 p.m. Once Wade’s students have left, she keeps working. She takes the time to do anything she needs to be done in her classroom, like cleaning, sanitizing, general upkeep, making copies, and grading student work. She finally heads home for the day just after 5 p.m.
Once she gets home, Wade makes family time a priority before finishing the rest of the day’s tasks. She and her husband have been married for almost two years now, and a lot of their time is eaten up by making sure everything is prepared for her classes.
“Your family and your home life can struggle a bit if you if you don't keep it a priority,” Wade said.
By 6:45 p.m., she’s back to working again. Most of the work she does at home is making sure her online assignments are prepared.
“What I'm doing for my students is taking what we already have, and making it fit on a virtual platform, whether that's scanning in, whether that's making a worksheet completely new, whatever, that is what takes quite a bit of time,” Wade said.
Wade calls it a night at around 10:15 p.m., almost 16 hours after beginning her workday. Sometimes after all of the work put in, she ends her night with angry messages from parents. Wade said it always upsets her because of the amount of time and effort she puts into each day to make sure all 150 of her students succeed.
“We're trying everything we know how to do, we are learning new things every single day, and so it gets very disheartening when you still get those angry texts,” Wade said, “When you still get those angry emails saying, ‘hey, why is this happening?’ and so it does, it weighs heavy on you.”
Wade wants parents to know the teachers are trying their best. She said many of them are having a tough time as well as learning something completely new and trying to adapt.
“Our heart is for your child to succeed, we do not want anyone to fail our class, we do not want anyone to not do well in middle school, that is not where we're coming from,” Wade said.
Once the weekend comes around, Wade makes it a point to do no work on Saturdays. She said it’s not always easy to let it go, however.
“That's when a lot of kids do their homework and catch up on their missing work is weekends, so I get a lot of emails from students saying, ‘hey, how do we do this?’” Wade said, “I want to help them succeed as much as I can, so it's very hard for me to say, ‘okay, I'm going to stop, I'm going to block off my time, prioritize my time, and I'll get to them at a later date.’”
Sunday nights, however, it’s right back to late nights making sure everything is prepared for the upcoming week for Wade.
“I'm always looking for ways to make this run smoother with the virtual students and the in-person students,” Wade said, “You know, you'll always hear ‘teachers are heroes,’ ‘teachers do all this,’ but in this pandemic, it has upped the work tenfold, it's been crazy.”
Despite the long hours, Wade does it because she loves the students.
“I love really seeing the underdog, and the kid that has a lot of potentials and helping them rise up when other people have kind of looked over them, that is my heart, that is my passion, and I get to do that every day, and I love it,” Wade said.