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'Adaptability' is the word of the year for suburban Teachers of the Year
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'Adaptability' is the word of the year for suburban Teachers of the Year

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For three suburban districts’ Teachers of the Year, the key word for 2020-21 has been “adaptability.”

“It’s been a ride, for sure,” Broken Arrow Public Schools Teacher of the Year Michelle McCarver said with a chuckle.

McCarver teaches music at Rosewood Elementary School, which opened this fall to help BAPS keep up with population growth on the district’s east side.

Thanks to COVID-19, she has had to adjust her curriculum to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. Instead of singing, her students are far more likely to be found learning about music through percussion or theory.

“We’ve done very little singing, which is very unusual for an elementary school music class,” McCarver said. “However, we’ve gotten to focus on other things, instead, that we normally might not get to. We’ve spent a lot more time focusing on rhythms, how to read them and how to play them, instead.”

Middle school art and global studies teacher Morgan Brown is Jenks Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year and has also had to make some hefty changes to what she normally covers.

For example, her global studies class normally goes abroad during the spring semester, but that trip has had to be postponed until June 2022. To offset the delay, she slowed down on the in-class portion of the material and used the time to encourage her students to dive deeper.

For her art students, certain media, such as clay, have had to be skipped altogether as those lessons could not be done virtually.

Additionally, thanks to COVID-19, gas line issues and February’s winter storm, her building has had to switch multiple times between in-person instruction and distance learning.

When coupled with the frequent 15-hour workdays she’s needed to log in order to prepare and upload lessons for her five different courses, she said this has been the most challenging school year since she started teaching a decade ago.

“There has not been a down period this year,” she said. “Usually you start off and it’s really hectic, but you get a chance to settle in for a little while before it gets hectic right at the end of the school year. It’s been crazy all year.”

Coweta Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year, high school art instructor Shelley Self, said she counted her district as one of the lucky ones for being able to have most of its classes in person this year.

However, between winter weather and COVID-19, Coweta had to pivot to distance learning more than once during the school year, leading to some challenging stretches of virtual instruction.

“It’s just hard to give suggestions and provide motivation to students when teaching online,” she said. “That was one of the things that was really missing when we went online. Even in Google Meets, you can’t really get that one-on-one interaction.”

As part of that need for adaptability, all three said they had to get used to recording themselves and adjusting their lesson plans to accommodate virtual learners.

It also drew into focus the need for greater communication and collaboration, not just with other teachers but with parents, as well. Self and Brown in particular hope that lesson from the 2020-21 school year will stick with families.

“We’re trying to give their student the best learning experience,” Self said. “However, it’s a team effort. I think a lot of parents may have realized (that) this year when they became the teacher, too.

“That’s something that can’t go away, as we have to have that collaboration with everyone working together.”

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I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University and a board member for both Oklahoma SPJ and the Native American Journalists Association. When not chasing stories, I'm usually chasing my children or our pets.

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