By Mallory Panuska
(Sept. 2, 2021) Worcester County Public Schools teachers are going back with a bang — literally.
With Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” playing and fireworks blasting into the sky, Superintendent Lou Taylor made a beeline Tuesday morning for his elderly mother to give her a hug commemorating his “first day of school” at the district’s annual kick-off for teachers and staff at Stephen Decatur High School’s stadium.
Taylor’s parents were seated among many of the district’s 2021-22 teachers, who gathered — distanced, outdoors — to ring in the new school year under a banner that read “BACK WITH A BANG!” in large bold letters.
“Thank you, thank you for what you did,” Taylor said, referencing the educators’ response to the challenges of the pandemic over the last year and a half.
“You were asked to do things that nobody dreamed possible,” he continued. “You were asked to do things that your superintendent didn’t know whether it was right or wrong. You were asked to do things with kids that are above and beyond, which you are required to do. I wish there was a greater word than ‘thank you.’”
Roughly 700 teachers will preside over public classrooms across the county this school year, teaching about 6,600 students. Of those teachers, 55 are new to the district, several of whom stood up for recognition during keynote speaker Hammish Brewer’s upbeat, motivational speech at Tuesday’s event.
The Virginia principal, who has made national headlines because of his unique and effective approach to teaching and inspiring students, shared some of his secrets for success. They included focusing on the legacies, and finding ways to apply the skills and knowledge that students learn, rather than teaching to pass tests.
In Worcester County, teachers and staff have already faced challenges ahead of the official kick-off of classes for all students next Tuesday.
Taylor has made some tough decisions regarding return plans, with the most polarizing being the debate over mask mandates. Initially, the plan recommended, but did not require, masks for everyone indoors. That changed last Friday, though, when members of the state Board of Education voted in favor of an emergency order requiring masks to be worn in an effort to prevent widespread cases of covid. The county is abiding by that order.
The challenges of the virus have also been taking a toll well before the past few weeks. In March 2020, like most all schools across the country, county public schools shut down buildings and sent students home to face the uncharted territory of virtual school. And as challenging as it was for the students, the teachers were the ones guiding the ship.
Like Christina McQuaid, the 2020 Worcester County teacher of the year, said during her introduction speech Tuesday, teachers wear a lot of hats, a number of which increased over the last year and a half.
“Teaching is hard,” she said. “Teachers are the first line of defense, teachers are resources, teacher are mentors, teachers are negotiators, teachers are cheerleaders, teachers are rule enforcers, and lately, teachers are IT specialists … If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that students are resilient but so are educators.”