In a year where the unprecedented has become commonplace, returning to the classroom this fall is, well, unprecedented.
For many parents, students, and teachers, facing a school year during a pandemic has them peeking through their fingers and hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
Which is the case for Adena Campbell of Spanish Fork, who begins her 20th year of teaching with more than a little trepidation. Campbell teaches English, creative writing, psychology, and general wellness at Spanish Fork High School, and while every year comes with its challenges, 2020 is a whirlwind of conflicting emotions and fears.
Sitting at a student’s desk in her empty classroom, Campbell is reflective on being back to school once again.
“It’s been such a roller coaster. This summer I got anxious about coming back, almost angry. I thought they were asking a lot of us. Teaching is only a small part of what we are asked to do already and add onto that all the COVID things. I spent a long time being anxious, but it is what it is,” she said.
Campbell said a lot of the anxiety stemmed from the fact that for a long time no one knew exactly what they were going to do to safely start the school year. “We didn’t know until a couple of weeks before school started what the protocols were going to be because the school district didn’t know because the state didn’t know.”
Two weeks into the new school year, 90 percent of students in the Nebo School District have returned to the classroom, with the other 10 percent taking advantage of distance learning. So, far, things have gone well, and Campbell said she is proud of her students.
“Things are going really smoothly. Everyone is wearing their masks and adjusting. The kids are amazing. It’s a pain, but you deal with it,” she said.
Dealing with things the way they are comes with its challenges, especially when the way things are change, creating unexpected scenarios and causing unexpected problems. For Campbell, one of those is the reality of wearing a mask while trying to teach.
“I do have frustration with the masks. I have a hard time hearing my students when they comment in class. A lot of students have a hard time speaking up anyway.”
Additionally, Campbell said she has students that are hard of hearing, so the masks make it even more difficult. When she has a student in class with a hearing impairment, she has taken to swapping out the mask for a face shield and found that it helps.
A day in the life of a teacher is often long and stressful and the pandemic has only added to the stress and the workload. While teaching in-person classes, teachers must also now adjust their live curriculum to keep distance-learning students on pace with the rest of their class.
While Campbell said she does not know any teachers that have chosen to retire or leave the classroom, she understands it is occurring.
“I know it’s happening. I myself considered it,” she said. “I’ve been teaching a really long time and burnout is real, especially with this on top of everything else you’re asked to do. The struggle is real.”
Campbell and her husband, Jeff, and their two teenage sons, Wesley (16), and Evan (14) are not in the “at risk” category for COVID-19, but Campbell said her parents live close by and they are at risk.
It gave her pause when making the final decision to return to the classroom this fall.
“I accepted that I am going to get sick. It’s probably going to happen,” she said.
During the summer, wrestling with conflicting emotions on the approaching school year, Campbell’s decision to keep teaching came down to a couple of realizations.
“I don’t have a Plan B,” she said. “I am someone who needs to be busy.”
The second, and deciding factor was the new class she started teaching this year. While the name of the class is simply General Wellness, its importance is far greater than its name implies. Campbell said the class is to help students cope with anxiety and depression and felt with her study of psychology she wanted to participate.
“This new class cinched it for me,” she said.
Campbell developed the curriculum and teachers refer students to the class who they feel might be struggling.
Incidents of teenage anxiety, depression and suicide continue to climb, and Campbell said why it is rising is critically important to address, the fact is it is happening, and students need help coping.
Sitting in her empty classroom, Campbell struggles with her emotions talking about her students who are struggling not only with the reality of an unprecedented school year, but those she hopes to help in her new class.
It is why she is in the classroom.
“I pray really hard that I’ll know what to say. I hope when they come into the class, they see they are here with other kids who are struggling and they won’t feel so alone,” Campbell said. “We’ll see how it goes, but it is heavy. It’s heartbreaking.” (Davis is the editor of Serve Daily.)