The most defining part of Dacia Maxwell-Hix’s 2020-2021 school year didn’t happen until it was over. It was when many of her fifth graders cried on the last day of school. There are always one or two who tear up when they say goodbye, she says, but this year, there were more. And some were big, strapping boys.
It’s no wonder that students who went through so much with their teachers and classmates would struggle to say goodbye.
“Just getting through this year is a victory,” she says.
Teachers, by nature, are problem-solvers, but no one knew what challenges this academic year would bring. It helped that Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas delayed the school year start by a week to give staff more time to prepare. Many said it wouldn’t work for students to wear masks at school, especially elementary school students, Maxwell-Hix says.
“But the kids were so happy to be here. They did whatever we asked them.”
She teaches one of 15 fifth-grade classes at Farragut Intermediate School. Each teacher is part of a team of three, and her team realized early in the school year that they needed to address the emotional health of their students as well as their academic needs.
“They were traumatized, and school represented a safe place for them.”
There were 23 in her classroom. Since 6 feet of distance wasn’t physically possible, students wore masks most of the day. They understood the collective effort to keep everyone safe, and she was able to incorporate the concept into her history lessons about World War II.
One of the most difficult things to adapt with COVID restrictions was group work. Fifth graders need to work collaboratively, but “piling together on the floor” wasn’t an option. They had to get creative to work as a team while being somewhat separated. They utilized whiteboards and Canvas, the county’s online platform, to communicate.
Hands-on learning was also compromised this year. Fifth graders are kinesthetic learners, she explains. As a science and social studies teacher, she missed being able to pass around the collection of artifacts she normally uses in her lessons, like a beautiful piece of WWI trench art created from an artillery shell.
The challenges resulted in some memorable moments. At the end of the year, students worked together to direct a blindfolded classmate on capturing rubber ducks with a mechanical grabber. It was a safe and effective lesson, and the students had fun, she says.
Nevertheless, it was an overwhelming year for teachers, who often had to create two versions of every lesson for in-person and virtual learners. Maxwell-Hix has been teaching children for nine years, and this year nearly “broke” her, she says. Even though teachers did a wonderful job of supporting each other, she knows many feel the same way. The school’s “hidden heroes” – custodians, lunch staff, school nurses and special area teachers – also put in long, hard hours.
“We are exhausted.”
Some teachers will return to the classroom after Memorial Day weekend to begin six weeks of summer learning that was offered to students who struggled to recover from the learning loss they suffered during 2020. Maxwell-Hix is taking the summer off to take care of her family and relax.
“Summer is very important to teachers to refill their batteries,” she says.
As she packed up her classroom for the summer, she reflected on the supportive notes she received from parents and students this year.
“That does more for teachers than awards or other sorts of accolades. It says it matters that I’m here.”
Congratulations to Farragut teachers, students and parents for surviving an exceptionally difficult year. Go recharge those batteries.
Town of Farragut marketing and public relations coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut insider.