Knox County teacher takes extra steps to ensure safe return to school, seeks more resources from Legislature

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Teachers and parents across East Tennessee are preparing for the return of school. It’s a few days away for most schools in our region. It means a busy weekend for Betsy Hobkirk, a Knox County art teacher.

In the fall, Hobkirk had students create earth art, outside, as often as possible in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since it’s now winter, she’s decided to do more ahead of her students’ return.

Saturday, she plans to build screens around her desk and maybe even dividers to put up between students.

“It did occur to me, why am I having to take my time to organize this, and to get the money together, get the supplies together, figure out how to build this on my own time,” she said. “Where else does this happen. … The employees at Kroger, I don’t think they had to put up their plexiglass.”

It’s part of her plea to lawmakers ahead of the Legislature’s special session on education later this month. Hobkirk wants more resources to go to schools for supplies, like COVID-19 screens, and staffing.

“You have to have kids moving through the building and being together in smaller groups, so you need more staff to supervise and guide them,” she added.

She explained, due to the pandemic, effective teaching strategies, like interactive projects and small group work were largely scrapped. It’s why Hobkirk hopes the Legislature will also scrap standardized testing and teacher evaluations.

“It’s a pre-pandemic rubric they’re using,” she said. “It’s comparing apples to oranges. It doesn’t even fit.”

She also feels the evaluations also take away valuable time from administrators, who are already busy with new contact tracing responsibilities and meeting needs of individual students.

One topic set to be discussed in the upcoming session is learning loss. Hobkirk believes solutions should be geared toward ways to help offset ongoing learning interruptions students face, which she credits for that loss.

“Children’s’ brains have not turned off. They’re taking in what’s going on in our current situation. They’re going to need help processing it,” she added.

The special session begins Jan. 19. Gov. Bill Lee has asked legislators to focus on some of the issues Hobkirk raised. They include: learning loss, funding, accountability, literacy, and teacher pay.

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